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BI-NATIONALISM, one of the solutions to the Jewish-Arab national conflict in Ereẓ Israel offered by various Jewish individuals and groups in the period before the establishment of the State of Israel. The bi-national idea was based on the principle that since two nations – the Jews and Arabs – laid claim to the same land, which to one was Ereẓ Israel and to the other Palestine, it should not be given to one of them but should become the state of both, and that irrespective of the numerical strength of each, the relations between them should be based on equality. Some supported the idea because they temporarily or permanently lost faith in the ability of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish State in Ereẓ Israel, while others supported it for moral or ideological reasons. Some advocated a federal or confederal structure for the bi-national state, while others sought to avoid the partition of the country into states or cantons, and advocated bi-nationalism that was to be based on communities.

The first body to advocate bi-nationalism was *Berit Shalom , which existed from 1925 to 1933. *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir started to advocate bi-nationalism as part of its platform in 1929, and some of its members, including Mordekhai *Bentov and Aharon Cohen, continued to support the idea until after the establishment of the State in 1948. Following the outbreak of the 1936 disturbances (or Arab Revolt) a new organization, advocating a rapprochement with the Arab population, was set up, bearing the name Kedmah Mizraḥah ("Forward to the East"). Towards the end of its existence in 1938, the organization became associated with bi-nationalism, as Haim *Margolis-Kalvaryski became its most active member. Another group that was active in this period, and advocated an agreement with the Arabs which included certain features of bi-nationalism, was known as "the group of five." This group, which included Gad *Frumkin , Moshe *Smilansky , Pinḥas *Rutenberg , Moshe *Novomeysky , and Judah L. *Magnes , and held meetings with both Arab leaders and Zionist leaders, proposed as part of an agreement with the Arabs that would enable continued Zionist development, the establishment of a legislative council based on parity.

On the eve of World War II, all the various groups and individuals that sought a solution of the Jewish-Arab problem on the basis of bi-nationalism got together in an organization that called itself the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation. The group included former members of Berit Shalom and Kedmah Mizraḥah, leaders of Ha-Shomer ha-ẓa'ir and Po'alei Zion Semol, members of Aliyah Ḥadashah (a political group made up primarily of new immigrants from Germany), and several members of Mapai and the General Zionists B. The first act of the new group in March 1939 was to publish a pamphlet called Al Parashat Dar kenu ("At the Crossroads"), which dealt with the Arab problem and ways of resolving it. Among the articles appearing in it were several by Martin *Buber , who had recently immigrated to Ereẓ Israel from Germany and was a supporter of bi-nationalism for moral reasons. In the course of its existence the League published various constitutional proposals for a federal state based on the idea of bi-nationalism. The adoption in May 1942 of the *Biltmore Program , which for the first time singled out the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine as the Zionist goal, and news coming out of Europe regarding the Nazi "final solution," strengthened the resolve of the League to struggle for the only plan that it regarded as realistic. Within the League a new group was formed in August 1942, calling itself Iḥud (Unity). Iḥud opposed the idea of establishing an independent Jewish state, which it regarded as ruinous, and advocated a bi-national solution. Among the active members of this group was Judah L. Magnes, Martin Buber, Haim Margolis-Kalvaryski, Moshe Smilansky, Henrietta *Szold , and Justice Joseph Moshe *Valero . Magnes tried to get the Sephardim and Agudat Israel involved in the new organization but failed. Iḥud published a periodical called Be'ayot ("Problems"). At the same time Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir joined the League as an organization.

When the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry appeared in Ereẓ Israel in March 1946, the League did not appear before it, but Magnes, Buber, and Smilansky did, as representatives of Iḥud. Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir submitted a memorandum to the Committee, entitled "The Case for a Bi-National State." Both Iḥud and the League appeared before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine ( *UNSCOP ). Though the members of both Committees, however, were impressed by the presentations, neither was convinced that a bi-national solution was feasible.

The adoption by the UN General Assembly of the partition plan on November 29, 1947, effectively put an end to the activities of the bi-nationalists, though Iḥud was revived in the early 1950s under the leadership of R. Binyamin, who edited its monthly Ner (Candle). After R. Binyamin's death, the monthly was edited by Simon Shereshevsky, until it ceased publication in 1964. Iḥud now devoted its energies to organizing discussions, searching for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of compromise between Israel and the Arab states, and trying to defend the civil rights of Israel's Arab minority, which until 1966 was subject to a military administration.


S. Hattis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine in Mandatory Times (1970).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.