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Important Points from The Royal Commission and the Proposal of Partition, Albright, et al, Palestine: A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, Yale University Press, 1947.

lord peelThe Royal Commission and the Proposal of Partition

  • Lord Peel and his exploratory commission came to Palestine in the fall of 1936. Like the Shaw Commission before them, the goal was to hear from people on all sides of the issues of land division and immigration, in an attempt to bring a peaceful solution for both Jews and Arabs, while upholding the British Mandate for Palestine and its’ provisions. David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann and Vladimir Jabotinsky were key presenters for the Jewish view, and the Mufit Haj Amin al-Husaini spoke for the Arabs. For their part, the Jewish opinion reflected hope and optimism for the sharing of the land of Palestine, with an adherence to the Churchill White Paper of 1922. The Arabs again restated their insistence for the abolition of the Mandate, a complete halt in Jewish immigration and a demand for Arab independence as was being seen in other Arab nations in the Middle East.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 799 – 817.

 

  • Jewish views and sentiments expressed to the Peel Commission in 1936 are well exemplified in the following quotes-

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 800 – 804.

“Our determination [is] to live with the Arab people on terms of concord and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing commonwealth, the up-building of which may assure to each of its people an undisturbed national development. That there is no question of a ‘wholly Jewish Palestine,’ or of a Palestine in which the Arabs are reduced to a status falling short of full equality, is implicit in the emphatic assertion on the Jewish side of ‘the basic principle that, without reference to numerical strength, neither of the two peoples shall dominate or be dominated by the other.”

Citing the statement of policy by Zionist Executive, issued earlier at the Seventeenth Congress, Basle, 1931, and included in the introduction to the memorandum submitted to the Royal Commission.

Chaim Weizmann, in his address, outlined three reasons why the Zionists did not mean to make Palestine a “Jewish State”-

“Our aim is to make the Jewish people master of its own destiny, not subject to the will and mercy of others, as any other free people. But it is not part of our aim to dominate anybody else. If Palestine were an empty country, we could say a Jewish State, because the Jewish State would consist of Jews only and our self-government in Palestine would not concern others. But there are other inhabitants in Palestine who are here and, as we do not want to be at the mercy of others, they have a right not to be at the mercy of the Jews…

The second reason is that a state means a separate unit. A Jewish national Home may also mean that, but not necessarily so. On the contrary, we should like this country to be attached to a greater unit, a unit that is called the British Commonwealth of Nations…

There is a third reason why we do not use the formula of a Jewish Sate. There are Holy Places in Palestine which are holy to the whole civilized world and we are unwilling and it is not our interest that we should be made responsible for them. We recognize that they should be placed under a higher supervision, under some other international body, as it is laid down in the Mandate.”
From the Palestine Royal Commission, Minutes of Evidence Hear at Public Sessions, London, 1937, Colonial No. 134, P. 289.

And in Jabotinsky’s address,

“… I have also shown to you already that, in our submission, there is no question of ousting the Arabs. On the contrary, the idea is that Palestine on both sides of the Jordan should hold the Arabs, their progeny, and many millions of Jews. What I do not deny is that in the process the Arabs of Palestine will necessarily become a minority in the country of Palestine. What I do deny is that that is a hardship. That is not a hardship on any race, any nation possessing so many National States and so many more National States in the future. One fraction, on branch of that race, and not a big one, will have to live in someone else’s State; well, that is the case with all the mightiest nations of the world… So when we hear the Arab claim confronted with the Jewish claim – I fully understand that any minority would rather be a majority- it is quite understandable that the Arabs of Palestine would also prefer Palestine to be the Arab State No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 – that I quite understand – but when the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation…”

Ibid, p. 370 ff.

 

  • The Mufti (Haj Amin al-Husaini) proposed the following solutions to the Peel Commission, in order to settle the Arab grievance (that national independence had been promised to them by the British, in exchange for assistance overthrowing the Turks during WW I)

1.) Stop the “experiment” of a Jewish National Home
2.) An immediate halt to Jewish immigration to Palestine
3.) Absolute prohibition of sale of land to Jews
4.) Terminate the British Mandate for Palestine, as had been done in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, p. 815 and citing Palestine Royal Commission, Minutes of Evidence, p. 297.

 

  • Also testifying to the Peel Commission for the Arabs was Auni Abdul Hadi, whose comments were blatantly anti-Semitic. He took the view that Arabs in Palestine were now worse off than before, as taxes had increased, expected wage rates were higher and the cost of living in general had risen.

“ I think the Jews… are more usurious than any other people in any other part of the world… In Germany 70,000,000 Germans who are cultured and civilized and have all the necessary means of Government cannot bear 600,000 Jews… As far as our rights are concerned, we utterly refuse to meet at the same table with any persons who call themselves Zionist Jews…

We don’t accept the formula laid down by the Jews that there should be no domination by Jews over Arabs or by Arabs over Jews… We want a national Palestine Government which shall make a treaty with Great Britain for full freedom of all interests of all inhabitants of Palestine.

Frankly speaking, we object to the existence of 400,000 Jews in the country.”

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 814 – 817 and quoting from the Palestine Royal Commission, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 310 and 312 – 315.

  • The Peel Commission concluded, after hearing all evidence that the two most basic reasons for continued unrest in Palestine were-

1.) Arab insistence on national independence
2.) Arab hatred and fear of a Jewish home in Palestine

Their report added that there were several other factors contributing to the difficulties and disturbances, but that these were “subsidiary” in nature and were identified as-

1.) The fact that Iraq had recently gained their independence and to various degrees so had Trans-Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
2.) The increased numbers of Jewish immigration, although directly in relation to the accelerated persecution in much of Europe, were escalating Arab fears and anger.
3.) The perception that the Arabs felt they were at a political disadvantage by not having an international agency, such as the Jewish Agency, to advocate for them.
4.) Arab belief, or lack thereof, that the British would make good on their promises to the Arabs issued during the McMahon pledge and the Balfour Declaration.
5.) Arab frustration at continued land sales to Jewish immigrants
6.) The “intensive character” of the Jews in Palestine; progressive and modern ways, particularly of the youth, contemporary language, etc…
7.) The ambiguity of several phrases in the Mandate, which has allowed for opposing interpretations of the document by both people.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 820 – 821 and citing the Royal Commission Report, pp. 111 – 112.

  • The report issued by the Peel Commission went on to identify and/or support many findings previously upheld about the general state of Arabs and Jews living in Palestine, including that Jewish immigration had improved the quality of life for the majority of inhabitants, that social welfare and medical services, hosted by Jews but available to Arabs as well, were increasing life expectancies and therefore populations, that improvements in agriculture were bettering citrus crops for Arab and Jew alike and that the draining of swamps and control of malaria was a boon for all. The report also identified that with recent restrictions on Jewish immigration to the United States and with the developments in Eastern Europe and the rise of the National Socialist Government in Germany, immigration to Palestine for Jews was more necessary than ever. And yet, despite the findings and official reports, the resulting recommendation of the Peel Commission was to severely limit Jewish Immigration in Palestine, without regard to previous absorptive capacities in terms of land, but rather in moderation relative to the growth of the Arab population. The report also emphasized a need for more integrated schools, where Jews and Arabs would study together, in hopes of watering down some of the nationalist propaganda known to be streamed through many of the Arab schools.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, 826 – 838.

 

  • Responding to the Arab demands that Palestine be turned over as an independent Arab nation, as other ex-Turkish areas had become, the Peel Commission’s report acknowledged a difference in the territory of Palestine.

“It was, indeed, unique both as the Holy Land of three world-religions and as the old historic homeland of the Jews. The Arabs had lived in it for centuries, but they had long ceased to rule it, and in view of its peculiar character they could not now claim to possess it in the same way as they could claim possession of Syria or Iraq.”

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, p. 839 and citing the Royal Commission Report, p. 40.

  • In the end, the recommendation of the Peel Commission in its Royal Report was that the only way to uphold the directives of the Mandate for Palestine and address concerns for land divisions and development was to devise a plan of partition that would segregate the country into three parts; an Arab piece, a Jewish piece, and a “common” piece, or enclave, governed by the British.

This suggested first attempt at partition was viewed as “cantonization”, or a subdivision of a country established for political or administrative purposes. The Jewish State would run from a mid-coastal point between Gaza and Jaffa, to Megiddo and then east through the Valley of Esdraelon and Galilee, ending in the north at the Syrian border. The Arab state would be all the rest of Palestine, with the British Enclave encompassing Jerusalem and Bethlehem (for religious purposes) and a passage from Lydda and Ramleh through to the port at Jaffa (military and business needs).

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 845 – 846.

  • Following the report and recommendations of the Peel Commission, the British Government issued another White Paper, adopting the suggested policies for Palestine and its partition. The declaration of extreme limits to be placed on land purchases (preventing them in all Arab territories) and Jewish immigration (a high limit of only 8000 between August 1937 – March 1938) was seen as all but completely crippling to the efforts for building up a Jewish home in Palestine by many in parliament and certainly throughout the world’s Jewry. There was also a fair amount of disagreement on the effectiveness of plans for partition, although the Jewish response was not completely opposed to it across the board, and Weizmann acquiesced that it was the “lesser of two evils”. Amongst the Arabs, the official response was one of refute, for the White paper still allowed for the existence of the Jewish home in Palestine and they would not support any concessions to the Jews. Privately, however, different Arab leaders expressed belief in the possibility, particularly for those such as the Amir of Trans-Jordan, who would benefit directly.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 847 – 859.

The 1939 White Paper

  • The White Paper of 1938 and its plans for partition were soon abandoned, however, as increased violence, unrest and terrorist or guerrilla-type warfare increased through Palestine by both Jews and Arabs. The British found themselves at a near complete loss of control in Palestine and the resulting MacDonald White Paper would prove to be the most restrictive of all White Papers issued (with regard to Jewish development and immigration) and could not have been more ill-timed, with the pogroms and increased violence and murder of Jews in Europe. Many saw the ferocity with which the MacDonald White Papers were enforced as blatantly and unapologetically anti-Semitic.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 874 – 876.

 

  • Prior to the 1939 White Paper, multiple conferences were held, delegations heard and positions argued. The Balfour Declaration, the Hogarth Correspondence, the McMahon letters… all previous documents and written promises and proposals were examined by the British in an attempt to arrive at a final and adequate response to the recent upheaval, the Arab demands and the Jewish home. No accords could be reached between all parties and increased German dominance in Europe was taking Britain’s attention elsewhere as they prepared to enter the Second World War themselves.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 877 – 901.

  • The MacDonald White Paper was issued on May 17, 1939. It’s introductory paragraphs upheld the understanding that the Mandate did provide for a Jewish home in Palestine, but that those who drafted it, “could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country,” and that, “His Majesty’s Government, therefore, now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” Towards the Arab claims, the edict did not acknowledge any claim that Palestine had been specifically promised as the area in which a new Arab State was to be established, but that rather, “the whole of Palestine, west of the Jordan, was excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge and they, therefore, cannot agree that the McMahon correspondence forms a just basis for the claim that Palestine should be converted into an Arab state.”

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp, 902 – 903 and quoting from Great Britain, Palestine, Statement of Policy, Cmd. 6019, 1939, pp. 3, 4 and 5.

  • The 1939 White Paper – The White Paper addressed several different issues for developing Palestine, including government, land and immigration. The provisions and directives are summarized as follows-

Government – Within ten years an independent Palestine should be functioning on its own, with Jews and Arabs having managed to devise an appropriate government that would maintain good relations with the United Kingdom and provide continued economic and strategic benefits for both Palestine and the U.K. During the interim, Britain would continue to govern, but through a gradual withdraw. After five years of peace, a representative body from Palestine would be gathered to discuss a constitution for the country.

Immigration – During the coming five years, Jewish immigration was to only reach, at a maximum, one-third of the total population of Palestine, and only if absorptive capacity was determined to accommodate it as such. This would translate as approximately 10,000 Jews per year for the period. Anticipated, or projected numbers of illegal Jewish immigrants sneaking into the country would be deducted from these allotments, annually. If determined appropriate by the High Commissioner, an additional 25,000 refugees might be admitted, in response to the circumstances facing the Jews in Europe. After the five-year period, Jewish immigration must cease all together, unless the Arabs of Palestine agree to it. The High Commissioner will retain the authority to make final decisions on “absorptive capacity”.

Land – Based on concurrent opinions from past reports on the status of population growth vs. available land, Britain would now prohibit the transfer or sale of land from Arab to Jew in certain areas and allow it in others only when determined not to affect the quality of life for Arabs already living there or to create more “landless” Arabs. The High Commissioner would be wholly responsible for making these determinations.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 903 – 908 and citing Great Britain, Palestine, Statement of Policy, Cmd. 6019, 1939, pp. 5 – 12.

  • As might have been anticipated, the Jewish response to the 1939 White Paper was one of abhorrence and disbelief, followed by outrage and a demand for reconsideration. Opposition in British Parliament, from Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of the Zionist movement, even from Winston Churchill himself rained down on the harsh decrees of the White Paper, but the British Congress passed the resolutions with a large margin and saw that they were soon put into effect. (Advocating for the White Paper was Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald, who would come to also be a key decision maker in the implementation of the policies, to the disadvantage of the Jews). As Britain entered World War II, some hoped that the still-recent White Paper would be absolved, or at the very least put to the decision of the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague; instead, the revisions were left in place, with no room for adjustments.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 908 – 932.

  • In February 1940, Land Transfer Regulations were put into effect in an effort to guide the follow through on the provisions for land delegation set out in the White Paper. The Regulations divided Palestine into three “zones”-

Zone A – Only Palestinian Arabs could receive the transfer of land; no land could be sold or appropriated to Jews. This zone consisted of the majority of Palestine (approximately 63% of the country), with the exception of the coast from Tel-Aviv/Jaffa to about Haifa and a small strip in the north east, around the Galilee.

Zone B – Here, land transfers to Jews were “generally” prohibited, but could be allowed at the discretion of the High Commissioner. This included a small wedge of coast between Tantura and Haifa, the eastern Galilee and the southern most desert plains (today considered part of the Egyptian Sinai). This allotment comprised 32% of the total area of Palestine.

Zone C – In the remaining 5% of the country, land transfers were not restricted. This was the only land now permitted to allow free Jewish development.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 933 – 935 and citing Great Britain, Palestine Land Transfer Regulations, Cmd. 6180, 1940.

  • Perhaps the most visible and actualized tragedies of the MacDonald White Paper was the restrictions on immigration in direct relation to the need for refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. The United States had restricted Jewish immigration as well, and with no other place to go, ship loads full of immigrants, some legal but most illegal, were routinely turned away from the ports of Palestine, often to perish at sea or to be displaced in underdeveloped British territories where they were “interred” and often died of malaria or typhoid. In 1939, MacDonald announced to the House of Commons that due to the influx of illegal immigrants to Palestine, he was deciding to halt any Jewish immigration for the following six months. This “punishment” resulted only in the death of more desperate refugees seeking safety.

Albright, et al, Palestine- A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II, 1947, Yale University Press, pp. 936 – 943 and citing Great Britain, Palestine, Statement of Policy, Cmd. 6019, 1939, p. 11.

Summary by Rina Abrams.

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