Labour Monthly

The Arab-Jewish Conference

I Rennap

Source : Labour Monthly January 1939, No. 1. pp.53-58
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The Woodhead Commission Report, which proved the impossibility of partitioning Palestine, has ended a brief phase in British policy in Palestine. This phase was a strategic manoeuvre, attempting to abandon the Mandate as an instrument of rule and to substitute for it a new device with which to rule Palestine. This device was partition.

The Arab revolt, which to-day has reached such an unprecedented high level, has been a great blow to British prestige in the Near East, The National Government realised that the Mandate, as previously administered, was no longer a suitable instrument of policy. So the Mandate, whose workability had never before been questioned, was "discovered" by the Peel Commission to be unworkable; and the promises made to Arabs and Jews, which hitherto had been declared compatible, were "discovered" to be incompatible. Partition was put forward as the one and only solution.

Under Partition, the most vitally strategic parts of Palestine would still be retained under temporary and permanent Mandate (Haifa and Acre in the North, Akaba in the South). The centre of Palestine, which is of lesser strategic importance to Britain, would be carved up into Jewish and Arab puppet States. Britain's hold would still be clamped firmly on Palestine, whilst a measure of the responsibility for mandatory rule would be relinquished; and at the same time a semblance of "independence" would be granted to Arabs and Jews.

Partition became Britain's official policy in Palestine since the Peel Report. It was met with ever increasing resistance by the Arabs, whilst large numbers of Jews, Zionist and non-Zionist, also opposed it.

The Woodhead Report, in which three different Partition schemes were examined, proved with a wealth of facts and figures that Partition was impossible. "We have said that in our opinion there is a deep-seated hostility to partition in any form among the Arab population of Palestine, and that we are convinced that the plan recommended by the Royal Commission would lead to an outbreak of general rebellion which could only be put down by stern and perhaps prolonged military measures." (p.233.)

The British Government therefore has been compelled to abandon Partition as "impracticable."

What will Britain's future policy be? An indication of this has already been given. This is the Conference of Jewish and Arab leaders which the National Government intends calling shortly. In its statement of policy it declared that the Jewish representatives who will be invited will be from the Jewish Agency and the Arab representatives who will be invited will be those Arabs from Palestine and the neighbouring Arab States who are "moderate" in their opinion. The Grand Mufti, or his followers, will be excluded since they are all alleged to be "responsible" for the "organisation" of "terror" and "violence."

It is impossible to understand this new turn in British policy without a basic understanding of these elements from both sides which Britain desires to call together in conference ostensibly for the purpose of effecting a rapprochement.

Who are the "moderate" Arabs? They are those Arab Nationalists who oppose the full-blooded anti-Imperialist and full national independŽence policy of the now suppressed Arab Higher Committee led by the Grand Mufti, and are prepared to compromise with British rule and the Zionists.

They are, in the main, organised in the National Defence Party which is led by Ragheb Bey Nashashibi. Many people think that the basic division between the Nashashibi faction and the Grand Mufti's faction is one of traditional family rivalry. This is not the case. These two trends in Arab nationalist policy reflect, in general, the transformation of the Arab economy under the impact of Zionist penetration, and in particular reflect the interests of social groupings within the Arab bourgeois and landowning class and their relation to British Imperialism. To reduce the Nashashibi opposition to the Grand Mufti to mere family rivalry is to obscure the whole issue. Both "moderate" and "extreme" Arab nationalism have, as we will show, a definite social basis.

Zionist penetration has had repercussions on every strata of the Arab population. Jewish land purchases from Arab landlords have contributed in a measure towards the landlessness which exists among large sections of the Arab peasantry. These newly created Arab proleŽtarians, unorganised, badly paid and without any State aid and pro-tection are confronted with the chauvinistic policy of the Histadrut (Palestine Federation of Labour) which stands for "cleansing" all Jewish enterprises of Arab workers who are compelled to seek work in these concerns if they are to exist. The Arab shopkeeper and "white collar" elements have also been adversely affected by the competition of Jewish immigrants. Hence these strata are the most important driving forces behind the Arab movement.

But the impact of outside capital, Jewish and non-Jewish, has also had its effects upon sections of the Arab landlords and bourgeoisie. Many of the old native industries and crafts have been ruined by the better equipped Jewish capital. For example, the old established soap industry in Nablus has been ruined through Jewish competition (and also through import duties imposed by the Egyptian Government on imported soap). Not only have Arab capitalists, craftsmen and workers been affected, but also large numbers of peasants who cultivated the olive trees which supplied the industry with oil. Thus this section of the Arab bourgeoisie tends also, with the workers and peasants, to be driven into the anti-Imperialist struggle since it realises that its salvaŽtion lies in an independent Palestine having the power to build its own tariff walls, and to prevent native capital from being crushed by better equipped alien capital. Further, the impoverishment and the subseŽquent radicalisation of the peasantry tends to drive many of the traditional landowning families, if they are to retain their leadership of the Arab masses and to divert discontent away from themselves, into the anti-Imperialist struggle. Thus this section of the Arab landŽowning class tends also to be associated with the National bloc, i.e., the extreme anti-Imperialist parties in which the leading party is the Palestine Arab Party led by the Grand Mufti, head of the Husseini family and one of the leading Arab families in Palestine.

This is the social basis of the extreme anti-Imperialist Arabs repreŽsented in the Arab Higher Committee, who uncompromisingly demand national independence. These are the nationalists whom Whitehall calls "organisers of terror" and of "violence" (Imperialism's favourite names for genuine national revolutionary leaders), whom the National Government in its White Paper refused to invite to the conference. But this policy has been strongly criticised, even from pro-Zionist quarters who have declared that the Grand Mufti and the Arab Higher Committee are the leaders of the Arabs (Brailsford in Reynolds, NovemŽber 13, 1938 News-Chronicle -- "Invite the Mufti," November 16, 1938). As a result of this the Colonial Secretary has been compelled to state that certain Arabs, former members of the Arab Higher ComŽmittee who have been deported to the Seychelles, would be released so that they may be "available for selection" to the conference. But he has made clear that the Grand Mufti would not be invited.

But there is also a section of the Arab upper strata which has become wealthy as a result of Zionist immigration. These are the capitalists and landlords who have accumulated wealth through land sales to Jews at inflated prices. Many of then have become citrus growers, others farmers supplying the growing Jewish market. This section stands for "moderation" in the Arab movement, in other words, it is prepared to compromise with British Imperialism and Zionism since it owes its wealth to Zionist penetration.

It is true that on certain occasions it tends also to be nationalistic since it also comes up against the better organised and superior proŽductive technique of the Jewish citrus growers. But it cannot be consistently anti-Imperialistic, since its interests are bound up with further Jewish immigration (the Arab farmers who sell their produce to the Jews, and the smaller landowners in this social group who want to get fat prices for their land from the Jews). Hence this group, led by Ragheb Bey Nashashibi has in the past opposed the consistent anti-Imperialist platform of the extreme Arab parties and has tended to make national independence a secondary issue, concentrating mainly on demanding restrictions on Jewish and non-Arab capitalist enterŽprises. In a word, this group has stood for compromise.

It is clear, then, why the National Government desires to invite only the "moderates" i.e., the compromisers and traitors within the Arab ranks who are prepared to come to terms with British Imperialism and Zionism at the expense of the Arab liberation movement.

But the tremendous upsurge of the revolutionary movement has even forced certain of these compromisers to adopt an anti-Imperialist standpoint. Ragheb Bey Nashashibi, who resigned from the Arab Higher Committee in 1936, thus breaking the unity of the Arab parties, was compelled to submit a memorandum before the Woodhead Com-mission, opposing Partition and putting forward practically the maxiŽmum Arab demands. In spite of this he is not trusted by the militant Arabs and dare not show his face openly in Palestine (he was secretly in favour of Partition and is now a fugitive in Egypt).

His mantle, however, has fallen upon his cousin, Fakhri Bey Hashashibi, who is now the official spokesman of "moderation." He is loud in his denunciation of the Grand Mufti and his policy. In a statement to the Press, he declared:

I accuse Hajamin el Husseini, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, of diverting the noble Arab revolt to his own selfish ends ... I am certain that the Grand Mufti's programme of terrorism against the moderate Arab leaders is futile, and I am certain also that sooner or later he will realise the wisdom of reasonable moderation.

He demanded in a memorandum submitted to the High Commissioner that the Grand Mufti be excluded from the Conference, and that the "moderates" be given every opportunity to express their viewpoint. Ragheb Bey Nashashibi has, however, officially dissociated himself from Fakhri's statements. But this, as his past policy and actions clearly show, is probably a move to "save his face."

Fakhri is looked upon with favour by Whitehall. His statements have been given wide press publicity. He is, first and last, "Britain's man." And the Zionist leaders also look upon him with favour.

Thus Britain is attempting to ally herself with the Arab "moderates," that is, the most compromising and treacherous group. The capitalist press boost them, and lyingly declares that they have the mass support of the Arab people. The National Government aimed at first to invite only these Arabs to London together with representatives of the puppet Arab kingdoms in the Near East, who will betray the Arab Independence Movement. These Arab kings can be called puppets because, in order to maintain their own positions of authority, they are forced into dependence on British support, to a greater or lesser degree.

From the Jewish side Britain intends inviting members of the Jewish agency. These will undoubtedly be the dominant Zionist leaders. This faction (the Weitzman-Ben Gurion faction) has always stood for close co-operation with the Mandatory Power and will (unless tremendous pressure is exerted from the rank and file below) continue to do so. When British interests demanded the abandonment of the Mandate and the substitution of Partition, this faction was Britain's faithful servant. It accepted Partition, partly because it was British policy, partly because it offered them a pocket Jewish State in Palestine. These leaders forced Partition upon the Zionist movement, in spite of the opposition to Partition from large numbers of Zionist rank and filers and a number of veteran Zionist leaders, whilst leading anti-partitionists were effectively muzzled.

To-day they are bitterly disappointed that Partition has been abanŽdoned. Their dream of a Jewish sovereign State (no matter how tiny, no matter how dangerous this would be for Palestine Jewry) has been shattered. But, true to their policy of co-operation with Britain, they have declared:

We shall, as always, co-operate (with Britain, I.R.), and in spite of disappointments and disillusionment, our co-operation will be loyal. ( Zionist Review, November io, 1938.)

In this way the pro-Imperialist Zionists will be brought together in conference with the pro-Imperialist Arabs. Britain will then find "a common platform" for both sides!

This "common platform" may be the continuation of the Mandate, for, say, another ten years, but in a "modified" form. Hence the Government's pious statement in its White Paper that it "will keep constantly in mind the international character of the Mandate," thus trying to reassure the Zionist and pro-Zionist elements in the Labour and Progressive movement who sincerely believe in the mandates system. To the Arabs a "gesture" has also been made. Article IV. of the present Mandate, which gives only the Jewish Agency the right to be consulted on all questions concerning the country, will be omitted from the new Mandate. The Arab, too, will be "consulted!" Some form of restricted legislative council may be offered. Immigration will be continued, still on a restricted basis.

Fakhri and his followers, if invited to the Conference, will accept even in the teeth of the opposition of anti-Imperialist Arab delegates whom Britain, at the last moment, may be compelled to invite. The Zionist leaders, in spite of protestations against the neighbouring Arab States being invited, and against the limited Jewish immigration, will also accept under pressure from the British Government.

But this betrayal of the national aspirations of the Arab people will be repudiated by the militant anti-imperialist Arabs. And Britain, after declaring piously that she has discharged her obligations to both Arabs and Jews, will declare also that the Arab "moderates" have the backing of the Arab masses, and will then deal with the "recalcitrant" Arabs.

Should such a "settlement" be offered by the National Government, it must be exposed by the Labour and Progressive movements. Like the Munich "settlement," it will not bring peace and co-operation to Palestine, but further conflict and an increase in Fascist influence among certain reactionary elements within the Arab movement.

The Labour and Progressive movements must demand a conference of Jews and Arabs on democratic and representative lines. This must be the first step towards independent and democratic government in the interests of the Palestinian people. The Arab delegates must be democratically elected. They must be the real leaders and representatives of the Arab people. These leaders are, in the main, members of the Arab Higher Committee who must be amnestied and allowed to return to Palestine. The Grand Mufti, as well as other Arab leaders, who have the backing of the Arab people, must represent the Arabs, and not the Nashashibi traitors, who are hated and despised by the masses of the labouring Arab population.

From the Jewish side, democratically elected non-Zionist Jews (and in particular, Jewish labour representatives), as well as Zionists must represent the Jews; and among the Zionist representatives there should also be such progressive Zionists, like Dr. Judah Magnes and Professor Norman Bentwich, who have worked untiringly for an Arab-Jewish understanding.

Along these broad representative lines must the progressive moveŽments demand that the Arab-Jewish conference should take place. The basis for discussion must be the setting up of a democratic indeŽpendent Government of Arabs and Jews which will settle the outŽstanding problems, economic and political, which confront the two peoples. Only a Palestine, independent and democratic, will bring peace and co-operation to Arabs and Jews. Only within democratic institutions can all that is best in the heroic work of the Jewish settlers be conserved and strengthened as a force for progress and of benefit to the Arabs in the Arabian lands in the Near East, as well as the Jews.

Under such conditions Palestine can also play its part, together with other countries, in relieving the terrible distress and misery among the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. An Arab-Jewish understanding would create possibilities for further Jewish immigration into Palestine if the democratically elected Government of Arabs and Jews would find this possible within the economic absorptive capacity of the country. It would also create possibilities for the settlement of Jewish refugees in the neighbouring Arab countries within their absorptive capacity. The Arab lands in the Near East can make a great contribution towards relieving the terrible distress of the Jewish people, but this is conŽtingent upon an Arab-Jewish understanding in Palestine on a demoŽcratic basis, and the consent of the Arab peoples as a whole.

The task of the Labour and Progressive movements as the defenders of all oppressed peoples, alike of the Jewish people who are suffering so terribly, and of the Arab people, is to demand such a real democratic conference of Jews and Arabs. This would be the first positive step towards peace and progress in Palestine.