Zionism. Arabism and emergence of the PLO



  • Theodore Herzl is considered to be the father of political Zionism, who in 1896 wrote Der Judeenstat (The Jewish State), in which he called for a safe haven for Jews.

  • Zionism is a Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century as a direct response to anti-Semitism with the desire to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In particular to the Dreyfus affair in 1894; a political scandal in France which followed the conviction of treason of Captain Dreyfus a French Jewish officer. He was later found innocent.

  • After two thousand years of persecution of Jews, the international political movement aimed to establish a Jewish state in the ancient homeland claimed by the Jews as a gift from God. In addition, Zionism can be classed as a modern national liberation movement which achieved success with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

  • After the death of Herzl in 1904, Chaim Weizmann succeeded him in his efforts when becoming the leader of Zionism and the first president of Israel.

  • By the time of the Second World War, and with it the Holocaust, the cause of Zionism had helped create an environment where the creation of a Jewish state was achievable.


Pan-Arabism and Arab Socialism
Pan-Arabism and Arab Socialism

  • Arabism became identified with Arab nationalism and an awakening of consciousness among the intellectuals in the Arab world, an idea that had developed prior to the 20th century. At the heart of an Arab consciousness was a desire for self-determination and independence although there was a fundamental disagreement as to the form of government best suited for the Arab peoples – which is a continuous issue even till this day.

  • Politically, however, the leadership had been taken over by a pan-Arab ideology, which has unsuccessfully tried to unite the Arabs in a union of nation state. Pan-Arabism has become synonymous with Arab nationalism and, to a certain extent, with Arab socialism, particularly after the rise of Nasser.

  • The exchange of diplomacy between the British and the Arabs during the First World encouraged the development of pan-Arabism and the hopes for a united Arab state. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire gave further rise to those hopes, but the actions of the British and the establishment of the mandate system upset those Arabs who hoped for more out of the restructuring of the Middle East.

  • The frustration of the Arabs encouraged the development of Arabism in the 1930s into a more radical direction by intellectuals. Arabism naturally became closely linked to the religion of Islam: to give their nationalism a historical dimension, they linked it with the history of Islam itself.

  • What helped keep the Arab cause unified was their hostility to the Jews, but their lack of success in achieving Arab unity has been a major factor in the survival of the Jewish state in the Middle East.

Emergence of the PLO:

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat

  • The relative failure of Arabism encouraged one of the alternatives to come to the fore; in frustration with the lack of progress made for the poor and Arab national unity, some sought representation and action through such organizations as the Palestine Liberation Organization.

  • A decade after the creation of the state of Israel, it seemed to some in the Arab world that the international community and their own leaders had forgotten the Palestinian people expelled from their lands.

  • In 1954, a small group of Palestinians who believed that the liberation of their homeland had to come in order for Arab unity to be achieved, took the name Fatah (Arabic for conquest). The organization was led by Yasser Arafat, Khalil al-Wazir and Salah Khalaf.

  • In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was established to represent the Palestinians in their search for a return to their occupied lands in Israel, forming an umbrella under which other resistance groups such as Fatah could operate.

  • In 1969, following a disastrous war for the Arabs, the leadership of the PLO was taken over by Yasser Arafat, a man who has done more than any other to bring the Palestinian cause to the eyes of the world.

  • Arafat came under criticism from abroad as head of the PLO because he either condoned the violence of Palestinian resistance groups on Israel or was unable to stop it. Despite that, the PLO was given a tremendous boost in 1974 when it was recognized “as the sole representative of the Palestinian people” by the Arab league.

  • Later that year, Arafat himself stood at the podium of the UN in New York to address the General Assembly at the PLO was granted observer status by the United Nations Organization. With his gun holster empty, Arafat urged the UN to help the Palestinians regain their land, saying, “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”


Schulze, pp. 33, 40 - 41.
Schulze, pp. 33, 40 - 41.
Cannon et al., pp. 116 - 23.
Cannon et al., pp. 116 - 23.