“There were two main obstacles to larger Jewish immigration. First, Palestine was not in any way a suitable site for large-scale colonization of the conventional kind. It was small. Much of the land was arid mountainous country or marshlands in the flatter regions towards the coast. Although the Arab population was relatively small at between 500,000 and 700,000, it was increasing before 1914 and there was growing pressure on land, much of it driven by large land-owners to increase production of the main grain crops. In no sense, therefore, was Palestine ‘vacant’ for colonization, though there was uncultivated land in the marshy regions.
It is critical that here, by contrast with virtually all modern colonization in the Americas and Africa, land could not be taken by conquest or by payment of minute compensation. It had to be bought: and until the war of 1948 all land acquired by the Zionists was bought, often at an inflated price. Land purchase was helped by the fact that some 75% of land was owned in large blocks by wealthy notables, but since much of it had been bought as a speculation under the revised [Ottoman] land regulations of 1858, they would not sell it cheaply.
This made colonization an expensive business, since the promoters had not only to buy land, much of it from notables in Syria and Lebanon, but also provide stock and equipment for immigrants, most of whom had no capital and little or no farming experience. In short, there were few countries in the world that were less obviously suited to large-scale European colonization than Palestine, a point much stressed by those Zionists who favoured a settlement somewhere else. It could certainly not solve the problems of east European Jewry” [Emphasis added]
– From Fieldhouse, D.K., ‘Western Imperialism in the Middle East: 1914-1958, p123