Let me, as a prelude, explain who some of the people mentioned in the article are, since they may not be familiar to non-British or younger readers. Robert Boothby (1900-86) was a long-serving, very colourful Conservative MP who was given a life peerage as Baron Boothby in 1958. During the 1930s he was strongly anti-Appeasement. Richard Crossman (1907-74) was a Labour MP and Cabinet Minister well-known for his support of Israel. Like Boothby, he was familiar to television viewers , often appearing in political discussion programmes. William Ormsby-Gore (1885-1964) was a Conservative MP from 1910-38, when he succeeded his father as Baron Harlech. During 1921-22 he was British representative to the League of Nations' Permanent Mandates Commission, and from 1922-29 – except briefly in 1924, when Labour was in power – was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. From 1936-38 he was Colonial Secretary. Sir Alec Kirkbride (1897-1978), who served as an officer under General Allenby from 1916-21, was Governor of Acre (1922-27 and 1937-39). One of Britain’s principal advisors to King Abdullah, he was Deputy Resident in Transjordan (1927-1937), Resident (1939-46), and then Ambassador to Jordan. Richard Meinertzhagen (1878-1967) was an army officer who served under General Allenby, attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and was involved in the creation of the Mandate; he came of a non-Jewish merchant banking family and was, incidentally, the nephew of Beatrice Webb. Hugh Dalton (1885-1962) was a Labour politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1945-47. St John Philby (1885-1960), father of Soviet spy Kim Philby, was an Arabist explorer and intelligence officer.
Many a historian is responsible for the injection of a myth into recent Jewish history; they claim that the underlying causes of the present Israeli-Arab conflict are to be ascribed to the error of omission of the Zionist leaders in not perceiving the existence of a latent Arab problem – a problem which wide expansion of the Zionist settlement could only exacerbate.
This, however, is clearly a misconception. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was not blind to realities. When he visited Palestine in 1898 he found an almost empty country with a relatively small Arab population (estimated by some reliable authorities at 250,000). He saw no reason to regard them as a potentially hostile element, and he sincerely believed that they would easily be integrated into a sovereign Jewish State, reaping all the prospective benefits due to a loyal minority. In his Utopian novel Altneuland Herzl paints in most idyllic terms a multi-racial society in a prosperous Holy Land.
Zangwill’s original view caused quite a furor [sic] in official Zionist circles in 1919, and Max Nordau expressed a well-established consensus when he wrote to him from Madrid (15 January 1919):
“...The stand you have taken in the Arab question seems to me regrettable. It’s no use qualifying your scheme as your own individual idea – we have not to count on the good faith of our eternal enemies, and henceforward they will quote you as their authority for the accusation that, not you Israel Zangwill, but ‘the’ Jews, all the Jews, are an intolerant lot dreaming only violence and high-handed dealings and expulsion of non-Jews and longing for the continuation of Joshua’s methods after an enforced interruption of 3400 years or so.” (Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.)Zangwill’s views, though unusual, had an impact on various British statesmen, and their effect was particularly felt on the eve of the Balfour Declaration (1917). Intimation of a possible transfer of the Palestinian Arab population to the neighbouring states can be seen in the early drafts of the Declaration. This was brought out as late as 1963 in Lord Boothby’s contribution to the BBC Third Programme’s tribute to Dr Weizmann. He stated that “the original Balfour Declaration made provision for the Arabs to be moved elsewhere, more or less”. (Jewish Chronicle, London, 3 January 1964, p. 7)
Moreover, Lord Boothby, who proclaimed himself a life-long Zionist, was absolutely convinced that a massive immigration of Jews to their small historic homeland, “without great natural resources, was quite unrealistic unless accompanied by some resettlement of the Arab population.” (JC, 17 Jan. 1964, p. 7)
”Serious substantiation can be found for Lord Boothby’s contention as to the original meaning of the Balfour Declaration prior to the final version... The Arabs were never mentioned in the original draft, and, by way of omission, the possibility of a transfer became plausible... Regardless of whether or not the actual draft contained the “transfer” point in letter, it is the spirit and the logical consequence which count.” (The Weizmann Archives, Rehovoth, Israel)Further confirmation of Lord Boothby’s contention is found in some remarks made by Churchill concerning the prospects for a Jewish Palestine in years to come. Presumably having Zangwill’s views in mind, Churchill is quoted as having said that “there are the Jews, hom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine, and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” (Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, London, 1975, vol. IV (1916-1922), p. 484)
The prospect of an Arab transfer also occupied Emir Abdullah’s mind when the Churchill-Abdulla [sic] “settlement” was discussed in March 1921. The Hashemite prince wanted to know whether “His Majesty’s Government mean to establish a Jewish kingdom west of the Jordan and to turn out the non-Jewish population? If so, it would be better to tell the Arabs at once and not keep them in suspense.” Churchill may have been somewhat unhappy about a decision of the Allies to that effect, for he remarked sarcastically: “The Allies appear to think that men could be cut down and transplanted in the same way as trees.” (ibid., p. 561)
Even when the bitter experiences and cruelties of the Arab riots of 1929 clearly demonstrated that Jewish-Arab co-existence was nothing but an empty vision, Zionist leaders consistently refrained from airing suggestions of a possible Arab transfer. It was a British Royal Commission, set up to investigate the 1936 disturbances, that dared to bring up such a proposal openly. In its Report (1937), proposing the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State, it dealt, inter alia, with the problems involving exchange of land and population, and suggested the transfer of about 225,000 Arabs from the Jewish to the Arab State. It cited as an example the precedent which saw some 1,300,000 Greeks and some 400,000 Turks exchanged following an agreement reached by Greece and Turkey in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War of 1922. (Palestine Royal Commission Report, London, 1937, cmd. 5479, ch. xxii, p.390)
The Partition proposal was hotly debated in the Zionist camp, and the provision for the Arab transfer no doubt greatly helped in strengthening its supporters. (See, for instance, the reasoning which led David Ben-Gurion to his final acceptance of the Partition Plan. Zichronot (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1974, vol. 4, pp. 297-299)
The British Government was determined to implement the Partition Plan, fully subscribing to the Arab transfer provision. Appearing before the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, the British Colonial Secretary, Mr W. Ormsby-Gore, although emphasising that the Mandatory Power would not accept the proposal for compulsory transfer contained in the Report of the Royal Commission, pointed to the possibility of a voluntary transfer of Palestinian Arabs to the neighbouring states. “These people”, he said,
“had not hitherto regarded themselves as ‘Palestinian’ but as part of Syria as a whole, as part of the Arab world. They would be going only a comparatively few miles away to a people with the same language, the same civilization, the same religion; and therefore the problem of transfer geographically and practically was easier even than the interchanges of Greeks and Turks between Asia Minor and the Balkans ... if homesteads were provided and land was prepared for their reception not too far from their existing homes, he was confident that many would make use of that opportunity.” (Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes, 13 August 1937, pp. 179-181)In a conversation Dr Weizmann had with Mr Ormsby-Gore, the latter reassured the Zionist leader that the British Government was proposing to set up a Committee for the purpose of finding land for the Arab transfer (in Transjordan, and, possibly, also within the borders of the Arab State, in the Negev), and for arranging the actual terms of the transfer. Mr Ormsby-Gore mentioned the name of Sir John Campbell, who had much relevant experience in the field. (JC, 13 August 1937, pp. 22-25)
The recommendations of the Royal Commission became Dr Weizmann’s political platform for the following years up to the establishment of the State of Israel. In his article in Foreign Affairs (on the eve of the Biltmore Conference), he outlined the position of the Arabs in the prospective Jewish State: “In that state there will be complete civil and political equality of rights for all citizens, without distinction of race or religion, and, in addition, the Arabs will enjoy full autonomy in their own internal affairs. But if any Arabs do not wish to remain in a Jewish State, every facility will be given to them to transfer to one of the many and vast Arab countries.” (“Palestine’s Role in the Solution of the Jewish Problem”, Foreign Affairs, N.Y., January 1942, pp. 337-338)
Nowhere and at no time did Jabotinsky propagate the evacuation of the Arabs from Palestine. On the contrary, he expressed himself many times in favour of granting the Arabs in a Jewish State full equality, but, as he was not sure that all this would be sufficient inducement for the Arabs to remain in a Jewish country, he
“would refuse to see a tragedy in their willingness to emigrate. The Palestine Royal Commission did not shrink from the suggestion. Courage is infectious. Since we have this great moral authority for calmly envisaging the exodus of 350,000 Arabs from one corner of Palestine, we need not regard the possible departure of 900,000 with dismay.” (The War and the Jew, NY, 1942, pp. 218-219)
Officially and publicly Dr Weizmann quite often expressed himself, in the late 20s and early 30s, against Zionist aspirations for a Jewish State in Palestine, or for a Jewish majority, but in informal gatherings and in his private correspondence he almost never repudiated what seemed to him the correct interpretation of the historic pledges made by the British concerning the fulfilment of Zionist aims. He referred to a Jewish State and the prospective evacuation of at least a portion of the Palestine Arabs to the neighbouring states. To cite but one example, in his letter of 17 January 1930 to James Marshall, the son of the well-known leader of American Jewry, Louis Marshall, he writes: "There can be no doubt that the picture in the minds of those who drafted the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate was that of a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine. Palestine was to be a Jewish State in which the Arabs would enjoy the fullest civil and cultural rights; but for the expression of their own national individuality in terms of statehood they were to turn to the surrounding Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Hedjaz, etc.” (The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Jerusalem, 1978, vol. xiv, p. 206)
He believed that two or three million pounds would be enough to “buy the lot out”, and he was sure that thousands of Englishmen would follow his example in contributing to this cause. (R. Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary (1917-1956), vol. xx, p. 203)
The Partition proposal with its concomitant clause about a transfer of Palestinian Arabs was ultimately shelved by the British Government itself, mainly because of Arab opposition, but its basic principles seem to have lived on, and to have been implemented by the force of inexorable circumstances brought about through the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The British Labour Party too, on the eve of its coming to power, adopted the transfer proposal. Its Party Conference, held in December 1944, adopted the following Declaration on “The Post-War International Settlement” with respect to Palestine:
'There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home” unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German plot to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine, surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement for transfers of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land, and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organized and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own... Indeed, we should re-examine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian borders, by agreement with Egypt, Syria, or Transjordan.’ (Documents Relating to the Palestine Problem published by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, London, 1945, p. 81. See also Dr [Hugh] Dalton’s statement on behalf of the Labour Party Executive 1945, on the same issue – Ibid.)This unexpected pledge caught Dr Weizmann completely by surprise. In his autobiography he tells us that he pleaded with Dr Hugh Dalton, the Labour statesman, saying that there was no need of their proposal, and that the Zionists “never contemplated the removal of the Arabs, and the British Labourites, in their pro-Zionist enthusiasm, went far beyond our intentions.” (Trial and Error, Phila., 1949, vol. 2, p. 436.)
|St John Philby
“Suppose that a few hundred thousand of the million Arabs at present in Palestine would consider life in a Jewish Commonwealth impossible ... is there no way out? Surely there is, and a very simple one. The world has recently been discussing the project of moving great hordes of men and women – not a few hundred thousand, but ten to twelve million – from their old homes to a new environment... Suppose the United Nations said to the Arab statesmen “We desire to establish, by the necessary stages, a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine, for we believe a settlement of the Jewish question on lines such as these to be an indispensable part of the world settlement. We give our guarantee that every Arab in Palestine shall have complete civic equality and religious freedom. But if, in spite of this guarantee, any Arab should wish to leave Palestine and settle elsewhere we would make it easy for him to do so; we will see to it that the change takes place in the best conditions, and we will provide ample funds, in each case, for the decure establishment of a new home.” (Nowhere to Lay Their Heads, London, 1945, pp. 28-29)Mr Gollancz then points out that the agricultural and industrial development of the Arab lands is hampered by shortage of population. Iraq, for instance, openly invited Arabs to come and settle on its land.
Indeed, efforts were made during World War II and the years immediately following, to bring about a transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to Iraq. In one such project, the correspondent of the London Times, H. T. Montague Bell, was involved. In his article “Iraq To-Day”, he writes: “Iraq’s paramount requirement is an increase of population. With from 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 inhabitants, she cannot do justice to the potentialities of the land – the lack of labour is a constant problem – and she is at a disadvantage against Turkey and Iran with their far larger populations ... any substantial increase of population in the near future must come from outside.” (The Times, 27 Oct. 1938, p. 13. For a discussion of Mr Bell’s involvement with the plan for the transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq, see my article “Exchanges of Population Plans for the Solution of the Palestine Problem” (Hebrew), Gesher, Spring-Summer, 1978, pp. 160-162.)
However, all these plans, too, failed to materialise either because of lack of goodwill or sustained drive.
(Article first published in Forum on the Jewish People, Zionism and Israel, No. 42/43, Winter 1981, pp. 101-107; pictorial content added for this blog by Daphne Anson.)