Yigal Allon (1918-1980)—commander-in-chief of the Palmach, which he helped to found, a member of the Knesset for 25 years, and holder of a host of cabinet positions—was among Israel’s most important military and political leaders. He represented a wing of the Israeli left, and of the military establishment, that became sidelined within the Labor party in favor of the faction led by Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres. Reviewing a recent biography of Allon’s political career, Uri Heitner reflects on the directions the Israeli left did not take—including the so-called Allon Plan, which called for partitioning the West Bank between Israel and Jordan:
Allon took the principle of Israel’s territorial integrity as axiomatic for his whole life. He never spoke of the areas of the land of Israel which he proposed evacuating as being “occupied.” To the contrary, when he spoke of “occupied territories” he was referring to Jordanian control of Judea and Samaria and Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip.
The starting point of the Allon Plan . . . is the “moral foundation”—that is, our right to the land of Israel and the fact that we did not conquer territories not our own but rather liberated territories of our homeland, and that we have as much right to Bethlehem and Nablus as to Tiberias and Tel Aviv. To this can be added our right to self-defense and the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were liberated in a just war forced upon us. There is therefore no justification for the demand that we withdraw.
A central portion of Allon’s outlook is the recognition of the importance of strategic depth and defensible borders, an approach which requires Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. . . .
Although the plan was never officially adopted, the settlement program of Israeli governments between the Six-Day War and the  rise of Likud to power was based on it. The Allon Plan was also Yitzḥak Rabin’s path even after he signed the Oslo Accords, as he made clear in his final speech to the Knesset (although accepting the PLO as a partner was contrary to Allon’s principles and, until the agreement, Rabin’s).
This was the path of the Labor party until the Barak era in 2000. In my opinion, Israel’s strategic and international situation would be much better if it adopted the plan and used it as a political, defense, and settlement framework.
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Nostalgia for Yigal Alon’s Zionist Left
This piece was first published on the Hebrew-language journal Kivunim Ḥadashim, and was reprinted, with permission, on the website Mida on September 9, 2016, rendered into English by Avi Woolf, and republished here with permission.
Yigal Allon never spoke of “occupation” and never doubted Israel’s being morally in the right. Even when he proposed a territorial compromise he did it on the basis of defensible borders. A new book sheds light on the contribution of the Palmach commander as a statesman and politician.
Udi Manor, Yigal Allon: Biographiya Politit 1949-1980, Dvir (2016), 471 p.
In 2004, the long-awaited biography of Yigal Allon, one of the great leaders of the State of Israel was finally published. Aviv Ḥeldo [“The Spring of His Youth”], written by Anita Shapira, is a fascinating biography which presents the meteoric rise of the Palmach commander, the prominent leader of the 1948 generation, and the most important commander of the War of Independence.
But for some reason the author decided to kill the hero in 1949. In her opinion, Allon peaked in 1948 and from then on was a disappointment, unimportant and uninteresting, and thus not meriting a second volume. She almost took pride in the mercy killing she carried out, thanks to which he remained young, handsome, and promising.
In a review article I wrote, I praised the half a biography and attacked the outrageous decision to cut off the description of the man’s life smack in the middle. I finished by worrying that there would be no one who would dare enter the esteemed historian’s shoes and write a sequel.
Fortunately, I was wrong: Yigal has a redeemer. A political biography of Yigal Allon has recently come out, written by the historian Udi Manor and which starts where Shapira ends, in 1949, and concludes with Allon’s death in 1980. And since he who dares wins, Manor has produced a fascinating, well-written biography in which he does a very good job of analyzing the ideological and political aspects of Allon’s personality and his worldview. The story of the second half of Yigal Allon’s life, as expressed by this new book, refutes the Shapira approach and the claim of that Allon was uninteresting as a politician and statesman.
Manor’s book emphasizes Allon’s great influence on the direction of the state of Israel and the Labor movement, an influence which was no less than that of the Prime Ministers. If Shapira and Manor share an ability to provide a fascinating portrait of a fascinating figure, what separates them is Shapira’s tendency to describe public life as if it were reality television, while Manor sees it as a struggle between opinions and worldviews.
Thus, for Shapira the main story is the personal competition between Dayan and Allon, two knights of the 1948 generation, two heroes of the founding, [famous from the photograph where they are] embracing [the Palmach commander] Yitzḥak Sadeh on the slope of Kibbutz Ḥanitah, the two who fought for leadership—a struggle which Dayan won after the War of Independence and Allon lost. In Manor’s book, by contrast, the main story is the political and ideological struggle between the path Allon embodied and that embodied by Dayan (and later Shimon Peres). Although I disagree with some of the author’s interpretations, I believe that such a political analysis is much more interesting and important—perhaps less romantic and gossipy, but certainly more valuable.
In Favor of the “Both This and That”
In the early nineties, I was partner to the establishment of the Ha-Derekh Ha-Shlishit [The Third Way], which eventually became a parliamentary party. In the beginning, when we debated the name of the new movement, we considered calling it the Allon Movement. My friend Yehuda Harel even amused himself by drawing a logo in the form of an oak tree [allon means “oak” in Hebrew]. Eventually, we adopted the name proposed by [the poet and Palmach veteran] Haim Guri. Guri, Allon’s friend and supporter, stood at the head of a group which supported the struggle to oppose a withdrawal from the Golan, and was a sort of “Third-Way Council of Wise Men”—the “Palmachniks” as we called them: Guri, Amos Ḥorev, Yitzḥak Ḥofi, and Tzvika Zamir. The four left the movement when it became a party.
It’s not for nothing that a movement that wondered whether to call itself the Allon Movement eventually called itself the Third Way. Not only was its political program based on the principles of the Allon Plan [a peace proposal drafted by Allon in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, which involved partitioning the West Bank between Israel and Jordan], adapted for the reality of the nineties, but it also expressed a complex worldview which did not slide into one of the automatic extremes—the instinctive divide between right and left, hawks and doves—but rather went outside the box and looked for more nuanced solutions aiming to solve a variety of challenges and problems, as opposed to the simplistic solutions of all or nothing.
This was the path of Allon, and as Manor puts it: “Allon’s path was guided by the demanding principle of ‘both this and that,’ and not the superficial ‘either this or that.’” There are those to whom the decisiveness of the “either/or” appeals and avoid the grey complexity of “both/and,” which is ostensibly “incoherent” and unexciting. But to me, the “both this and that” approach is far more fascinating because it’s more original, less banal, requires more thought and creativity, and produces real solutions.
Another theme in the book is Allon’s “connected-vessels” approach. The article by this title was Allon’s ideological platform for his planned fight for the head of the Labor party against Shimon Peres, during which he died of a heart attack. The article was the basis for the collection of essays Connected Vessels [Hebrew] which came out after his death. This book was the gift I received from a friend for my eighteenth birthday, and it deeply affected me over the years.
Connected Vessels expresses a broad, overarching outlook of a complete and all-encompassing Zionist-socialist worldview, which discusses foreign affairs and defense, society and economics, education and culture, religion and state, aliyah to Israel, and ties to diaspora Jewry, and all as a single package: everything is dependent on everything else. This is a correct approach to life, certainly for a leader. However, one of the deficiencies of the Manor’s book is that he sees Connected Vessels as a single unit, which should be accepted or rejected as is. Since he accepts it, the book lacks the criticism and skepticism appropriate for a scholarly biography.
Manor describes Allon’s great breakthrough contribution to the ministerial roles he was responsible for—as labor minister, absorption minister, education and culture minister, foreign minister, and deputy prime minister, and the first cabinet member to devote significant attention to environmental issues. In all these fields, Allon’s overall connected-vessels approach was expressed in his actions.
We Did Not Take a Foreign Land
But with all the importance of these areas, the political-defense issue stood at the center of Allon’s world, and it takes center stage on Manor’s book as well. Allon’s most important book in Manor’s opinion (and also in mine) is Masakh Shel Ḥol [Curtain of Sand]—the strategic, political, and security program which he shaped, formulated, and published in 1959. Allon published the book a second time with an up-to-date epilogue, after the Six-Day War.
This is an interesting choice in light of the upheaval which took place in his views, from a prominent believer in the territorial integrity of the historical land of Israel to a leading exponent of territorial compromise. From Allon’s own perspective, he had not actually undergone any ideological change, but was rather adapting ideology to changing reality. Allon took the principle of Israel’s territorial integrity as axiomatic for his whole life. He never spoke of the areas of the land of Israel which he proposed evacuating as being “occupied.” To the contrary, when he spoke of “occupied territories” he was referring to Jordanian control of Judea and Samaria and Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip.
The starting point of the Allon Plan, as it was presented at every opportunity in writing and orally, is the “moral foundation”—that is, our right to the land of Israel and the fact that we did not conquer territories not our own but rather liberated territories of our homeland, and that we have as much right to Bethlehem and Nablus as to Tiberias and Tel Aviv. To this can be added our right to self-defense and the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were liberated in a just war forced upon us. There is therefore no justification for the demand that we withdraw. A central portion of Allon’s outlook is the recognition of the importance of strategic depth and defensible borders, an approach which requires Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.
What led to a change in Allon’s approach is the demographic issue. In the War of Independence the Arabs abandoned the areas liberated by the IDF, and when Allon demanded the liberation of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, it was on the assumption the Arabs would flee once again. He therefore lamented the decision to avoid doing so over the years and opposed the 1949 armistice agreements. He also estimated that the result would be the same in a future war: “The flight of part of the Arab population eastward must be a part of military planning.”
When reality turned out differently, he shaped the Allon Plan already in the midst of the Six Day War. This was almost inconceivable: a man who had espoused a particular idea his whole life, formed an almost opposite plan in the midst of war, addressing the changed reality and proposing territorial compromise based on demographic facts: conceding areas densely populated with Palestinians, and bringing Israeli sovereignty and mass settlement to areas crucial for defense and relatively sparsely populated with Palestinians.
For me, the Allon Plan was his greatest contribution to Israeli political history, and the chapter dealing with the subject is the most important in the book. Although the plan was never officially adopted, the settlement plan of Israeli governments between the Six-Day War and the rise of Likud to power was based on it. The Allon Plan was also Rabin’s path even when he signed the Oslo Accords, as he made clear in his final speech to the Knesset (although accepting the PLO as a partner was contrary to Allon’s principles and Rabin’s path until the agreement). This was the path of the Labor party until the Barak era in 2000. In my opinion, Israel’s strategic and international situation would be much better if it had adopted the plan and used it as a political, defense, and settlement framework. I believe that even today, despite the changes that have taken place, the Allon Plan, with appropriate adjustments, is the correct path Israel must follow.
Allon believed his plan, which included an unending political effort for peace with moderate parties in the Arab world and among the Palestinians, would bring peace. Manor also believes so. I reject this assessment. The Arabs who summarily rejected the Barak and Olmert plans would have certainly rejected Allon’s plan. The Arabs have yet to make peace with our existence. This is the reason for the lack of peace, not Israel’s policy. Unfortunately, this reality is not set to change in the near future.
Allon did not accept this evaluation, and his biographer doesn’t either. In his eyes, this is a Dayanist approach, based on “entrenchment” and relying on Israel’s nuclear power. That’s how he interprets Dayan and Peres’s approach both when they opposed any withdrawal and when they supported a deep withdrawal. While he analyzes Allon’s path very well, the Achilles heel of this book is his analysis of the path of Allon’s rivals: an interesting one, but one based on forcing their changing positions to fit his own preconceptions.
The Man Who Was
The book is quite obviously influenced by the “camps theory” of the “Oranim group,” [a political and intellectual circle founded in the 1970s and led by Yigal Wagner. Wagner and his disciples, firmly on the left, supported the Allon Plan and wished for Allon himself, rather than Rabin or Peres, to take the reins of the Labor party. They are also known for their somewhat esoteric approach to interpreting history and contemporary politics]. Between Shapira’s book and Manor’s, the book Likrat Hayamim Habai’m [Towards the Coming Days] came out—a collection of Allon’s articles in a clear Wagneristic spirit, which places Allon in the “correct camp” in terms of the clashing forces; space does not permit describing it in full here.
Manor is very far from Wagneristic dogmatism. For instance, he describes the great esteem Allon had for Ben-Gurion and his closeness to him despite political and personal disputes, and his ideological and personal preference over Pinḥas Lavon, although Allon pragmatically supported Lavon during the Lavon Affair.
Manor clarifies Allon’s and [the Israeli politician] Yisrael Galili’s support for the nuclear project, and portrays the debate between them and Dayan and Peres as one regarding the opacity policy. In my opinion, he somewhat plays down the fact that Ben-Gurion himself was on Allon and Galili’s side. I also think he exaggerates the debate over the nuclear issues as the basis for the ideological fight between the “entrenchment” and status-quo camp and the strategic “initiative” camp (in war and peace). This division, which Manor uses to interpret reality, is influenced by the Wagner theory. Reading this book did not convince me of its correctness.
I also believe that presenting the disputes between Allon and his opponents as solely an expression of ideological conflict goes too far. Although I don’t see politics as a soap opera, one cannot ignore the dimension of personal competition, just as it exists in academia, the army, and any human system. Not everything is personal, but personal competition is also not just “folklore,” as Manor would have it. After all, even Allon did not reject “politicking.”
What’s also missing in the book, in my opinion, is the fascinating dynamic between Yitzḥak Tabenkin, [a founder of the kibbutz movement and an Israeli politician] and Allon. Allon could have been the “crown prince” and even merited a full biography from Anita Shapira, were it not for the crossroads of 1949 in which he cleaved to Tabenkin the man, the path of [the hard-left league of kibbutzim] Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Me’uḥad, and his comrades in the movement. Tabenkin saw Allon as his top student, but Allon demonstrated independence all along the way and continued to break new political ground.
He understood before any of his comrades did that the strange alliance between Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza’ir with the hardline Communist party Mapam was pointless and he pushed for the inevitable separation. He was first among his comrades to adopt a pro-western orientation in the cold war. Along with Galili, he led the establishment of the Labor party alliance known as Ha-Maarakh [a center-left coalition] against Tabenkin’s path, and he rebelled against him in his willingness to make a territorial compromise. This drama was not given its due in the book.
Towards the end of the book, Manor quotes [the veteran Labor politician] Aharon Yadlin, who became furious at a journalist who defined Allon as the “Man Who Never Was”—never chief of staff, defense minister, or prime minister:
This is not true . . . Yigal was the man who was. The man was the greatest of the commanders of the War of Independence: the man who was one of the most productive political thinkers after the Six-Day War; the man who would inject spirit and broad horizons and daring and innovation in every state position; the man who was the great unifier of the kibbutz movement; he stood alone among the Israeli leadership in his feeling and recognition that Israeli society is and should be pluralistic.
Indeed, Allon himself was in no way a missed opportunity, but the fact that he was not appointed chief of staff after the War of Independence, defense minister before the Six-Day War and never became prime minister, was definitely a missed opportunity. Not for him, but for the state of Israel.
The book contains historical errors which should be corrected, but they do not affect its quality. After noting that I read some of the drafts and made comments on them, I can definitely sum up and say that Yigal Allon: Biografiyah Politit 1949-1980 is a fascinating biography of one of the most important leaders in the history of Zionism and the State of Israel—a leader, strategist, statesman, military commander, and political and social thinker of the first order.