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September 02, 1977 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-09-02

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56 Friday, September 2, 1977 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Weizmann, Ben-Gurion Roles in Partition Debate Recalled


(Copyright 1977, JTA, Inc.)

LONDON The Israeli
government's adamant deci-
sion to retain control of
Judea and Samaria as in-
tegral parts of Eretz Yis-
rael is the latest move in a
tortuous debate about the
fate of the Holy Land which
has gone on for the past 40
For it was in 1937 that the
first serious proposal was
made to solve the Arab-
Jewish deadlock by parti-
tioning Palestine into two
national states. Under the
chairmanship of Lord Peel,
a British Royal Commission
concluded that since Arab
and Jewish aspirations
were incompatible and that
since the two peoples re-
fused to coexist in a bi-na-
tional state, partition seem-
ed to be the only answer.
In the 40 years which
have followed, many other
interested parties offered
their own plans to partition
Palestine. However, they
differed from the Peel re-
port mainly in the dividing
lines which they sketched
on to the map. As far as
the principle of partition
was concerned, though, all
of them were based . on the
arguments laid out lucidly
in the 400 pages of the
Royal Commission's report.

well as a Jewish state in Pa-
lestine—or whether only as
a tactical device for achiev-
ing the sovereign state
which alone could offer
sanctuary to desperate Jew-
ish refugees fleeing from
the growing Nazi storm in
Europe. If the central prin-
ciple of partition is still
valid, Israel will have to be
more responsive to calls for
withdrawal from occupied

Moshe Dayan, then defense

minister, claiming that
Ben-Gurion's acceptance of
part ition was only tactical,
while Abba Eban, then for-
eign minister, Itzhak Ben-
Aharon and other "doves"
maintained that whatever
Weizmann's and Ben-Gu-
don's motives in 1937, the
basic partition principle of
the Peel report still re-
mained valid.

Rejecting both a bina-
tional state and cantoniza-
tion as impracticable, the
commissioners argued that
the problem could not be
solved by giving either the
Arabs or the Jews all they
wanted. While neither could
justly rule all Palestine,
they wrote, "we see no rea-
son why, if it were prac-
ticable, each 'race' should
not rule part of it." Parti-
tion, they concluded, seem-
ed to offer "at least a
chance of ultimate peace."

But the Peel report was
ahead of its time. The Arab
world was violently opposed
to it. Many Zionists and
their supporters in Britain
and the United States also
rejected it. As World War
II crept closer, Britain ap-

The same conference re-
solved that since the Arabs
had many wide territories
of their own, "they must
not claim to exclude the
Jews from this small area
of Palestine, less than the
size of Wales. Indeed, we
should re-examine also the
possibility of extending the
present Palestine bound-
aries by agreement with
Egypt, Syria and Trans-

accommodate an Arab as

The question was first for-
mally debated in these
terms in the Israeli Labor
Party five years ago, with


dorsed by the Zionist Execu-
In the darkest hour of
Jewish history, even some
non-Jews thought in terms
of an all-Jewish Palestine
after the war. The Confer-
ence of the British Labor
Party in 1944 (only months
before the party won
power) passed a famous res-
olution saying the Arabs
should be encouraged to
move out as the Jews
moved in.

peased the Arabs with the
1939 White Paper holding
out the prospect of full
Arab control of Palestine.
Only after the war ended
was partition finally en-
dorsed • by the Zionists and
the United Nations.
However, the two most in-
fluential and realistic Zion-
ist leaders—Chaim Weiz-
mann and David Ben-Gu-
rion—had already, in 1937,
secretly rejoiced at the tan-
gible prospect of Jewish
statehood offered by Peel.
They prevailed at the 20th
Zionist Congress of August
1937 not to reject it out of
hand, but to keep the nego-
tiations open in order to
strengthen the Zionist posi-
A burning qUestion for
modern Israeli leaders is
whether Weizmann and
Ben-Gurion embraced parti-
tion because they believed
in its principle—the need to

There is, in fact, evidence
to support both inter-
pretations of Weizinann's
thinking about partition.
The Zionist leader eloquent-
ly recalled his first reaction
to the partition proposal in
his autobiography "Trial
and Error."
When the idea was first
put to him, he recalled, he
felt that "something new
had been born into the Zion-
ist movement, something
which had to be handled
with great care and tender-
ness, which should not be
permitted to become a mat-
ter for crude slogans and
controversy....A Jewish
state, the idea of Jewish in-
dependence in Palestine,
even if only in part of Pales-
tine, is such a lofty thing,
that it ought to be treated


like the ineffable name,
which is never pronounced
in vain."
After recognizing the reli-
gious objections to dividing
the Holy Land, Weizmann
nonetheless defended the
idea of a small 'Jewish state
in these words:

"It was my own deep con-
viction that God had always
chosen small countries
through which to convey his
messages to humanity I
believe that a small Jewish
state, well organized, liVing
in peace with its neighbors,
a state on which would be
lavished the love and devo-
tion of Jewish communities
throughout the world—such
a state would be a credit to
us and an equally great con-
tribution to civilization."
As for the political consid-

erations, Weizmann thought
that the establishment of a
Jewish state provided a
real possibility of coming to
terms with the Arabs, since
as long as the Mandate last-


ed, the Arabs feared the
Jews would absorb the
whole of Palestine. Final
borders could help to dis-
sipate these fears, he sug-
When Ben-Gurion defend-
ed the Peel report before
the Mapai Central Com-
mittee in April 1937, he
stressed that a Jewish gov-
ernment in alliance with
Britain, which could enact
its own laws and controlled
enough territory, would
bring in and settle two or
three million Jews. "The
Jewish Agency could not do
this; a state could," he de-
But, like Weizmann, Ben-
Gurion was prepared to
look beyond the creation of
a . small partitioned state to-
wards the possibility of en-
larging it. His biographer,
Michael Bar-Zohar, quotes
a letter BG wrote to his
friend, Moshe Sharett, re-
vealing his inmost

"We shall smash these
frontiers which are being
forced upon us, and not nec-
essarily by war...If we
bring hundreds of thou-
sands of Jews into our
state, if we can strengthen
our economic and military
position, then a basis would
be established for an agree-
ment on the abolition of the
frontiers between ourselves
and the Arab state."

The • Zionist leadership
was to return to the parti-
tion path to statehood when
the second World War
ended and the Jewish survi-
vors of the Holocaust de-
manded the national home
which had been closed to
them when millions more
could have been saved.
Even so, Jewish claims to
all of Palestine were not' en-
tirely waived. The famous
Biltmore Conference of
American Zionists in 1942
demanded that "Palestine
be established as a Jewish
commonwealth," a call en-

But such schemes were
soon recognized as unreal-
' istic. Finally, in August
1946, the Jewish Agency Ex-
ecutive retreated from the
Biltmore demand for a Jew-
ish Palestine. Instead, it
proposed a partition map
very similar to the armi-
stice lines which were to
emerge from the War of In-
dependence. .
The armistice lines were
to survive for nearly 20
years, until Israel captured
the West Bank, Sinai and
the Golan Heights in 1967.
Subsequently, the only fur-
ther changes are those
which have sprung from the
disengagement agreements
with Egypt and Syria after
Yom Kippur War of 1973.

• The United States, the So-
viet Union, and the Eu-
ropean Economic Commu-
nity today support the Arab
demand that the West Bank
and Gaza Strip should be de-
tached from Jewish control
so that their Arab in-
habitants should enjoy
smme kind of "Palestinian

In opposing it, today's
Jewish leaders raise star-
, tlingly similar objections to
those used by the Arabs
themselves in the 1930s.
Such a homeland, they say,
would not be the end of
Arab aspirations but the be-
ginning, especially if it
were controlled by the Pa-
lestine Liberation Organiza-
tion, which is dedicated to
restoring the entire country
to Arab domination.
On the Jewish side, admit-
tedly, there are some who
say that the central prin-
ciples of the Peel report
are still valid. In his recent
New-- York Times article,
Abba Eban waxed eloquent
about the need for Israel to
keep her predominantly
Jewish character.

`What makes for the ulti-
mate security of a society

is its human texture, the
power of its solidarities, the
intensity of the bonds which
hold its citizens together in
a mutual rhythm of expe-
rience," he wrote.
But even Eban, a disciple
of Weizmann, rejected the
other central Arab de-

mand—for a full Israeli
withdrawal to the 1949 armi-
stice lines—and warned
against giving Israel a new
neighbor "rampant with ir-
redentism and aflame with
a denial of Israel's legiti-

It would appear, there-
fore, that Eban—the advo-
cate of territorial com-
promise—may perforce find
himself joining the present
Israeli government in resist-
ing the new Palestine parti-
tion urged by the United
If such an international
debate develops furthers
seems bound to, some
lieve—Israelis may, there-
fore, end up re-examining
sympathetically the original
objections to partition
voiced in 1937. The govern-
ment of Neville Chamber-


lain, after all, retreated
from partition not only be-
cause of Arab protests, but
also because of the opposi-
tion by the friends of Zion-
ism in Britain itself, includ-
ing Winston Churchill.
In the House' of Lords,
the main rebuttal to parti-
tion was in the speech by
Lord Samuel, the first Brit-
ish High Commissioner in
Palestine under the Man-
date and an ardent Zionist.

Although many of Sam-
uel's arguments are not
relevant today, others were
to be dramatically in-
dicated by subsequent
events. For example, he
challenged the Peel report's
over-optimistic belief that
partition "would free the
Jews from the watchful hos-
tility of neighboring Arab

Far from restoring the
security of the country, as
the Peel commissioners in-
tended, partition would
make it far more pre-
carious, Samuel said. PoP"
cal terrorism would
richer soil than before on
which to flourish.

How ironic it would be if
Israel's present leaders
were to resurrect Samuel's
uncanny prophecies in their
fight against a new parti-
Meanwhile, like Weiz-
mann and Ben-Gurion be-
fore them, Begin and
Dayan have to decide what
is in Israel's present inter-
est primarily on the basis
of harsh reality.

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