The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cynical pattern of British policy in Palestine after 1918

From the 1979 Ink Links edition of Weinstock's book on Jewish settler movement in Palestine and founding of Israel.

Weinstock does a useful job on chauvinism of Jewish settler movement, and the way London used a divide-and-rule strategy of incitement to create increasing escalating tensions and violence between Jews and Arabs while they had the mandate.

....What policy was Britain actually pursuing? It appears, above all, to have been trying to strengthen its position as an indispensable intermediary by sometimes backing the Zionists, sometimes the Arab nationalists. A typical example of this is the election of the Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. The Mufti had to be chosen by a small number of voters, this latter body being itself elected by limited franchise (the vote was restricted by a property qualification). According to law, the government should have appointed one of the top three candidates to the post of Mufti. In fact, Haj Amin al-Husseini ran a poor fourth. He was not qualified for the office in any case, being neither an alim (scholar of Islamic sciences), nor a graduate from a higher religious college, nor having earned the title of “sheikh”. Moreover,, he had only just been pardoned by the High Commissioner after being sentenced to a term of imprisonment for his role in the April l920 Jerusalem disturbances. Yet the High Commissioner – who had favoured his appointment even before the elections were held – awarded him the job. Just to be on the safe side, however, even though the newly-recognised Mufti promised “to cooperate with the (British) Government”, he never actually received an official letter of appointment, nor was his appointment ever gazetted. He had, after all, been defeated in the elections. [37] Bentwich adds that the Mufti had given an undertaking to renounce all political agitation, a promise that he did apparently keep for a few years. [38] The choice of this arch-reactionary big landowner, whose religious fanaticism and extreme right-wing nationalism were well-known, can only be explained by the deliberate desire to counter-balance Zionism. It was Britain, and not the Arab masses, which deliberately raised Hitler’s future ally to this influential position. The Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations protested on many occasions against the ex officio appointment by the British administration of the members of the Supreme Moslem Council presided over by the Mufti. [39] Moreover, the complex intricacies of Britain’s contradictory promises to the Zionists and the Arabs had paved the way for these cynical manoeuvres. All things considered, playing off the Jews against the Arabs was merely a new version of the old colonial policy: divide and rule. In the end, the Mandatory Power was to be trapped in the web of its own artfulness The day would come when its balancing act between both parties would break down under the violent impact of exacerbated nationalist passions, leading to the downfall of the colonial structure. [40]

British policy thus took the form of a cyclical repetition of a standard pattern: encouragement of the Zionists – Arab opposition – restrictions on Jewish colonisation. Even its executants were caught between several conflicting options. The vision of a loyal Jewish Dominion close to the Suez Canal was reassuring: “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. [41] On the other hand, the support given to Arab nationalism called for concessions. Both causes could be defended for the greater glory of His Imperial Majesty. The wavering character and the various sudden volte-face of British policy can therefore perhaps be explained by disputes between imperialist factions. In any case, Zionism served as an indispensable scapegoat in Palestine, and it proved all the more valuable because it was a real threat to Arab interests. The Zionist enterprise diverted the anti-imperialist movement of the Arab masses into a struggle against the handful of Zionist immigrants. In short, an ideal buffer between the coloniser and the colonised....

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