Zionism, the Palestinians, & Peace

Do the various ideologies of Zionism allow for the practical coexistence of Jews and Palestinians?

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He explains, for the benefit of the reader, how Jewish immigration has benefited the Arabs of Palestine: formerly primitive illiterates living in crushing poverty, they have received education, technology and economic opportunities. Wealthy Arabs have gained even more, their land increasing in value as more and more of it is bought up by Jews--who then admit the Arabs to their progressive, liberal society on the basis of full equality.

While Herzl's vision has the feel of paternalistic 19th century colonialism, it was grounded in good intentions, and its naiveté only became clear as clashes between Jews and Arabs intensified with growing Jewish immigration in the 1920s. What began as localized spats over land rights, employment, and cultural differences escalated into a full-scale conflict between rival national movements.

A Painful Reality

How did the Zionists react to this unanticipated state of affairs? From the 1920s until the 1970s, the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine and then the State of Israel was dominated by the Zionist Labor movement. In line with their socialist worldview, Labor Zionists tended to analyze the Arab-Jewish conflict in economic terms.

Until the 1930s, for example, David Ben Gurion believed that as the economic growth caused by Jewish immigration enhanced the Palestinian Arabs' standard of living, they would gradually come to appreciate the benefits of Zionism; the conflict would thereby be neutralized. This prognosis was shattered by the outbreak of the Arab revolt in 1936, at the peak of a cycle of economic growth. The Labor Zionists had failed to take into account the nationalist, ideological basis of the Arabs' opposition to Zionism. That reality now became painfully clear.

For the radical left--represented by the Marxist Hashomer Hatzair movement--the principle of international solidarity and the intensification of Arab opposition necessitated a reworking of Zionist goals. Hashomer Hatzair, together with Brit Shalom--a liberal, academic peace movement--abandoned the aim of exclusive Jewish independence in favor of a binational vision of Jewish-Arab coexistence within a unitary state. This plan was invalidated both by the absence of an Arab partner and by the establishment of the State of Israel as a fait accompli in 1948.

Abandoning the hope that economic benefit would reconcile the Palestinians to Zionism, the mainstream Labor movement also reluctantly recognized the need to compromise over Jewish national goals. In 1936 and then again in 1947, the Zionist leadership accepted British and United Nations plans to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states (the plans were both nixed by the Arabs).

Since the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, the motto of the Israeli left has been "land for peace"--territorial compromise with Palestinian nationalism while upholding the ultimate Zionist goal of a Jewish majority within an independent state.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.