In a penetrating study that draws on extensive archival research Ben Reiff asks why the small but vociferous Zionist minority that sought to establish a bi-national, Jewish-Arab state through an agreement with Palestine’s Arab population in the 1920s and 1930s failed so comprehensively. While the idea of bi-nationalism is on the rise again today, especially on the left, in response to the failure of the two state paradigm, Reiff reminds us that ‘if there is anything we can learn from the history of the bi-nationalist project during the Mandate period, however, it is that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are at their core based on the acquisition of a nation-state of their own.’
‘Much of the theory of Zionism has been concerned with making the Jews into a “normal” nation in Palestine […] The desire for power and conquest seems to be normal to many human beings and groups, and we being the ruled everywhere, must here rule; being the minority everywhere, we must here be in the majority’.
Such was the logic at the heart of mainstream Zionist thinking as observed by rabbi, scholar and political activist Judah Leon Magnes in his 1930 essay Like All the Nations? It was a logic to which he himself did not subscribe; in contradistinction to the Zionist leadership which increasingly came to view the pursuit of a Jewish State in Palestine as its primary policy, Magnes was in a small but vociferous Zionist minority that sought a very different end – namely, the establishment of a bi-national, Jewish-Arab state through an agreement with Palestine’s Arab population. In a Zionist movement characterised by debate and disunity from its inception as a modern political force in the late nineteenth century, this was perhaps the most divisive and emotive issue of all during the period of the British Mandate.
This topic has both contemporary and historical relevance in relation to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and its Palestinian-Israeli core. There is a natural tendency – augmented by political contestation – to read history backwards and assume a linear transition from the Zionism of the nineteenth century to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, but there is much to be learned from considering the alternative paths the movement might have taken. Currently, bi-nationalism is enjoying a renaissance as a proposed solution to the Israel-Palestine issue amidst declining support for a two-state solution among both populations. There is a danger in drawing parallels between Zionist bi-nationalism in Mandatory Palestine and today’s discussions of bi-nationalism, but it is clear that many of the tensions inherent in the pursuit of a Jewish State, which the bi-nationalists sought to re-frame, remain highly relevant today – manifesting most explicitly through the ubiquitous discussion of demography.
Although there were differing ideas as to the specifics of what a bi-national state would look like, the fundamental principle was to ensure parity between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. ‘Just as we do not want our neighbors to determine our fate, we do not want to be in the position of determining theirs,’ explained Magnes’ ally in the bi-nationalist movement, the eminent philosopher Martin Buber. ‘Is it really necessary that the lives of two nations living together in one place depend on the solely political concepts of majority and minority? Has not the time come to try and put the problem in different terms? And isn’t it possible that this particular location and our particular situation may be just the circumstances in which to begin trying?’
With the onset of the 1947-49 Arab-Israeli War and the emergence therefrom of the State of Israel as a Jewish State, the Zionist bi-nationalist project was effectively terminated. But during the preceding decades this ultimate destination was by no means a given, not only because of the rapidly deteriorating situation for world Jewry but also because of the fierce internal debate that persisted right up until the outbreak of war in Palestine. The primary source materials consulted while conducting research for this article provide an insight into how close the project came, in various instances, to being actualised. The bi-nationalists lost the debate within the Zionist movement quite definitively, but their efforts continued through pursuing external avenues of implementation: negotiations with Arab leaders and appeals to international bodies. It is here that this radical alternative came closest to fruition, but the forces opposing bi-nationalism – favouring instead a Jewish State and/or an Arab State – were ultimately far too strong to be overcome.
The ‘Arab Question’ and the Seeds of Bi-Nationalism
At the Twelfth Zionist Congress (1921), Martin Buber proposed the adoption of a resolution committing the Zionist leadership to ‘establishing a just alliance with the Arab peoples’. It read: ‘We do not aspire to return to the Land of Israel with which we have inseparable historical and spiritual ties in order to suppress another people or dominate them. In this land, whose population is both sparse and scattered, there is room both for us and for its present inhabitants.’
Relations between Palestine’s Jewish and Arab populations were tense almost from the very start of Zionist immigration to the region; Arabs saw the new arrivals acquiring land and pursuing ‘Hebrew labour’ at the expense of their own workers and feared that, despite statements to the contrary by Zionist leaders, the Jewish population sought to take over the country. With the crystallisation of Arab nationalism in Palestine during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the so-called Arab Question was already becoming an existential one for Zionism. The rejection of Buber’s proposed resolution, however, demonstrates the reluctance of the majority of Zionist leaders to recognise it as such. There remains dispute in the historiography regarding whether Buber and others who shared his positions recognised the authenticity of Arab nationalism in Palestine earlier than the Zionist leadership, or were simply more optimistic about prospects for a Jewish-Arab agreement (while the leadership sought to conceal the extent of Arab opposition and its incompatibility with Zionist ambitions).
Historians of this era often point to early articles by Ahad Ha’Am and Yitzhak Epstein as exceptions, but even their approaches to the Arab Question were not altogether distinct from the majority of Zionists. In an 1891 essay titled Truth from the Land of Israel, Ahad Ha’Am (pictured left) warned that ‘if the time comes when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their place’. Though perhaps more prescient than most of his contemporaries, he nonetheless saw Arab hostility as merely one of several obstacles confronting Zionism, rather than a political or national problem requiring deeper consideration.
The following decade, in a 1905 speech (published later as an article) entitled A Hidden Question, Epstein lamented that the Arab Question ‘outweighs all the others […] but has been completely hidden from the Zionists’. He argued that they must seek to establish themselves in Palestine ‘without sinning against justice and without harming anyone’, and that this could best be achieved through bringing agricultural, medical and technological improvements to the native population – as a result of which ‘hundreds of villagers will come to request the Jews to take over their land’. The belief that Arab hostility could be pacified through the provision of economic benefits was, in fact, widespread (indeed, Buber himself initially subscribed to aspects of it).
The major point of divergence between the bi-nationalists and the Zionist leadership was therefore not simply a greater sensitivity to Arab concerns but rather their understanding of the very purpose of Zionism. For the most part, these dissenters were followers of a Cultural Zionist philosophy rooted in the thinking of Ahad Ha’Am, which held that Jewish immigration to the biblical Land of Israel would enable the creation of a spiritual centre comprised of an intellectual elite whose achievements would enrich Judaism throughout the world. In this sense, to paraphrase the historian Shalom Ratzabi, they sought to resolve not the distress of the Jewish people (the so-called Jewish Question) but the distress of Judaism itself. As such, whereas the Zionist movement’s largely secular leadership sought to bring an end to the Jewish diaspora condition by becoming a majority in their ancestral home, the Cultural Zionists believed this to be a futile – indeed, Messianic – endeavour since the Jewish Question could not be resolved. The bi-nationalists also generally perceived Zionism to be a movement for returning to the East rather than establishing an outpost of the West, and unlike the Zionist leadership they opposed the realisation of Zionism behind the force of an imperial power.
From Brit Shalom to Ihud
The earliest and perhaps best-known Zionist group in Mandatory Palestine to adopt a bi-nationalist platform was Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace). Founded in 1925, its membership comprised Zionist functionaries (including Arthur Ruppin, Yitzhak Epstein and Haim Margalit Kalvarisky) as well as several more radical Central European intellectuals (including Ernst Simon and Hans Kohn). Martin Buber was active in the German chapter of Brit Shalom but did not settle in Palestine until after the group had dissolved in the 1930s, while Judah Magnes – who in the same year as Brit Shalom’s founding became the first chancellor of the Hebrew University – was similarly associated but never joined. [Picture below of older section of Hebrew University taken from this YNet/ Yediot Aharanot article].
From the beginning its members were labelled ‘“ideologists” and dreamers’ by other labour leaders, and its support for a political constitution for Palestine based on parity was seen as ‘a lazy policy of compromise’. David Ben-Gurion declared at an early meeting with Brit Shalom members that the group’s demands were inappropriate because ‘the Jewish people wants to be a free people in its land, to be its own master, and that means – a Jewish State’. Berl Katznelson, another labour leader, began censoring Brit Shalom’s publications in the newspaper he edited. By 1929 Buber was aware that ‘many find this group offensive’, and there were even occasions wherein protestors tried to prevent supporters of Brit Shalom from speaking to audiences. Detractors often made the claim that Brit Shalom was anti-Zionist for its willingness to countenance placing limits on Jewish immigration. A resolution at the 17th Zionist Congress (1931) defining the final goal of Zionism in terms of solving the Jewish Question (i.e. through mass immigration) was interpreted by some in Brit Shalom as a directed attack on their own politics; one member wrote after the congress that ‘according to that decision […] we really are no longer “Zionists”’.
The hostility directed towards Brit Shalom was compounded by the emerging consensus in the Yishuv by the early 1930s that Zionism could only be realised in spite of Palestine’s Arabs and not through their consent. The impetus for this consensus came from Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir ‘Ze’ev’ Jabotinsky, whose Iron Wall philosophy had in common with the bi-nationalists the conviction that the Arab population could not be appeased through economic incentives. Rather than advocating a political agreement, however, Jabotinsky argued that the Arab population would only accept Zionism once they no longer had any belief in their ability to resist it. Radicalised by the 1929 Arab riots in which Jews were massacred in Hebron and Safed and the 1930 Passfield White Paper by which Britain imposed limits on Jewish immigration, the Yishuv and its leadership overwhelmingly began to internalise the logic underpinning Jabotinsky’s ideas.
This hardening of attitudes in the Yishuv exacerbated the internal divisions in Brit Shalom. Hans Kohn, among the more radical members of Brit Shalom, had for several years been dissatisfied with what he saw as a lack of political action by the movement. After the ‘disturbances’ of 1929 and the Zionist reaction to them, however, Kohn became entirely disaffected not only with Brit Shalom but with Zionism as a whole. ‘Zionism will either be peaceful or it will be without me’ he wrote subsequently to Buber, resigning from his position in the Zionist Organisation and emigrating to the US. Arthur Ruppin, meanwhile, reached similar conclusions regarding the impossibility of reconciling Zionism with peaceful bi-nationalism, but chose Zionism instead. In contrast to both of these men, Buber recognised that ‘contact with the real world will vitiate the purity of moral principles’ but remained committed to the justice of bi-nationalism despite the dissolution of Brit Shalom in 1933.
A trickle of organised bi-nationalist activity continued during the 1930s through Kedma Mizraha (Forward to the East), Hashomer Hatza’ir and, most notably, the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation. But the trigger that galvanised Zionist bi-nationalism into once again becoming a more assertive political force was the Biltmore Programme of May 1942. With WWII rendering impossible the scheduled gatherings of the World Zionist Congress, Ben-Gurion instigated an ‘extraordinary meeting’ at New York’s Biltmore Hotel for delegates of the major North American Zionist organisations and any other Zionist leaders able to join from Europe and Palestine. In response to the 1939 White Paper (by which Britain imposed severe limits on Jewish immigration into Palestine) and what was known of the Nazi Holocaust afflicting European Jewry, the meeting adopted a resolution demanding that ‘the gates of Palestine be opened [to Jewish immigrants …] and that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth’. Following the adoption of this resolution by the Zionist Organisation’s Inner Actions Committee, the pursuit of a Jewish State became official Zionist policy.
Stunned into action, the Biltmore Programme provoked various responses from the bi-nationalist camp, but none more important than the establishment by Judah Magnes of Ihud (Unity), a new organisation which was in many ways the most direct heir of Brit Shalom. The basic puzzle, as Magnes saw it, was ‘how to give the Jews the chance of a larger immigration and at the same time take away from the Arabs their fear of being swamped and dominated by large numbers of Jews’. He thus envisioned a post-war Middle East comprising a union of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, which would be incorporated into a larger union of Arab nations, and a further union of these nations with all the free nations of the world.
At times acting in concert with Hashomer Hatza’ir and the League but often acting alone, Ihud (and particularly Magnes) quickly became the vanguard of Zionist bi-nationalism. Despite re-energising the bi-nationalist camp during the war years, however, Ihud was unable to radically alter the direction Zionist policy. [Picture on right shows a Hashomer Hatza’ir troupe from Sanok, Poland, in the 1920s].
Ernst Simon, an important figure in both Brit Shalom and Ihud, reflected on this failure in the years immediately after the symbolic death of the bi-nationalist project – with the outbreak of Jewish-Arab war and the establishment of a Jewish State. He understood then that the bi-nationalists had ‘underestimated the desire and determination of the Jewish nation to establish a state of its own’. These intellectuals, whose thinking had long surpassed the narrow constraints of statehood and simple nationalism, ‘did not understand the inner logic of a nationalist movement that was seeking belatedly to obtain what other peoples had long enjoyed’. Whereas the bi-nationalists thought it possible ‘to skip the stage of the national state’, Zionism was in fact motivated by ‘passions long dammed up and forcibly repressed [which] burst forth all at once’. As David Ben-Gurion had predicted in 1930, five years before becoming chairman of the Zionist Executive, ‘the masses of Israel will never relinquish their burning and firm desire to be a free people which determines alone and by itself its destiny like all free nations, which is dependent neither on the grace nor on the wrath of another nation’.
Bi-Nationalism as a Basis for Jewish-Arab Negotiations
Alongside their struggle within the Zionist movement, the bi-nationalists pursued negotiations with Arab leaders as another potential avenue through which to achieve their goals. Although active support for bi-nationalism probably never surpassed ten per cent of the Jewish population, they hoped that the attainment of a bi-nationalist agreement with Arab leaders would ‘revolutionise Jewish public opinion’ and in turn force the Zionist leadership to fulfil the terms of the agreement. One of the many charges levelled at Ihud (and bi-nationalism more generally) by detractors was the idea that, despite being ‘primarily designed to allay the apprehensions of the Arab section of the community’, in reality its platform had ‘no support whatsoever among any part of the Arab population’. This was not, in fact, strictly true: throughout the 1930s and 1940s, different Arab leaders engaged with various initiatives designed to negotiate a Jewish-Arab agreement on the basis of a bi-national Palestine. Among these, perhaps the most notable were the Initiative of the Five, the Hyamson-Newcombe proposal and the negotiations with Falastin al-Jedida.
The first of these, the Initiative of the Five, took place several weeks into the Arab general strike of 1936. High court judges Mustafa al-Khalidi (an Arab) and Gad Frumkin (a Jew) began discussions with Arab notable Musa al-Alami (picture on left) regarding how to bring an end to the strike. Frumkin then met with Magnes and three other prominent Jews (together comprising the Five) in order to develop a programme to propose to the Arab leaders. The crux of the proposal centred on Jewish immigration: there would be a temporary pause on immigration during negotiations to end the strike, before then being permitted at 30,000 per year for the next ten years (bringing the Jewish population in Palestine to 40 per cent by the end of this period). It also proposed the formation of a Legislative Council on the basis of parity.
The response of the Jewish Agency Executive (JAE), after the Five presented their proposal, was that no cessation of immigration (however temporary) would be countenanced, and that the yearly rate of immigration could not be fixed at a lower figure than the previous year’s immigration numbers, i.e. 62,000, which was seen as the country’s economic absorptive capacity. Moreover, the Zionist leadership was only willing to entertain the idea of parity government so long as the Mandate still existed, and only as a stepping stone towards a Jewish State rather than a permanent arrangement. The JAE invoked Zionist ‘discipline’ as resolved by the 1933 Zionist Congress and took the negotiations out of the hands of the Five, whereupon talks soon broke down. Whereas the JAE blamed Alami for his inability to acquire the support of Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, head of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), Frumkin blamed the JAE for demanding terms they knew would be unacceptable to the Arabs, who would consequently be seen as the side ending the negotiations. As the historian Neil Caplan argues, it seems that the JAE continued the negotiations only ‘to create the proper appearances’, as their primary concern at this time was how Britain would respond to the Arab strike. The negotiations themselves, therefore, were never the priority.
If the Zionist leadership deserves the blame for the collapse of the Initiative of the Five, this certainly was not true of the Hyamson-Newcombe initiative of 1937-38. Albert Hyamson, a non-Zionist and former director of the Immigration Department in Palestine, wrote to Zionist representatives in London and to Magnes informing them that he knew of Arab leaders (understood to be members of the AHC, by now in exile) willing to negotiate. The terms of the proposal, which Hyamson explained were the result of discussions that took place during the summer of 1937 in America, England and Geneva involving Jews, Arabs and Englishmen, included: an independent Palestine permitting a Jewish National Home but not a Jewish State, and Jewish immigration permitted up to a figure less than 50 per cent. Several weeks of detailed clarifications followed, with Magnes attempting to act as intermediary between Hyamson and Moshe Shertok (head of the JAE’s Political Department). Amidst vociferous internal and external debate on the Peel Commission’s partition proposal, and with the identity of the Arab leaders in question unknown, the JAE was especially suspicious that the initiative could just be ‘a manoeuvre of Jews and Englishmen who desired to defeat the scheme for establishing a Jewish State’. This suspicion increased upon being informed by Magnes that the proposal was formulated not by Arabs but by ‘an Englishman and a Jew’ – the Englishman being Colonel Stewart F. Newcombe, founder of a bureau representing the AHC in London and considered by Ben-Gurion to be ‘a notorious anti-Zionist’, and the Jew being Hyamson.
The JAE asserted that the only way forward would be to meet directly and secretly with the Arab leaders (Hyamson had by now mentioned several names including the Mufti). After discussing this with an AHC representative in Jerusalem, Magnes informed the JAE that the proposal under consideration was in fact not acceptable to the Arab leaders because Newcombe had amended their terms. Magnes subsequently conveyed completely new terms dictated by the Arab leaders (the ‘Beirut text’), which included ceasing Jewish immigration and omitting reference to a Jewish National Home. Although Magnes maintained that the proposal had always been presented as a basis for discussion rather than final terms of an agreement, it is not surprising that the JAE deemed the whole affair untrustworthy. Poor communication between Jewish and Arab leaders that resulted from mismanagement by the orchestrators of this initiative thus undermined another potential opportunity.
The 1946 agreement between the League and a new group of Arab leaders called Falastin al-Jedida (The New Palestine) demonstrates another obstacle in the way of a Jewish-Arab agreement during this period: the overwhelming force of Arab rejectionism. Initiated by Haim Kalvarisky and Aharon Cohen (chairman and secretary of the League, respectively), negotiations were held with a group of Arabs led by Fauzi Darwish al-Husseini, a distant cousin of the Mufti. The groups signed a vague agreement in November 1946, being the only instance of a mutually accepted Jewish-Arab programme during the Mandate period. The Arabs endorsed the League’s political platform of June 1942 (an explicitly bi-nationalist manifesto), and the text of their agreement mentioned political equality as well as Jewish immigration in accordance with the country’s economic absorptive capacity – without an upper limit.
Less than two weeks after the signing of the agreement, however, al-Husseini was assassinated by the Mufti’s people as a warning to deter any other Arab leaders from pursuing similar initiatives. Buber lamented that Fauzi al-Husseini had been ‘a man of good will who was prepared to cooperate with us in preparing our great alliance of peace’. Another ‘moderate’ Arab leader, Sami Taha, was killed the following year in similar circumstances. These assassinations were a revealing manifestation of a mindset among the ‘official’ Arab leadership which ‘regarded all concessions as setbacks’ because of the Arabs’ initial overwhelming demographic majority. The AHC was thus steadfastly opposed not only to a Jewish state but also to any parity arrangement, especially when the Jewish population was still such a minority (even in 1931 Arabs still comprised 80 per cent of the population). As historian Susan Lee Hattis summarises: ‘Palestine was to remain a predominantly Arab land, and the most that the Jews could expect was minority rights’.
In Pursuit of External Imposition
Having accepted defeat both in achieving ideological hegemony within the Zionist movement and in negotiating an agreement with Arab leaders, the bi-nationalists turned to the only option remaining to them: the external powers. Justifying this directional shift, Magnes and Buber explained: ‘No solution can be found today which will be immediately acceptable to both Jews and Arabs. It is surely worth while giving the most careful and critical consideration to proposals which, while neither granting all the demands of either party, nor thus deliberately frustrating and angering the other, have found favour amongst a politically intelligent and magnanimous minority from both sides and which may prove themselves not only acceptable but truly profitable and beneficial not only to both Jew and Arab, but through this to a troubled world’.
Opportunities to bypass the intransigent Arab and Jewish leaderships presented themselves in the form of the Anglo-American Inquiry Committee (AAIC) and the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), established in 1946 and 1947 respectively. Both were tasked with examining the situation in Palestine and recommending alternatives to the Mandate, with the AAIC additionally seeking to address the problem of Europe’s displaced Holocaust survivors. The bi-nationalists broke Zionist ‘discipline’ to try and persuade these external bodies that official Zionist policy was unworkable; all Zionist groups apart from the Executive were forbidden from appearing independently before either body, but Ihud, Hashomer Hatza’ir and the League defied these orders to testify in favour of bi-nationalism.
The bi-nationalists’ testimony before the AAIC and the UNSCOP (similar in each case) made the case that peaceful relations were still possible between Jews and Arabs in an undivided Palestine and that bi-nationalism represented the best solution. They accused the British administration, Zionist leadership and Arab leadership of never having prioritised Jewish-Arab cooperation, maintaining that Jews and Arabs were capable of coexisting. They also emphasised their own credentials: Ernst Simon testified on behalf of the League which he described as ‘a group which has devoted a great deal of thought and a considerable measure of action to the solution of the Jewish-Arab problem’, while Ihud ensured the participation of Moshe Smilansky (a ‘pioneer’ of the First Aliyah) to exhibit ‘a man who has been faithful to this ideal for more than fifty-five years’. Buber argued that Zionism represented a unique form of nationalism distinct from the political expression of all other nations, and hence the question of Palestine required fresh thinking and imagination from those imposing solutions. Stressing the impracticability of partition, Magnes presented bi-nationalism as a compromise that would satisfy the core demands of both peoples and create ‘a beacon of peace in the world’.
In testifying before these international bodies, however, the bi-nationalists came up against major Jewish and Arab opposition. All of the Arab leaders who testified before the UNSCOP and AAIC opposed bi-nationalism. Even Awni Abdul Hadi, whose views were seen as ‘characteristic of the moderate Arabs’ and who had been involved in many of the negotiations attempting to reach a Jewish-Arab agreement (including the Hyamson-Newcombe initiative), demanded the immediate establishment of an Arab State in which Jews could ‘live with the Arabs in harmony and peace’. Zionist opposition was equally strong, and focused again on the inability of bi-nationalism to enable Jews to immigrate freely and become masters of their own fate.
Nonetheless, the AAIC embraced core bi-nationalist principles to declare in its report that ‘it is neither just nor practicable that Palestine should become either an Arab state… or a Jewish state’ due to the inevitable domination of the minority by the majority in either case. The report was celebrated by the bi-nationalists, even though Magnes lamented that it had not explicitly proposed a bi-national constitution and rejected its recommendation that a will to work together must precede the establishment of self-governing institutions (Magnes was a strong believer in the ability of such institutions to generate this will). Although the UNSCOP’s majority report recommended partition, the bi-nationalists did still experience some success with the UN too. The lobbying efforts of Hashomer Hatza’ir resulted in a speech in favour of bi-nationalism at the General Assembly by the Soviet Ambassador to the UN, while UNSCOP’s minority report (supported by the Committee’s Indian, Iranian and Yugoslav members) supported a kind of bi-national federation.
Its influence on the AAIC and the UN represented perhaps the greatest successes of Zionist bi-nationalism, but these were still insufficient to bring about a bi-national state. Predictably, the AAIC’s report was rejected by the Arab and Jewish leaderships. Even the British government, which had jointly instituted the Committee, rejected its recommendations, for which Ihud blamed the strong propaganda in favour of partition as well as the report’s lack of a clear constitutional proposal. Despite the UNSCOP’s majority report recommending partition, Magnes continued to warn publicly that ‘partition will arouse the resentment of a large number of Jews, of almost all the Arabs of Palestine, and of the Arab world’. However, the bi-nationalism-inspired minority report was soon rendered irrelevant when the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the majority report’s partition plan. This result was welcomed, albeit reluctantly, by a now unified Zionist movement, with the exception only of the bi-nationalists whose isolation had never been so apparent.
Indefatigable, Magnes continued to oppose partition despite the outbreak of Jewish-Arab war – a manifestation of the Arab leadership’s rejection of the UN vote – that for many years he had sought to pre-empt. Nor did his bi-nationalist activities cease after the provisional government of Israel declared independence, nor after he suffered a stroke while engaging in personal diplomacy with the American President and Secretary of State who by then favoured postponing partition and implementing a UN trusteeship. The US plan came to nothing and Magnes’ newly formulated compromise proposal, incorporating aspects of bi-nationalism and statehood, was rejected by Israel’s UN representative. But for his death in October 1948, Magnes would surely have persisted in his mission. In reality, however, the window for an externally-imposed bi-national state had closed if not with the UN vote then certainly with the war that followed.
Bi-Nationalism for a New Era?
In the same year that bi-nationalist pioneers Magnes and Kalvarisky died, Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed the Jewish people’s right, ‘like all other nations’, to self-determination in a state of its own. [Picture of declaration from Wikipedia].
To be sure, the spirit of bi-nationalism lived on; Buber asserted the following year that ‘our cause has lost its footing, its face has been sullied, but it has not been overcome’, and Ihud’s activities continued long after the establishment of the Jewish state. In truth, however, these activities reflected the new political reality to which the bi-nationalists had been forced to come to terms, and they acted thereafter primarily as a moral constraint on Israeli state policy. Contrary to Buber’s optimistic claim, bi-nationalism had indeed been overcome.
The historical question of whether or not bi-nationalism should have been adopted by the Jewish or Arab leaderships or imposed on Palestine by external actors is one whose contemporary relevance is increasing, given the near-total collapse of the two-state paradigm under the supervision of the Trump administration (if not earlier). Many analysts now talk of a one-state reality emerging as the inevitable result of the entrenchment of the Israeli occupation, and among the various different forms this could take some scholars are trying to show that a more intentional bi-national state would still allow both peoples to exercise their natural right to self-determination. Support is also growing for some kind of confederation that would allow Israeli and Palestinian independence within a broader framework of shared institutions – a hypothetical solution that has been publicly endorsed by Oslo negotiator Yossi Beilin among other high-profile figures. If there is anything we can learn from the history of the bi-nationalist project during the Mandate period, however, it is that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are at their core based on the acquisition of a nation-state of their own. Whether any of these alternatives could adequately satisfy the demand of both peoples to control their own fate, without the absolute self-rule that an independent state provides, remains to be seen.
 Magnes, Judah, Like All the Nations? (1930), Jerusalem: Herod’s Gate, pp.27-28.
 Buber, Martin, ‘A Majority or Many? A Postscript to a Speech’, May 1944, In: (ed.) Paul Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs (2005), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.166.
 Buber, ‘A Proposed Resolution on the Arab Question’, September 1921, A Land of Two Peoples, p.61.
 Ha’am, Ahad, ‘Truth From Eretz Israel’ (1891), Translated by A. Dowty, Israel Studies 5:2 (2000), p.162.
 Epstein, Yitzhak, ‘A Hidden Question’ (1907), Translated by A. Dowty, Israel Studies 6:1 (2001), pp.39-40.
 Ibid, pp.48-9.
 Buber, ‘At This Late Hour’, April 1920, A Land of Two Peoples, p.44.
 Ruppin, Arthur, Tel Aviv, 9 July 1926, In: (ed.) A. Bein, Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs, Diaries, Letters (1971), Jerusalem: Keter, Inc., p.224.
 Ruppin, Jerusalem, 21 October 1928, Memoirs, p.242.
 Ben-Gurion, David, My Talks With Arab Leaders (1973), New York: The Third Press, p.22.
 Buber, ‘No More Declarations’, August 1929, A Land of Two Peoples, p.80.
 Scholem, Gershom, cited in Ratzabi, Shalom, Between Zionism and Judaism: The Radical Circle in Brith Shalom, 1925-1933 (2002), Koln: Brill, pp.148-9.
 Cited in Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples, p.19.
 Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples, p.20.
 CZA A123\149, ‘Re Ichud: Suggested Resolution by R. Szold’, 17 September 1942.
 CZA S25\2962, Magnes, Judah, ‘Compromise for Palestine’, Ba’ayoth, 8 October 1944.
 CZA A123\149, Magnes, Judah, ‘Palestine and Arab Union IV’, 19 May 1942.
 Simon, Ernst, ‘The Cost of Arab-Jewish Cold War: Ihud’s Experiment in Moral Politics’, Commentary Magazine (1950), unpaginated.
 From a speech at the World Congress for Labor Palestine, September 1930, Cited in Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples, p.30 [note 34].
 CZA Z4\13202, ‘Memorandum from A. Sasson’, 17 January 1944.
 CZA S25\2962, ‘Response to Magnes’, New York Times, 23 February 1945.
 Ben-Gurion, My Talks, pp.100-01.
 Ibid, pp.17-20.
 Caplan, Neil, Futile Diplomacy vol.2: Arab-Zionist Negotiations and the End of the Mandate (1986), London: Frank Cass and Company Limited, p.37.
 CZA Z4\34490, ‘Private Memorandum from D. Ben-Gurion’, 3 February 1938.
 Ben-Gurion, My Talks, pp.149-50.
 CZA Z5\3072, ‘Letter from J. Magnes to the Executive of the Jewish Agency’, 21 February 1938.
 Buber, ‘Should the Ichud Accept the Decree of History?’, Spring 1949, A Land of Two Peoples, pp.247-8.
 Greenstein, Ran, Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine (2014), London: Pluto Press, p.37.
 Hattis, Susan Lee, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine During Mandatory Times (1970), Haifa: Shikmona, pp.19-20.
 CZA Z4\34612, Magnes, J.L. and Buber, M., ‘A Plan for Palestine’, 13 May 1947.
 CZA BK\9955, Arab-Jewish Unity: Testimony before the Anglo-American Inquiry Commission for the Ihud (Union) Association by Judah Magnes and Martin Buber, March 1946 (book published 1947), London: Victor Gollancz LTD.
 CZA A289\103, Buber, Martin, ‘The Meaning of Zionism’, Statement to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, March 1946.
 CZA Z4\31202, ‘Letter from Dr. J. Thon to the Executive of the Jewish Agency’, 17 December 1941
 Public Hearings before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, 8-26 March 1946, publisher unknown, p.36.
 ‘Report of the Anglo-American Inquiry Committee’, 1 May 1946, A Land of Two Peoples, p.185.
 CZA F38\534, ‘Letter from J.L. Magnes to the Editor of the Times of London’, 5 May 1946.
 Magnes, ‘Report on Palestine: UNSCOP Partition Plan is Opposed, Bi-Nationalism Urged’, Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, 28 September 1947, Dissenter in Zion, p.451.
 Buber, ‘Should the Ichud Accept the Decree of History?’, Spring 1949, A Land of Two Peoples, p.247.