What was the situation at the end of World War II?

The situation in Palestine in 1945 at the end of WW II is well documented in this article written in 1945: The Creed of an American Zionist, by Milton Steinberg that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (February 1945). The following is quoted from that article.

What has been the effect of Jewish immigration and achievement on Palestinian Arabs? Whereas in near-by muslim lands populations have remained static, in Palestine Arab numbers have soared from 664,000 in 1918 to over a million at present. This increase has been due in part to the better living conditions, to the modern hygiene, and to the advanced agriculture Jews have introduced. But in addition Arabs by the thousands have been immigrating into Palestine from all Near Eastern countries. Jewish enterprise has made the land one of promise for them as well as for Jews. Further, the value of Arab industry in Palestine quadrupled between 1922 and 1937, the area of land under cultivation increased by over 50 per cent. Even Arab culture has benefited. Thanks to the taxes paid by Jews, the country has been able to maintain educational facilities such as would otherwise have been impossible.

Nor is there any reality to the notion that Arabs have been driven from the soil. That charge, once noised about widely, is heard no more — at least not in responsible circles. For when the British government went looking for Arabs made “landless” by Jews, it sought everywhere but found only a corporal’s guard. And of these, many had been tenant farmers who had been compensated but had preferred not to invest their reimbursement in farms. But how is this possible? Much of the ground occupied by Jews was not only uncultivated hitherto: it was classed as uncultivable. No one lived where now Tel Aviv stands, and almost no one in the recently drained Huleh Swamps, or in the once malaria-infested valley of Esdraelon. Again, where land under cultivation has been purchased, a portion of it has been given to its former tenants, who, freed from the sharecropper’s lot, now get along better than ever.

But if the Arab has not only not been hurt but even helped, why his fierce resistance? In the first place, that opposition is less universal than is supposed. Of what there is, some is the class interest of rich landowners and urban employers of Arab labor whose feudal grandeur is being threatened. Some reflects the natural resentment of any populace over the entrance into its midst of new elements. Some echoes Axis agitation, propaganda, and bribery. Some reflects the weakness of the Mandatory administration. But much of it — perhaps most — is straightforward, unexceptionable nationalism. The Palestinian Arabs know that but for the Jews they would some day enjoy autonomy. Now at the best they will have to share political authority with another group; and should Jewish migration continue, they will in the end occupy a minority position. This is a real, in fact the real, grievance.

In sum, two legitimate ideals have come into conflict in Palestine. Two peoples are attached to the land. Both have deep aspirations concerning it.

Quite clearly, as Reinhold Niebuhr once put it, neither perfect satisfaction nor perfect justice can be rendered to both sides. The best to be hoped for is the greater justice, the minimal wrong.

What are the alternatives? One is the freezing of Jewish Palestine in its present dimensions and, if the former Grand Mufti and King ibn-Saud have their way, even the expulsion of the Jews now in the land. The other is the continuance of Jewish immigration, the achieving of a Jewish majority, the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth. In this commonwealth all Arab rights, religious, cultural, economic, civic and political, whether individual or group, would be guaranteed. Arabs would of course vote and hold offices, conduct their own school system, follow their own culture and faith.

Now, how do these prospects stack up against each other?

As to urgency: On one side the Palestinian Arabs, injured not a whit, are denied only a political aspiration. On the other side are Jews by the millions to whom entrance to Palestine is truly a matter of survival.

In terms of Realpolitik: Which is the safer solution, a Jewish minority in an Arab majority, or an Arab minority in Palestine protected by guarantees and backed up by a deep Arab hinterland?

In the broader view: Has not the Arab world as a whole vast territories on which to realize political autonomy? Is not Palestine a mere 5 per cent of that world? Are not the 95 per cent, often without effort on their part, achieving independence? As for Israel, where else can it incarnate fully its peoplehood and culture?

With still wider vision: Jewish Palestine is the outpost in the Near East of modernity and democracy. Will not the prospect of the entire area be brighter if the Jewish settlement continues to grow?

And for the advantage of universal humanity: The most that mankind can expect from the Arab prospectus is the establishment of another Arab state. The Zionist program means the salvaging of lives, the rebirth of Hebraic culture, the promise a progressive Jewish Palestine for the Levant and the world, and, let it not be forgotten for a moment, the solution of the centuries-old and otherwise insoluble problem of Jewish homelessness.

There is, I repeat, an Arab case. But not in anguish, urgency, or import does it begin to equal the Jewish.

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