Israel: the Emergence of a Democracy

David Ben-Gurion publicly pronounces the Declaration of the State of Israel in Tel Aviv. He stands beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism, in the old Tel Aviv Museum of Art building on Rothshild St, May 14 1948. Rudi Weissenstein / Wikimedia Commons

LESS than three years have elapsed since the state of Israel proclaimed its independence at the termination of the British Mandatory régime. Within the brief period of its national life, events have unfolded with a speed and intensity rarely equalled in the history of political institutions. Israel is still beset by all the preoccupations which attended its struggle for birth; but each of its three infant years has seen a marked shift in the primary center of its concern. The year 1948 was characterized by a struggle for sheer physical survival. Military experts had not placed a high estimate on the ability of Palestine Jewry to organize its defense against a combined and simultaneous onslaught by all the neighboring states; and these doubts were not resolved until the end of the year, when Israel's improvised forces passed from tactical defense to a victorious counter-offensive and swept the entire southern desert clear of hostile forces.

In 1949, with physical survival assured, the central theme became the struggle for international recognition. Surrounded on all its land frontiers by unreconciled Arab states, Israel was driven to compensate for its regional isolation by an attempt to establish strong links with more distant countries and to achieve a secure status in the organized world community. Membership in the United Nations was of particular importance to a state whose very right to exist was fiercely challenged by its neighbors and whose most vital interests were still to be the subject of international deliberation and judgment.

By the end of 1949, a tolerable stability had been won both in military defense and in political status. Between February and August of that year, Israel had concluded armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. These agreements established demarcation lines which not only separated the armed forces of the contending states, but also marked the clearly defined limits of their civil jurisdiction and thus assumed the character of political frontiers. According to their own provisions (ratified by the Security Council in August 1949)

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