Declarations of (In)Dependence: Tensions within Zionist Statecraft, 1896-1948
This article analyzes the relationship between dependence and independence in four foundational texts in the history of Zionist statecraft: Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State of 1896, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Biltmore Program of 1942, and the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. These documents differ greatly in authorship, structure, and audience, but taken together, they illustrate the Zionist project’s convergence with and divergence from anticolonial projects and postcolonial states in the first half of the twentieth century. Both the political program that Herzl sketched out in The Jewish State and Chaim Weizmann’s lobbying during the First World War depended upon the good graces of Europe’s colonial powers. After the war, jubilation among Jews over the Balfour Declaration was accompanied by displays of gratitude, an emotion associated with conditions of dependence. Like anticolonialism in India, Zionism was cautious about demanding outright independence, although the Zionists’ dependence upon Britain was far greater given their status as a minority of Palestine’s population, facing a hostile Arab majority. When the Zionists did demand independence in the Biltmore Program, they also acknowledged their ongoing dependence upon Britain, which they called upon to fulfill its Mandatory responsibilities. In 1948 the Zionists did not separate from Britain so much as Britain separated from Palestine. The Palestine war of that year was a struggle between Israel and Arabs, not between Israel and Britain. Accordingly, the state’s founding declaration was an assertion of creation, not separation, and of sovereignty, not independence from another power. Nonetheless, the document reflected dependence on the international community that had approved Palestine’s partition in November 1947.
“This Shameful Document”: Early PLO Intellectuals on the Balfour Declaration and the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence
During the years surrounding the 1967 war, the Balfour Declaration was the subject of significant debate and polemics by PLO intellectuals, especially those affiliated with the PLO Research Center in Beirut. Why did the PLO find the Declaration still relevant half a century after it was issued, and what do the particular arguments these PLO intellectuals used to challenge the Declaration tell us about how they understood their predicament in the 1960s and early 1970s? This article addresses these broader questions in four parts. (1) It considers the prominent place of the Balfour Declaration in the PLO’s founding covenant and proposes an explanation for why the critique of the Declaration is linked to the denial of Jewish nationhood. (2) Through an examination of several Research Center publications, it offers a précis of the substantive arguments articulated by PLO intellectuals concerning the Declaration in these critical years and notes the dissonance between two particular lines of argument: rejecting the Balfour Declaration because the British had already promised Palestine to the Hashemites (in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence of 1915–16) and rejecting the Declaration because the British had no right to promise Palestine to anyone. (3) In light of the complex, evolving, and ever-tense relationship between Palestinian nationalists and the Hashemite regime, and considering other contemporaneous writings about the Hashemites by the PLO Research Center director, the article tentatively suggests that these intellectuals may well have been aware of the dissonance between their arguments, and perhaps intentionally unsettled the legitimacy of a regime that, not unlike Israel, was established partly as a consequence of a World War I–era promise. (4) By exploring in closer detail one argument that distinguished the Balfour Declaration from the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the article considers the place of international law and pan-Arabist thought in the PLO intellectuals’ arguments.
Zionism, Binationalism, Anti-Semitism: Three Contemporary Jewish Readings of the Balfour Declaration
The letter from the British foreign secretary to Lord Rothschild dated November 2, 1917—the Balfour Declaration—had a mixed reception in Jewish circles in Britain and beyond. This article focuses on the attitudes expressed in three texts that were more or less contemporary with the Declaration, all of them written by prominent Jews who were either British or temporarily residing in Britain at the time. I examine, in turn: a “Zionist Manifesto,” which appeared in the name of the London bureau of the (World) Zionist Organization under the joint signatures of Chaim Weizmann, Nahum Sokolow, and Yechiel Tschlenow; “After the Balfour Declaration,” an essay by Ahad Ha’am; and an internal British Cabinet memorandum written by Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India, who was the sole Jewish member of the Cabinet in Lloyd George’s government. The angle of approach in this article is textual rather than historical: I analyze the logic and rhetoric that structure each text, with an eye to two topics that lie at the heart of Arab-Jewish confrontation in Palestine: (a) Jewish identity vis-à-vis nationhood and statehood, and (b) the existence of an Arab population in Palestine. The result is a kind of snapshot of an extended moment in time: a juxtaposition of three radically different Jewish European readings of the Declaration within three years of its being issued.
The Balfour Declaration in International Law
Was the Balfour Declaration legally binding, or was it merely an unenforceable political undertaking? The question matters not so much because of possible British liability for breach of the Declaration, but more because the Declaration is part of the pre-existing legal framework upon which any peace treaty will be constructed. Peace treaties are negotiated by politicians but drafted by lawyers, and any good lawyer should take full account of the legal landscape before drafting. There is a weak legal argument that the Declaration was binding in and of itself on the date it was issued. In any case, the terms of the Declaration clearly did acquire legal force during the period of the Mandate for Palestine, even though the Declaration was not “incorporated” into the Mandate word-for-word. Moreover, the Declaration did not disappear from the legal landscape after Britain terminated the Mandate. Even assuming Britain had the authority to terminate the Mandate, it could not unilaterally absolve itself of responsibility for failing to achieve the obligations imposed by the Mandate. For while Britain did make good on its promise to facilitate a Jewish “national home,” it failed to make good on the “Balfour Proviso”—the phrase promising “civil and religious rights” for non-Jewish residents of Palestine. Britain’s responsibility for this failure continues to this day. Satisfaction of this responsibility might entail an “acknowledgement of the breach, an expression of regret, a formal apology, or another appropriate modality.” Most likely it should take the form of diplomatic engagement to pursue some form of Palestinian self-determination. Palestinian leaders, for their part, should reconsider their relentless attacks on the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration’s proviso promises Palestinians civil and religious rights. Rather than pillory the Declaration, the Palestinians should embrace it.
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