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The Zionist movement has maintained a striking continuity in its aims and methods over the past century. From the start, the movement sought to achieve a Jewish majority in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state on as much of the land as possible. The methods included promoting mass Jewish immigration and acquiring tracts of land that would become the inalienable property of the Jewish people. This policy inevitably prevented the indigenous Arab residents from attaining their national goals and establishing a Palestinian state. It also necessitated displacing Palestinians from their lands and jobs when their presence conflicted with Zionist interests.
"The names of the dynamic four who
will go down in history in the rebuilding of Zion will be Thodore Herzl, who
saw the vision; Chaim Weizmann, who grasped the occasion; Arthur Balfour, who
caused the world to renew the ancient Promise in a modern Covenant; and Herbert
Samuel, who turned principle into practice, word into fact."
Herbert Samuel 1870-1963
The Zionist movement arose in late nineteenth-century Europe, influenced by
the nationalist ferment sweeping the continent. In 1897 the World Zionist Organization
was founded to solve Europe's "Jewish problem" through Zionism. Zionism
acquired its particular focus from the ancient Jewish longing for the return
to Zion and received a strong impetus from the increasingly intolerable conditions
facing the large Jewish community in tsarist Russia. The movement also developed
at the time of major European territorial acquisitions in Asia and Africa and
benefited from the European powers' competition for influence in the shrinking
Ottoman Empire. The leaders of the nascent nationalist movements in the Middle
East, however, viewed Zionism as an adjunct of European colonialism. Moreover,
Zionist assertions of the contemporary relevance of the Jews' historical ties
to Palestine, coupled with their land purchases and immigration, alarmed the
indigenous population of the Ottoman districts that Palestine comprised. The
Jewish community (yishuv) amounting to 10 percent of Palestine's population
by 1914 were outspoken enough to arouse the opposition of Arab leaders and induce
them to exert counter pressure on the Ottoman regime to prohibit Jewish immigration
and land buying. As early as 1891, a group of Muslim and Christian notables
cabled Istanbul, urging the government to prohibit Jewish immigration and land
purchase. The resulting edicts radically curtailed land purchases in the sanjak
(district) of Jerusalem for the next decade. When a Zionist Congress resolution
in 1905 called for increased colonization, the Ottoman regime suspended all
land transfers to Jews in both the sanjak of Jerusalem and the wilayat (province)
of Beirut. After the coup d'etat by the Young Turks in 1908, the Palestinians
used their representation in the central parliament and their access to newly
opened local newspapers to press their claims and express their concerns. They
were particularly vociferous in opposition to discussions that took place between
the financially hard-pressed Ottoman regime and Zionist leaders in 1912-13,
which would have let the world Zionist Organization purchase crown land (jiftlik)
in the Baysan Valley, along the Jordan River. The Zionists did not try to quell
Palestinian fears, since their concern was to encourage colonization from Europe
and to minimize the obstacles in their path. The only effort to meet to discuss
their aspirations occurred in the spring of 1914. Its difficulties illustrated
the incompatibility in their aspirations. The Palestinians wanted the Zionists
to present them with a document that would state their precise political ambitions,
their willingness to open their schools to Palestinians, and their intentions
of learning Arabic and integrating with the local population. The Zionists rejected
"[the indigenous Palestinian population
was akin to] the rocks of Judea, as obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult
The dispossession and expulsion of a majority of Palestinians were the result of Zionist policies planned over a thirty-year period. Fundamentally, Zionism focused on attaining a Jewish majority in Palestine and acquiring statehood irrespective of the wishes of the indigenous population. Non-recognition of the political and national rights of the Palestinian people was a key Zionist policy. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, placed maximalist demands before the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919. He stated that he expected 70,000 to 80,000 Jewish immigrants to arrive each year in Palestine. When they became the majority, they would form an independent government and Palestine and would become: "as Jewish as England is English". Weizmann proposed that the boundaries should be the Mediterranean Sea on the west; Sidon, the Litani River, and Mount Hermon on the north; all of Transjordan west of the Hijaz railway on the east; and a line across Sinai from Aqaba to al-Arish on the south, arguing that: "the boundaries above outlined are what we consider essential for the economic foundation of the country. Palestine must have its natural outlet to the sea and control of its rivers and their headwaters. The boundaries are sketched with the general economic needs and historic traditions of the country in mind."
Adherents of Zionism believed that the Jewish people had an inherent and inalienable right to Palestine. Religious Zionists stated this in biblical terms, referring to the divine promise of the land to the tribes of Israel. Secular Zionists relied more on the argument that Palestine alone could solve the problem of Jewish dispersion and virulent anti-Semitism.
Zionists generally felt that European civilization was superior to Arab culture and values. The Zionists would bring enlightenment and economic development to the backward Arabs. David Ben-Gurion, the leading labour Zionist, could not understand why Arabs rejected his offer to use Jewish finance, scientific knowledge, and technical expertise to modernize the Middle East. He attributed this rejection to backwardness rather than to the affront that Zionism posed to the Arabs' pride and to their aspirations for independence.
Zionist leaders recognized that they needed an external patron to legitimise their presence in the international arena and to provide them legal and military protection in Palestine. Great Britain played that role in the 1920s and 1930s, and the United States became the mentor in the mid-1940s. Zionist leaders realized that they needed to make tactical accommodations to that patron-such as downplaying their public statements about their political aspirations or accepting a state on a limited territory-while continuing to work toward their long-term goals. The presence and needs of the Arabs were viewed as secondary. The Zionist leadership never considered allying with the Arab world against the British and Americans. Rather, Weizmann, in particular, felt that the yishuv should bolster the British Empire and guard its strategic interests in the region. Later, the leaders of Israel perceived the Jewish state as a strategic asset to the United States in the Middle East.
Zionist politicians accepted the idea of an Arab nation but rejected the concept of a Palestinian nation. The Zionist myth considered the Arab residents of Palestine as comprising a minute fraction of the land and people of the Arab world, and as lacking any separate identity and aspirations. Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were willing to negotiate with Arab rulers in order to gain those rulers' recognition of Jewish statehood in Palestine in return for the Zionists' recognition of Arab independence elsewhere, but they would not negotiate with the Arab politicians in Palestine for a political settlement in their common homeland.
Finally, Zionist leaders argued that if the Palestinians could not reconcile themselves to Zionism, then force majeure, not a compromise of goals, was the only possible response. By the early 1920s, after violent Arab protests broke out in Jaffa and Jerusalem, leaders of the yishuv recognized that it might be impossible to bridge the gap between the aims of the two peoples. Building the national home would lead to an unavoidable clash, since the Arab majority would not agree to become a minority.
(Source: http://www.palestineremembered.com; The department for Jewish Zionist Education)