The Origins of Imperial Israel: A Buffer Against Arab Nationalism
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
NOTE: The following is Part 1 of a 2-part sample on the ‘Origins of Imperial Israel’ from a chapter on the American Empire in an upcoming book by Andrew Gavin Marshall, supported through The People’s Book Project. Please support the Project to help the book come into being.
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Israel emerged in the post-War period due to a great many complex domestic and international political reasons: to provide a place to direct the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, to allow the British to formally end the Mandate over Palestine which they held as their empire was crumbling, and to serve as a ‘buffer state’ for Western nations in the Middle East, a region of the world which was identified as a necessity to control in order to secure its vast oil resources and strategic position in relation to the East. America in the post-War period, however, was deeply divided in its strategic-imperial circles on whether or not to support the State of Israel, which did not become a stated and strong policy until the later 1950s. The State Department, in particular, full of individuals who were familiar with the politics and changes in the Middle East, were worried that support for Israel would threaten America’s interests in the region by antagonizing the Arab states and ruining America’s good reputation following the War. Others, however, won out in the end, largely by arguing that such a state in the Middle East would be a significant support to American interests, acting as a powerful ‘buffer’ against the spread of Arab nationalism and Pan-Arabism. In its first years, Israel walked a balance of receiving support from both the United States and the Soviet Union. With the rise of Nasser in Egypt, however, America saw its imperial interest in supporting Israel.
The notion of a “Jewish State” as a ‘buffer’ for the West had been a long-held desire among imperial strategists and was even a popular means of promoting the Zionist cause from leaders within the Zionist movement. In the early 20th century, the Zionists, keenly aware of the British and French imperial rivalry in the Arab East, “knew how to convince London of the value of a British-controlled Jewish buffer-state in Palestine for the protection of the Suez Canal and imperial communications to India.” In 1907, the London Colonial Conference emphasized the increasing interest in establishing a ‘buffer state’ for British imperial interests in the Near East. The Conference agreed “to establish a strong but alien human bridge in the land that links Europe with the Old World which would constitute, near the Suez Canal, a hostile power to the people of the area and a friendly power to Europe and its interests.”
British imperial strategists were increasingly alarmed with the growing “Arab Awakening” emerging in the context of Arab indigenous nationalism. These fears of a growing and developing Arab nationalism informed British Prime Minister Campbell Bannerman when he stated at the 1907 Colonial Conference:
Empires are formed, enlarged and stabilized so very little before they disintegrate and disappear… Do we have the means of preventing this fall, this crumbling, is it possible for us to put a halt to the destiny of European colonialism which at present is at a critical stage?
The answer Bannerman received from the commission he established to look at the question, was that it was necessary
[to fight] against the Union of popular masses in the Arab region or the establishment of any intellectual, spiritual or historical link between them… [and thus recommended] all practical ways of dividing them as such as possible should be taught, and one way of doing so would be to construct a powerful, human ‘barrier’ foreign to the region – a bridge linking Asia and Africa – thus creating in this part of the world, and near the Suez Canal, a force friendly towards imperialism and hostile towards the inhabitants of the region.
The report submitted to Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman recommended the following actions:
1) To promote disintegration, division and separation in the region.
2) To establish artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries.
3) To fight any kind of unity – whether intellectual, religious or historical – and taking practical measures to divide the region’s inhabitants.
4) To achieve this, it was proposed that a “buffer state” be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence which would be hostile to its neighbors and friendly to European countries and their interests.
In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration as a statement of support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (though it also stipulated that it was not to disadvantage or remove the Arab inhabitants of the land). In 1922, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration, though the State Department subsequently issued a notice stating that the resolution “did not constitute a commitment to any foreign obligation or entanglement.” In 1936, the Arabs resorted to armed resistance within Palestine, and the British responded by crushing them. During World War II, under the British Mandate of Palestine, the Zionists were “forming, training and arming their forces under the ‘British Shield’.” At the same time, during the War, Zionists increasingly focused on promoting their cause in America, taking note of the declining influence of Britain and rising dominance of America.
It was during the 1940s that America increasingly recognized the importance of the oil resources of the Middle East to the developing plans and concepts of American global hegemony following the War. Thus, American approaches to the region were “developed within an anti-Arab nationalist and hegemonic framework designed to protect American access to oil.”
The Zionist leadership recognized this vital interest to the United States, and thus began to promote the Zionist cause along similar lines of securing American access to Middle Eastern oil. In the 1940s, American oil companies were largely against the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, which they viewed as inimical to their interests in the region. In 1933, the Saudi King had granted the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil exclusive rights over Saudi oil prospecting and extraction in the east of the country. The eventual formation of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) as a joint venture between the House of Saud and Standard Oil (the House of Rockefeller) took place in 1943. The oil companies stressed the importance of American security over and for Saudi Arabia. Zionist leaders in America held several meetings with oil company executives in an attempt to secure their support for a Jewish state, but to little avail. In fact, an oil industry publication, Oil Weekly, editorialized in 1946 that, “a Jewish state established with American support might endanger the ability of the US to assure a steady supply of oil from the Middle East.”
In 1946, an agreement was established between the American government and Aramco to build a pipeline between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean coast, though this ran into problems with the U.S. Congress blocking such efforts, leading Aramco to decide to build the pipeline separate from U.S. involvement. As it was deduced, “the best place to offload the oil would be Haifa bay in the north of Palestine, and an agreement to this effect was signed with Sir Allan Jordan Cunningham, the British High Commissioner for Palestine.” Zionists, simultaneously, sought to advocate the pipeline project as necessarily transporting through areas of Jewish settlement in Palestine, and thus, the promotion of a Jewish state along the pipeline route “would introduce a stable element loyal to the United States into the project,” and reduce security costs for America.
A confidential memo produced for the Jewish Agency in Palestine in 1947, in close proximity of the United Nations partition of Palestine, was titled, “The Jewish National Home and American Oil in the Middle East,” which stated that the purpose of the Zionist movement:
was to establish in Palestine a democratic society whose citizens would enjoy the living standard of advanced western states, in an economy based on modern agriculture, industry and scientific development.
In 1945, a profoundly prophetic article was written by an American philosopher, William Ernest Hocking, in the journal The Muslim World, in which he explained the emerging conflict of “Arab Nationalism and Political Zionism.” Hocking stressed that with the increased pressures in the U.S. Congress to support the Zionist cause, America may be rushing into a situation which it does not fully understand, stressing the need to weigh humanitarian concerns for the remaining European Jews following the Holocaust with the political objectives that exist in the complex circumstances of the Middle East, “and consider to what extent the proposed means will serve the humanitarian end, and to what extent it will serve other ends.” While acknowledging that “a place or places of refuge for Jews driven from Europe must be provided,” the question of Palestine needs a wider context.
In examining the economic conditions upon which the Jews would find themselves thrust into within Palestine, Hocking explained that for a country roughly the size of New Hampshire, only half of the land is cultivable, and yet, planners desired “a program of intensive industrialization” to be undertaken. Hocking questioned the viability of imposing a “forced industrialization” on a location with little rainfall, requiring imported fuel, and few water resources as “an appropriate center for an industry based on the resources of the wider Near East.” Further, Hocking noted that while the notion of Palestine as the natural home for the Jewish people is based upon religious principles, “a Palestine heavily industrialized is a Palestine defaced from this point of view for Jew, Moslem, and Christian alike,” as industrialization would be an affront to the spiritual significance of the location for all peoples.
Asserting that the reasons for the support of a Jewish state are not humanitarian, but political, Hocking examined how the Jewish National Fund in Palestine had increasingly deprived land from Arab labourers, as land granted to Jewish settlers was, by law, only allowed to be cultivated by Jewish labourers, and thus, it “cease[d] automatically to be a place of possible residence or work to those [Arab] laborers.” As Sir John Simpson reported on that matter:
It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either nor or at any time in the future… He is deprived forever from employment on that land… Nor can anyone help him by purchasing the land and restoring it to common use. The land is in mortmain and inalienable.
Thus, wrote Hocking, “the Arab masses as a whole have felt their relative position deteriorating,” and the true question, then, was “of the attitude of the slowly advancing power,” that is, the Zionist power. “Its strength, intelligence, cash backing, splendid equipment, render it in Arab eyes the more formidable” because of this exclusionary and discriminatory attitude: “Hence they have come to face the future with concern.” As to the question, increasingly discussed within the West, as to why the Arabs and Muslims cannot simply grant this small piece of land to the Jews and go elsewhere, Hocking explained:
Those who are promoting this view do not explain what they propose to do with the extensive religious establishments of Islam in Palestine, including the great mosques and various schools. These establishments are not, like those of the Christians, primarily of a memorial nature: they are important educational and devotional centers for a living religion, within the region of its central activity. To maintain such establishments a considerable local population is required and assumed: to deport the million Arabs to Iraq would be another way of strangling these institutions.
Further, in terms of those arguments which favour deportation due to the “immense domain” of the Arab people, Hocking explained that the domain, in fact, is mostly desert, with the “cultivable portions” being strewn around the rim, “whose northern arch is known as the Fertile Crescent.” Thus, the advantages of Palestine for Jew and Arab alike come from its position on the Mediterranean coast:
Commercially it belongs to the European Area. Palestine stands in an important strategic position between Europe and the budding industrial development, not so much of Palestine itself as of the lands behind Palestine, Arab lands which are entering on a new economic era… If the future economic importance of Palestine is to be, as I surmise, commercial rather than agricultural or industrial, its prosperity will depend to a large extent on its relations to this growingly important hinterland. And vice versa, the prosperity of that hinterland might depend to a considerable extent on its relations with the financial powers, the warehouses, and the commercial lanes centering in Palestine and vicinity.
This emphasizes the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine as a buffer between the West and the Near East, between the imperial powers and the growing spread of Arab nationalism. Thus for the Arabs, leaving Palestine to exclusive Zionist control would “amount to acceptance of a barrier between them and Europe at the outset of their newer national career.” Yet, even with all of the Palestinian and Arab desires for, like the Jews themselves, a “new beginning,” they are increasingly portrayed as “nomadic,” “backward,” and “half-civilized,” ignoring the fact that “it was the Arabs who for six hundred years preserved the classical culture of Greece for a dark Europe,” or that they are still emanating out of the oppressive domination of four centuries of Turkish rule. Thus, what was being asked of the Arabs was to accept their entire potential for progress as being entirely dependent upon the political state of Zionism, which had thus far shown enormous animosity and disregard for the Arab peoples within Palestine. Hocking concluded by writing:
I believe the political Zionists at this moment as distinct from the cultural Zionists who have built the noble Hebrew University and who know what a National Home must be, – I believe the political Zionists to be the chief enemies of the cause of Zionism as well as of the Jewish interests in the world of tomorrow. What can they hope to gain by extricating their brethren from the prejudices of Europe only to build a community in Palestine which has to be protected by Western force (and if we intervene, then by American force also) because it is cradled in an environment of distrust and fear cultivated by their own methods of realizing a misplaced nationalistic ambition?
In the Truman administration in 1947, as the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, the CIA released an assessment of the situation in one of its first major reports, which predicted that if a Jewish state were created, “war would break out between Arabs and Jews, and the Arabs would win.” While the former turned out to be true, the latter, of course, did not. However, without stating it outright, the CIA report essentially led to the assumed conclusion that, as Thomas Lippman wrote, “partition would be detrimental to the long-term interests of the United States and would ultimately augment rather than alleviate the suffering of the world’s Jews.”
The United States, in 1947, had reached a point where a decision finally had to be made on the issue of a Jewish state in Palestine. Within Palestine itself, Jewish gangs (such as the Hagana, the Irgun, and the Stern Gang), “were waging a guerrilla war against the British,” and thus, the issue became central to the United Nations and global politics. In the White House, some of Truman’s closest advisers supported the Zionists, though his national security and foreign policy advisers, especially within the State Department, had opposed partition and the formation of a Jewish state, arguing that, “such an outcome would alienate the Arabs, jeopardize American strategic and economic interests throughout the Middle East, open the door to the political penetration of the Arab world by the Soviet Union, and possibly lead to the loss of the American oil bonanza in Saudi Arabia.” As the State Department chief for the Bureau of Near East and Africa Affairs, Loy Henderson, wrote to Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1945:
In case the government of the United States should continue to press for the mass immigration of Jews into Palestine at this time, on humanitarian or other grounds, much of the work done in the Near East in recent years in building up respect for, and confidence in, the United States and in increasing American prestige, will be undone… The mere resentment of the Near Eastern peoples towards the United States on the ground that we have decided to disregard the Arab viewpoint with regard to Palestine would be unpleasant… It would be much more serious, however, if we should give them ground to believe that we do not live up to our firm promises already given.
Henderson here was referring to the promise from the United States to engage in “full consultation” with the Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia, in the lead up to any potential decision the United States would make on the issue. As the CIA report emphasized, partition would “solve nothing and would only intensify support for Zionist expansion,” and the report further stressed the importance of regional implications for the Arab states:
Arab nationalism is the strongest political force in the Arab world. It grew up in secret societies under Ottoman rule, came out into the open in the Arab Revolt of World War I, and has been the major factor in the independence movement in the Arab world ever since. Because of the strong ties between the various Arab states, political developments in any one country are of vital concern to Arabs everywhere. Palestinian independence is, consequently, the major aim not only of the Palestinian Arabs but also of Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Transjordanians, Egyptians and Saudi Arabians. It would be political suicide for any Arab government to ignore this situation.
Tellingly, the report also predicted that the Arabs “fear that the Jews will consolidate their position through unlimited immigration and that they will attempt to expand until they become a threat to the newly won independence of each of the other Arab countries.” The CIA felt that this perception was, indeed, correct: “In the long run no Zionists in Palestine will be satisfied with the territorial arrangements of the partition settlement.” The CIA felt that such a partition would inevitably create “instability and hostility” in the Arab world. In the immediate aftermath of partition, the CIA report predicted that “war would break out” between the Arabs and the Jews, that the Jewish populations in other Arab nations would be in danger, “American oil interests would be damaged,” and that the Zionists would “continue to wage a strong propaganda campaign in the US and Europe,” and that, “whatever the actual circumstances may be,” the Arabs would, said the report, “be accused of aggression,” which would “doubtless continue to influence the US public, and the US government [could], consequently, be forced into actions which [would] further complicate and embitter its relations with the entire Arab world,” and finally, the Soviet Union could make considerable political gains in the region as a result. Further, the report stated that eventually the Arabs could turn to “religious fanaticism,” which could become “an extremely powerful force.”
Where the report was wrong, however, was in predicting that the Jewish state would fail in a war with the Arab states, having mistakenly underestimated the organizational capabilities of the military Zionist groups in Palestine, as well as over-estimating the cooperation of the Arab states, which actually had many suspicions of one another. As early as 1943, a special envoy dispatched by President Roosevelt to the Arab leaders to discuss Palestine, Colonel Harold Hoskins, stated that, “only by military force can a Zionist state be imposed upon the Arabs.” This logic, of course, was not lost upon the Zionist military and strategic leaders, who had immense national ambitions.
These ambitions, however, were not merely political, but racial. In a disturbing parallel with the Nazi German state from which many European Jews would later escape to the Holy Land, several Zionist leaders were themselves drawing up plans for a program of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Palestine. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé documented, Plan D, as it was called, “was the fourth and final version of vaguer plans outlining the fate that was in store for the native population of Palestine.” The first three plans involved obscure and vague means for dealing with the Palestinians, whereas the fourth plan – the final plan – was a detailed military document written and plotted out by less than a dozen Zionist leaders, led by David Ben-Gurion. Plan D was emphatic and adamantine in its purpose: to remove the Palestinian population from the land. Ethnic cleansing, as defined by the U.S. State Department, is “the systematic and forced removal of the members of an ethnic group from communities in order to change the ethnic composition of a given region.” By definition, then, the Zionist leaders were preparing a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project.
 Ibrahim Ibrahimi, “Review: The Making of the Jewish State,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 1, No. 1, Autumn 1971), page 122.
 Adnan Amad, “History and Fiction in Boasson’s Comments on Galtung,” Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 10, No ½, 1973), page 151.
 Anwarul Haque Haqqi, West Asia Since Camp David (Mittal Publications, 1988), pages 104-105.
 Ibid, page 105.
 Robert I. Rotberg, Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict: History’s Double Helix (Indiana University Press, 2006), page 220.
 Michael C. Hudson, “To Play the Hegemon: Fifty Years of US Policy Toward the Middle East,” Middle East Journal (Vol. 50, No. 3, Summer 1996), pages 333-334.
 Ibrahim Ibrahimi, “Review: The Making of the Jewish State,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 1, No. 1, Autumn 1971), pages 124-125.
 Ibrahim I. Ibrahim, “The American-Israeli Alliance: Raison d’etat Revisited,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring 1986), page 23.
 Zohar Segev, “Struggle for Cooperation and Integration: American Zionists and Arab Oil, 1940s,” Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 42, No. 5, September 2006), pages 820-821.
 Ibid, pages 822-823.
 Ibid, pages 824-825.
 William Ernest Hocking, “Arab Nationalism and Political Zionism,” The Muslim World (Vol. 35, No. 3, July 1945), page 216.
 Ibid, pages 216-217.
 Ibid, pages 219-220.
 Ibid, page 220.
 Ibid, pages 220-222.
 Ibid, pages 222-223.
 Thomas W. Lippman, “The View From 1947: The CIA and the Parititon of Palestine,” Middle East Journal (Vol. 61, No. 1, Winter 2007), page 17.
 Ibid, pages 18-19.
 Ibid, pages 19-21.
 Ibid, pages 21-22.
 Ibid, pages 22-23.
 Ibid, pages 25-26.
 Ilan Pappé, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Vol. 36, No. 1, Autumn 2006), pages 6-7.