Israel Mattuck, Saturday, March 01, 1947

Mr Bevin’s Statement on Palestine

The main thesis of Mr. Bevin’s statement on Palestine was that the mandate had proved unworkable, and it is painful for Jews that a section of Jews must share with Arabs the blame for its failure. The Balfour Declaration, which the mandate intended to implement contained two irreconcilable promises, irreconcilable that is, it stretched too far. It promises on the one hand “a Jewish national home in Palestine” and, on the other, that the position of the people in the country would not be hurt. In spite of a statement made recently by Mr. Harold Nicholson that when the Balfour Declaration was made no one in the Foreign Office had any idea that there would be any difficulty in carrying it out, It must be assumed that its authors saw the incompatibility of its two parts, but believed that it would be resolved, or transcended, in practice. Instead, however, it hardened into a bitter and hard conflict between Jewish nationalists and Arab nationalists. First the actions of the Arabs and later the demands of the Jewish nationalists or political Zionists raised it to the fierce hear of a political struggle.

The mandate could have worked only if the policy it laid down avoided all the political implications. That happened at first when the immigration was regulated according to the economic absorptive capacity of the country. The Arabs objected, but the Balfour Declaration justified it. When, however, the Jewish nationalists proclaimed that they aimed to have a Jewish majority in Palestine so as to make it a Jewish State, they gave the immigration of Jews into the country a political character. They went further with their politics. In 1942 the Zionist Organisation adopted a programme demanding that Palestine should be made a Jewish State. That demand stretched the interpretation of the phrase, a Jewish National home, in the Balfour Declaration to a political significance which, if it was ever intended to have, would have made it either unrealistic or insincere. The extreme demand by the Jewish Nationalists was faced by an equally extreme demand by the Arab Nationalists. Politics thus brought out and sharpened the irreconcilability of the parts of the Balfour Declaration making the mandate based on it unworkable. The tragic plight of the unfortunate Jews on the continent does not justify the political methods of the Jewish Nationalists; they have only added frustrated hopes to the tragedy. The political claims reduced their chances of getting to Palestine which had no chance of being realised. In maintaining their claims political Zionism allowed its complete unreality and, in the result, its failure. The outbreak of terrorism underlined the failure. In the face of such a political situation, all that the recent Zionist Congress could do was to report to parrot-like but with hysterical vehemence the demand for Palestine to be a Jewish State. Missing any opportunity to ease the situation, they used every means to aggravate it. They must share with the Arab Nationalists the blame for the present situation.

It has been questioned whether the British Government should refer the problem of Palestine to the United Nations. But it is hard to see what else they could do. Britain cannot be expected to bear alone the burden and the odium of policy which would have to be enforced against the opposition of the two groups of nationalists. Their intransigence gives no hope of a solution which both will accept; they have agreed only in being intransigent.

The decision of the British Government to put the Palestine problem to the United Nations, and the reasons for it, bring home to the Jews the fact which they must recognise. Political Jewish Nationalism is bankrupt. It has only succeeded in forcing the decision out of the hands of Britain, the country that has again and again proved its friendliness to the Jews, into the maelstrom of international politics, and that at a time of the most confusion and most intense conflict among the nations. Only one good thing can be hoped for form this development, that the nations of the world, made to realise their human duty to the suffering Jews, will give them homes where they can live in freedom and ordinary security.

The measure of the bankruptcy of political Jewish Nationalism is indicated by the fact that one of its prominent friends in parliament could only urge that the Jews and Arabs in Palestine should be allowed “to fight it out even though it would involve some bloodshed.”

The failure of the Jewish Nationalists was foreseen long ago. The prophets often warned their ancient [people] not to trust in politics. It leads to force and futility. Because you refuse the quiet waters of Silwan [Shiloah], that is the guidance of the Jewish faith, said Isaiah to those who in his time followed a political party and failed, but turned to political methods your failure has come upon you. That is the line with the conception of the Jews as a people of religion. It was not the least of the merits of Mr. Bevin’s statements that he recognised and emphasised that conception of the Jews.

The complete failure of political Jewish Nationalism lays a clear duty on the Jews of the world. The vast majority of them are not political nationalists. They want a home for homeless Jews, a refuge for suffering Jews. Palestine can supply it for a number of them. But their coming to Palestine must be freed from political implications; they must not be used to further a political aim. Mr. Bevin made it clear that it would have been possible to get 100,000 Jews into Palestine if the political issue were removed and it may still be possible if that condition is fulfilled. A new beginning must be made to put Jewish immigration into Palestine clearly on a humanitarian footing. In that way it may still be possible to use the opportunity which Mr. Bevin has offered for another immediate attempt to reach an agreement which would help the suffering Jews. And only in that way can it be hoped to obtain a decision that will help them if and when the problem comes to the United Nations. The political Jewish Nationalists have failed because of their politics; the other Jews must unite to achieve a solution on humanitarian grounds with a humanitarian aim.