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outstanding Harold Laski manuscript on the economic future of Palestine

LASKI, HAROLD. Autograph manuscript signed, “Palestine: The Economic Aspect”

No place, 1946

4to. 16 pages, closely written in Laski’s tiny, neat hand. Light wear and browning. Near fine.

In this long essay Harold Laski, one of the most influential public intellectuals of the 20th century, discusses the economic future of Palestine and the Jews immigrating there following World War II. Laski’s greatest influence came as a prolific author, professor at the London School of Economics, and leading advisor to the Labour Party. “Laski was a writer who exercised enormous influence in the turbulent environment of the early to mid-twentieth century. Though normally regarded as a political theorist, Laski frequently wrote on the problems of international politics” (Peter Lamb).

Son of a prosperous Jewish cotton merchant in Manchester, Laski had renounced his Jewish faith as a young man, but he developed close ties with leading Jewish figures on both sides of the Atlantic, from Chaim Weizmann to Felix Frankfurter. At the Paris Peace Conference, Laski advised Frankfurter who was in attendance as an observer for American Zionist interests. Frankfurter, with T.E. Lawrence, convinced Emir Faisal to sign the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement to create a workable co-existence between Palestine’s Arab and Jewish populations as envisioned under the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

In the following years Laski grew increasingly interested in Zionism. He declared his dedication to the cause in 1945, stating that he felt “like a prodigal son returning home.” For Laski, the Jewish settlement of Palestine became, “a veritable crusade which obsessed” him (Kramnick and Sheerman, Harold Laski, A Life on the Left).

This long essay presents Laski’s views on the economic future of Palestine and the prospects for Jewish-Arab relations there. It was published in Palestine’s Economic Future, ed. J. B. Hobman, introduction by Chaim Weizmann (London, 1946).

Laski argues that the immigration of Jews to the region has had considerable economic benefits for Arabs and that “before 1917, Palestine, in an economic sense was a land without hope or prospects.” He then describes at length the economic impact of the Jewish presence in Palestine and its neighbors. Laski makes a series of proposals for economic development involving public works and infrastructure, finance and taxation, education, government, and more. This wide-ranging essay also includes an extensive discussion of the history of British commitment to the establishment of a homeland for Jews in Palestine and a discussion of the demographics of immigrants.

Laski concludes: “The economic future of Palestine is an issue dependent, at every point, upon political decisions which will have to be made within a very brief period … There is one principal I can at least affirm which is relevant to all the political decisions which lie immediately ahead. There is no evidence to show that the attempt to make Palestine a ‘Jewish National Home’ upon the basis of the Balfour Declaration has had any deleterious effect on Arab well-being; on the contrary, it is abundantly clear that it has helped, and not hindered, Arab advance. To this must be added two other things. In an experiment of the scale and importance of that attempted in Palestine, success largely depends upon faith in its validity in the major officials concerned …

“The second thing to note is that the implication of a ‘Jewish National Home’ in Palestine is a thorough-going reorganization of the internal relations of a semi-feudal Arab society in which the privileges of a small group of rich effendi are deeply involved; and this, in its turn, is bound, if it continues, to have vital repercussions on the whole social framework of the Middle East. This is the real source of the resistance to large-scale Jewish immigration. The Jew brings with him Western ideas, often Western socialist ideas, which cut right across a traditional historical pattern the beneficiaries of which seek at any cost to defend their claims. They, therefore, mobilize, both religious fanaticism and national passions to arrest changes in which they see the threat to their privilege, and seek to use the dislike of the masses to change before they see that the change is to their advantage …

“If the Palestine experiment could have any chance of success in the next decade, it must be made decisively clear that there is no going back at any point from the full implementation of the principals set out in the Mandate of 1922. Novelty in the field of politics demands not less the courageous heart than the clear mind. In the quarter of a century since the Balfour Declaration the policy of Great Britain in Palestine has had neither. Until it has come to see that, without these qualities, it only deepens one of the supreme historical tragedies of which we had knowledge, its statesmen do an ill-service to civilization by accepting responsibilities they hesitate to fulfill. And at a time like our own, to fail in a task of this kind is to risk a betrayal the future will find it impossible to forgive.”

This is an outstanding essay on the Jewish future of Palestine written by a major intellectual at a crucial juncture in the region’s history.