The situation in the Middle East has rarely been (if ever) stable. The relationships between Zionist and Arab groups have always been strained. In the middle of the twentieth century the region was again torn between two groups which started a number of wars. In the early 1940s a balance of power was secured by the British mandate, Arab forces and Zionist forces.
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However, in the late 1940s the balance of power in the region was distorted by British withdrawal.1 Admittedly, there are several theories concerning the reasons for British withdrawal.2 Nonetheless, it is hardly important to understand why Britain made such a decision.
It is much more important to analyze the outcomes of the decisions made in terms of the current balance of power theories. One of the theories can explain the situation in the region at that time. According to this theory, large states tend to be motivated to maintain their ranking, while smaller states tend to be motivated by insecurity.
Thus, the present paper will focus on several issues. First, it is important to examine whether there was balance of power equilibrium in 1948. Secondly, it is also important to understand whether the reputation of Britain was damaged by the failure to keep promises given to the both parties.
Finally, it is necessary to look at the matter from a bit different perspective and understand whether large countries are motivated to preserve their ranking whereas smaller countries are motivated by insecurity.
On the one hand, it is necessary to admit that there was certain balance of power equilibrium in the late 1940s in the region. The territories of Palestine were under control of Great Britain and the other two parties could covertly undertake some steps to establish their power in the region.3
Admittedly, there were some minor conflicts, but the balance was maintained as it was secured by the power of European countries. Great Britain was given the responsibility to secure peaceful development of the region. Thus, in 1920 Britain was entrusted with the Mandate for Palestine during the San Remo conference.
The region was to be “administered according to the terms of the Balfour Declaration and prepared for self-government”.4 Importantly, both parties admitted the authority of the international community and did not undertake any meaningful steps to seize power in the region. Nonetheless, the two parties were working out steps to undertake when the region would be without any ‘supervision’.
For instance, in 1937 Ben-Gurion, one of the Zionist leaders, claimed that Arabs had to abandon the territory and the only way to make them go was a war.5 This political figure saw Palestine as a naturally Jewish land.6 Likewise, Arabs did not believe Zionist group would give the territory away.
However, as has been mentioned above, these covert ideas did not affect the balance of power in the region as Britain managed to guarantee the peace.
However, the country failed to maintain the balance. In the first place, the position of Britain was rather inconsistent. For instance, the head of the Eastern Department in 1948, B.A.B.
Burrows wrote that an Arab state “would be a hotbed of ineffectual Arab fanaticism and after causing maximum disturbance to our relations with the Arabs would very likely fall in the end under Jewish influence and be finally absorbed in the Jewish state”.7 Therefore, Britain did not have a strong position. More so, Britain promised stability and certain solutions to both sides.
Thus, Balfour Declaration was the document which actually proclaimed that Palestine was largely a Jewish territory where Jewish people could build their society safely. The declaration appeared in 1927 and was regarded as a certain promise to the Zionist group. On the other hand, Hussein Mcmahon agreement was a certain promise to Arab groups.
The agreement also secured the right of Arabs to develop their society in the region. Therefore, Palestine was a kind of prize which was promised to all competitors. Notably, Great Britain failed to keep both promises. The promises given maintained the balance, but withdrawal of Britain destroyed the balance.
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It is also important to note that inability to keep promises damaged the country’s rating as it proved to lose its high position in the international arena.8 Admittedly, Britain faced numerous economic as well as political constraints. Therefore, this country could be no longer the authority that could maintain the balance.
Therefore, the theory that smaller countries are motivated by insecurity can be illustrated with the situation in Palestine in 1948. The war started because the two smaller countries understood that there was no balance any more. Zionist groups managed to fulfill their plans to make Arabs go.
Admittedly, Arabs did not feel the necessary support and had to enter the war. The two smaller states tried to secure their position with the help of the war.
It is necessary to note that the theory mentioned above can also help to analyze the major factor which led to the war. Admittedly, the major mistake was still made by Britain as the country failed to keep at least some promises. It is possible to state that Britain is responsible for the start of the military conflict.
Great Britain should have worked out a more consistent position on the matter. At that, the UN should have interfered in the situation in the Middle East. It was possible to maintain the balance of power at that period.
However, several decisions made inevitably led to the war between the two hostile parties. It is necessary to note that these decisions were made by several people who played a very important role in the conflict escalation. For instance, Theodor Herzl was the creator of Zionist Organization and Zionism on the whole.9
This individual managed to make many people believe that Palestine was no place for Arabs. One of such people was Ben-Gurion who became one of the major leaders of the Zionist movement. Of course, such people could (and did) take advantage of imbalance in the region.
To sum up, it is necessary to note that the situation in Palestine in 1948 can be regarded as an illustration of the Melian Debate. The war in the region in 1948 confirms that larger states are motivated by ratings while smaller states are motivated by insecurity.
Admittedly, there was balance of power equilibrium in the region in the late 1940s as the two conflicting forces were ‘supervised’ by the larger state Great Britain. Britain secured the rights of both nations and even gave certain promises to both parties. However, the balance was destroyed as Britain failed to keep the promises given. This led to the imbalance which, in its turn, led to the series of wars.
Morris, Benny. Righteous victims: a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.
Pappé, Ilan. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.
Pappé, Ilan. “Mapping the Nakba.” Journal of Palestine Studies 41, no.2 (2012): 115.
Segev, Tom. One Palestine, complete: Jews and Arabs under the Mandate. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000.
Shlaim, Avi. “Britain and the Arab~Israeli War of 1948.” Journal of Palestine Studies 51 (2000): 49-71.
1. Avi Shlaim, “Britain and the Arab~Israeli War of 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 51 (2000): 53.
2. Ilan Pappe, “Mapping the Nakba,” Journal of Palestine Studies 41, no. 2 (2012): 115.
3. Benny Morris, Righteous victims: a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 14-36.
4. Avi Shlaim, “Britain and the Arab~Israeli War of 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 51 (2000): 50.
5. Ilan Pappé, The ethnic cleansing of Palestin (Oxford: Oneworld), 2006.
6. Tom Segev, One Palestine, complete: Jews and Arabs under the Mandate (New York: Metropolitan Books), 2000, 16.
7. Quoted in Avi Shlaim, “Britain and the Arab~Israeli War of 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 51 (2000): 54.
8. Ilan Pappé, The ethnic cleansing of Palestin (Oxford: Oneworld), 2006.
9. Benny Morris, Righteous victims: a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 20-21.