Jabotunsky Liberal Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
by Noah Nissani
Jabotinsky demanded an equitable solution for both peoples...two autonomous
peoples sharing the same land and each governing their own personal, cultural and
Copyright 1996 -- Authorized free distribution of non-modified copies for
TAKE NOTE: Political terminology takes on different meanings in different times and
different places. "Liberal" is used here in its nineteenth century meaning,
which was Jabotinsky's ideology.
Jabotinsky did not have any illusions about a peaceful return of the Jews to their
historic homeland. It was clear to him that neither the historic bond of the Jews to their
homeland nor the legal status conferred by the San Remo Conference and later ratified by
the League of Nations would convince the Arabs to relinquish even a minimal part of their
In order to avoid a conflict between its Marxist anti-nationalist and
Zionist-nationalist ideologies, the Left had to ignore the presence and legitimate rights
of the Arabs. However, for Jabotinsky, who was identified with the nationalist Liberalism
of the nineteenth century, this conflict did not exist. In his view, the reconquest of the
historic Jewish homeland was morally justified by virtue of a people's right -- one
deeply-rooted in the liberal tradition (1) -- to wage
war and conquer, if this is necessary for the survival of the people.
Therefore, Jabotinsky had no ideological need to ignore either the presence of the
Arabs or their legitimate rights. In his understanding, the armed conflict between the two
peoples was inevitable, simply because no people on earth will relinquish any part of its
land without fighting (2). The hope of a peaceful
realization of Zionism is, therefore, a dangerous fallacy. Nevertheless, Jabotinsky,
guided by his liberal ideology, demanded a final, equitable solution for both peoples (3).
The armed phase of the war foreseen by Jabotinsky was fought and the results have
been favorable to us. The power to decide and the concomitant responsibility are presently
in our hands. The danger lies in the temptation to exploit the situation in our short-term
favor, achieving a seemingly favorable yet unstable peace, as the Allies did at the end of
World War I.
In the first section of this article the peace policies of the Allies at the end
of the two World Wars are compared with each other, and with the Oslo Agreement. The
comparison shows that the fatal errors of the Versailles peace are currently being
repeated. Jabotinsky's solution, however, shares the liberal spirit of the peace policy
implemented at the end of World War II.
The second section analyzes the fallacy of the demographic question which, it is
claimed, would necessitate choosing between a small Jewish-democratic state, and a larger
but non-Jewish or non-democratic one. Certainly, for a Continental-European type of
parliamentary democracy -- similar to those that have served as the "democratic"
path to power for Marxism, Nazism and Fascism -- this dilemma may be true. Fortunately,
however, there are other, more liberal and more stable, forms of democracy (4).
The liberal nature and historical performance of different forms of democracy are
analyzed. Special attention is paid to the American system of democracy, which did not
hesitate to violate the principle of "one man - one vote" in order to satisfy
the genuine needs of the constituent sectors of the society.
The author is aware of the tremendous difficulties inherent in a genuine liberal
solution. At the same time, he is convinced that it is the only kind of solution which
affords prospects for a peaceful future. The primary obstacle lies within ourselves --
unfortunately Zionism has been dominated for decades by antiliberal tendencies, and the
great majority of Israelis come from countries lacking any liberal tradition whatsoever.
- * - * -
THE EXPERIENCE of HISTORY and the ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Let us compare the peace policy of the Western victors at the end of World War I
with that pursued at the end of World War II. The two policies were totally different and
their outcomes were diametrically opposed. The first one led to the most devastating war
of all times, whereas the second gave rise to what seems to be the longest period of peace
and prosperity throughout the history of Western Europe.
We will limit ourselves to a succinct reference to four conspicuous differences
between the peace policies that followed the two world wars and their relevance to the
1. Peace Has To Precede Its Written Formalization
- World War I ended with the Versailles Peace Treaty which purported to establish the
modality of the future peace. Second World War, on the contrary, came to an end without a
peace treaty. The basic conception was that peace must first become an established
reality, and only then be formally ratified.
- If there is anything to be learned from history, it is that peace has to precede
its written formalization. Any attempt to theoretically establish the nature of a future
relationship is doomed to failure. Only a preexisting situation of peace predisposes the
parties to the mutual consideration required to reach a just and stable solution. At the
same time, history provides many examples of peoples living in peace and harmony despite
- The Jordan-Israel peace treaty is an example of such an ex post facto sanction of a
preexisting state of good neighborliness. Similarly, the Egyptian-Israeli peace process
began with Sadat's clear declaration of "No more war" and the establishment of
confidence-building human relations with his memorable visit to Jerusalem. In contrast,
the current peace processes with Syria and the Palestinians are attempting to establish
peace on paper while hostilities continue.
- 2. Only a Peace Based on Liberal-Egalitarian Conditions Can Be Stable.
- First World War I ended with a set of conditions imposed by the winners on the
losers, and intended to perpetuate the advantageous position of the former. No provisions
were made for a future of equality and justice. The attempt of the American President
Wilson to establish a liberal peace trough his famous fourteen points, vanished with the
growth American isolationism. By contrast, at the end of World War II the Western Allies,
under American leadership, followed the policy of integrating the defeated nations in a
liberal world on an egalitarian basis.
- Shimon Peres' vision of a new Middle East living in peace like the European nations
is myopic. It fails to see that whereas the European peace is based on equal status for
all inhabitants of the continent, the Oslo Agreement tends to perpetuate a differential
- The Oslo agreement, like the Versailles Treaty, is a collection of conditions
imposed by the winner on the loser. Its supporters assume that the Palestinians will
forever be satisfied with a Lilliputian state, or less than a state, which comprises less
than a quarter of their original territory, and that they will forever resign themselves
to seeing the remaining three-fourths of their motherland in the hands of the Jews. A
resident of Nablus expressed this graphically: "How can I bear the fact that my son
views the sea through the window, but has to travel to Gaza to swim in it".
- Such a Palestinian state will necessarily be a chronic source of resentment and
irredentism. These feelings will be sharpened by the economic gap, which will be
attributed, with some amount of reason, to the long Israeli domination. This state will be
a focus of terror, and will wait for the first favorable political or military
contingencies to liberate the entire motherland. And in our unstable world there is every
likelihood that these contingencies will come about -- sooner or later.
- This hostile Palestinian state:
- * situated in the heart of Israel, with its border closely touching all of Israel's
major cities (e.g. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Netanya, Herzliya);
- * will form a geographic continuum with the Arab and Muslim world; and control from
the highlands 80% of the Israeli population densely concentrated in a narrow strip between
the Muslim world and the sea.
- It certainly constitutes a mortal danger that only irresponsible politicians would
- Jabotinsky's solution, while totally at total variance with the Oslo agreement, is
in complete harmony with the spirit of liberal European peace. It recognizes the existence
of two peoples, each with a legitimate claim to the very same land: the Jews, who demand
the right to return to their ancient homeland from which were dispossessed by force, and
the Arab inhabitants of this land. "Each of the ethnic communities will be recognized
as autonomous and equal in the eyes of the law," says Jabotinsky (3), who envisioned
two autonomous peoples sharing the same land and each governing their own personal,
cultural and religious lives.
- This is possible since people of different cultures and religions can coexist in
liberal societies without inconveniencing each other. This is specially true in the
Jewish-Arab case since the ethnic, cultural and religious differences between Arabs and
Jews are less pronounced than those which set apart the various ethnic communities in the
- 3. War Fatigue, Extreme Pacifism and Isolationism are Dangerous Moods(5)
- The end of World War I was characterized by a mood of extreme pacifism and war
fatigue among the victorious nations. This mood induced the naive belief that peace can be
attained through disarmament, and that the defense of liberal civilization against Marxism
can be achieved by arming an antagonistic extremism. In the attitude of the European
Allies we find a tragic paradox: yearning for peace on the one hand, and the desire to
enjoy the fruits of the victory on the other. In U.S., war fatigue led to isolationism,
i.e. the belief that whatever happens on the other side of the ocean is not an American
- At end of the Second World War, however, a different attitude prevailed, namely the
conviction that preparedness for any war, even a nuclear war, is essential to make peace
and freedom possible. Neither naive pacifism, nor American isolationism appeared. The
quoted Biblical lesson(5) seems to have been learned. Had this dangerous mood not been so
ensconced in the spirit of the Western Allies at the end of the First World War, the
history of the bloody 20th century might have been quite different.
- The Oslo Agreement, fruit of a mood similar to that of the Western Allies at the
end of World War I, is based on the delusion that peace can be attained by separating the
two peoples. In this respect it resembles American isolationism, with the oceans replaced
by a green line drawn on a map. We find in Oslo Agreement the same tragic dilemma faced by
the European Allies at the end of World War I between the avidity for enjoying the
advantages of the victory and the impatience for peace.
- 4. Only Ground-Based Security Measures Are Effective
- At the end of World War I security measures, such as armament restrictions, were
provided for on paper -- yet they were violated before the ink dried. However, World War
II ended with strict security precautions firmly established on the ground -- Germany was
divided and militarily occupied for an unspecified period.
- The security measures delineated in peace treaties, international guaranties and
other signed papers have a very limited degree of reliability, and remain in force only as
long as favorable circumstances exist. However, since circumstances change unpredictably,
only facts on the ground can ensure stability during the process of peace-building.
- As in the Versailles treaty, the Oslo agreement has delineated security measures on
paper, while responsibility for security on the ground has been transferred to the
Palestinians from the very outset. Moreover, it is assumed that the future Palestinian
state will be demilitarized as Germany was at the end of World War I. In the case of
Germany, the Marxist menace quickly nullified the signed agreement, and the result was the
bloodiest war in history.
- The practicality of the Jabotinskian scheme hinges on two preconditions:
- 1. The Arabs must be convinced that they currently lack the power to halt the
return of Jews to their historic homeland, and that the price of continuing the conflict
is too high to bear.
- 2. The Jews must be convinced that there are no other solutions with similar
prospects for peace and security.
Apparently, the first precondition has been achieved, as evidenced in the
Palestinian participation in the Madrid Conference as part of the Jordanian delegation,
and by their acceptance of the Oslo Agreement, in the hope that more fortuitous
circumstances would develop in the future. The second precondition, however, has yet to be
achieved, and that was the motive for writing the present article. We have won the war,
but are on the road toward losing the peace. Nothing endangers us more than the assumption
that the present political and military situation is guaranteed to continue in the future.
Any agreement must be judged in terms of its prospects for stability in a world of
constant change. Only a liberal-egalitarian peace, that takes the rights and needs of both
peoples into account, can provide the required stability.
- The autonomy proposed by Jabotinsky for both ethnic communities can take various
forms, but two principles that must be strictly maintained:
- 1. The life and security of the Jews are in jeopardy in the Diaspora, where they
are a minority everywhere, as well as in Israel where they are surrounded by a sea of
Arabs and Muslims. Therefore the Jews have the right to demand control of immigration and
- 2. The Arabs' rights have been violated by the Jewish majority in our
totalitarian-constitutionless democracy. The Arabs have the right to demand effective
constitutional measures to ensure their rights.
These principles differentiate between Jews and Arabs as two distinct elements of
a heterogeneous society. Both parties have their own needs, problems and concerns. A
Continental-European parliamentary democracy lacks the required tools for satisfying the
needs of such a heterogeneous society. Fortunately, as we have already said in the
introduction, there are other forms of democracy (4). The article "Democracy
for a Heterogeneous Society" attempts to elucidate this question.
- * - * -
(1) " The life of governments is like that of man. The latter has
a right to kill in case of natural defense; the former have a right to wage war to their
own preservation" (Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
"The Spirit of the Laws" (1748), i, X, 2)
"From the right of war derives that of conquest" (There, i, X, 3)
"It is a conqueror's business to repair a part of the mischief he has occasioned.
The right, therefore, of conquest I defined thus: a necessary, lawful, but unhappy power,
which leaves the conqueror under a heavy obligation of repairing the injuries done to
humanity." (There, i, X, 4)
(2) See Wladimir
(Ze'ev) Jabotinsky "We and the Arabs -- The Iron Wall" (1923).
(3) W. Jabotinsky "The Arab Question -- Without Dramatics"
(4) "Happily the republic so rich in forms, ...., is adaptable to
all the demands.." (Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810-84) "The Bases" (1852))
(5) See Judges 18, 7-10. The tribe of Dan conquers the land of a quiet
and secure people. " ...They saw the people .... how they dwelt safely, ... quiet and
secure ...When you go you will come to a secure people....For God has given it into your