A Pragmatic Approach

Ben Gurion's attitude toward the Arabs in the Land of Israel

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Urgent Need for Statehood

Unlike the more militant Zev Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion's conception of Jewish force was broad based. He argued that the security of Jewish life in the Land of Israel would depend on its constructive virtues: immigration, settlement, and the development of technology and culture. Ben Gurion was not a pacifist, but like many of his labor Zionist comrades, he saw the military as a tool, and unlike Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionists, not a value in and of itself.

For Ben Gurion, the creation of a Jewish state in some part of British Mandate Palestine was urgent, especially given the rise of European fascism in the years preceding World War II. Already in 1937, in response to the British Peel Commission, Ben Gurion supported the partition of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River into two states--a Jewish and an Arab state.

The impact of the Holocaust and the incremental emergence of a distinct Palestinian national movement led Ben Gurion to support the 1947 United Nations proposal to partition the Land of Israel, which included the internationalization of Jerusalem. Arab political leaders both in and outside of Palestine rejected a two-state solution both in 1937 and in 1947.

Above all else, Ben Gurion was driven by his realization that the survival of a Jewish state depended upon territorial borders that maximized the percentage of Jews. Ben Gurion's concern over the demographic equation was based on his reading of the regional arena, in which the Jewish state would always remain a minority in a wider Arab region.

Ben Gurion's readiness to accept partition as a less-than-perfect solution to Jewish-Arab relations was rooted in the idea that the survival of the Jewish people depends on the establishment and secure development of a majority-Jewish state in some part of the land of Israel.

In 1946, speaking to the Anglo-American Committee, Ben Gurion said, "But there is no counsel of perfection in this world, and there is no absolute justice in this world. What you are trying to perform, and what we are all trying to do in our small way, is rough human justice."

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Scott Copeland

Scott Copeland is an Israeli educator and travel guide. He serves as the program coordinator for the Jerusalem Fellows at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem.