The summer of 1922 saw a string of bitter disappointments for Palestinian Arab nationalists. First, the White Paper outlined Britain’s intention to regulate Jewish immigration according to economic calculations as well as to establish a legislative council; next, the Palestine Mandate was ratified; and, finally, the British announced the Palestine constitution and thus set about actually creating the council.

The Arabs rejected the constitution, knowing that it was designed to reconcile them to the British Mandate and the perpetuation of the Jewish National Home. The proposed legislative council was composed of ten nominated government officials and twelve elected members, eight of whom were Muslim, two Christian, and two Jewish. This meant that the combined votes of the government officials and the Jewish representatives would overcome the Muslim and Christian votes. It was clear that the council would not be able to decide upon matters opposed to the British, and that as long as the Mandate maintained a pro-Zionist stand, the Arabs would not be able to combat threats like Jewish immigration.

The Arabs expressed their rejection of the constitution at the fifth Palestine Arab Congress, which met in Nablus in August 1922. The central topic of debate was how to boycott the elections for the legislative council, planned to take place in February 1923, and thus prevent its creation. Even before the elections, when the British administration took a census of the population, the Arab Executive at first refused to cooperate, and it was only the Government’s firm reaction that enabled the census to proceed. However, when it was time for the elections, the government was not as successful in ensuring Arab participation.

The boycott was the result of an intensive campaign. All over Palestine, preachers in mosques condemned the elections in their Friday sermons; village elders ensured their communities would take no part in voting; and the press published persuasive articles in favor of the boycott. The campaign intensified in early February 1923, when Sheikh Abd al-Qader al-Muzaffar, a leading Muslim preacher, condemned the elections in front of 4,000 Arabs.

Events outside of Palestine, too, were spurring on the Arab activists. The recent victories of Mustafa Kemal, leader of the Turks against the Greeks, aroused a great deal of enthusiasm among the Muslim population in Palestine. Some of the Arab Palestinian leadership believed that the Turks’ triumph would lead to a reexamination of the situation in the Middle East, including the legitimacy of the British Mandate in Palestine. Thus the call for non-cooperation with the British Government became all the more relevant.

The Government tried to carry out its own campaign but had little success in influencing the Arab population. High Commissioner Herbert Samuel held a number of meetings with Arab notables in the hope of reaching some sort of understanding. However, when he did not concede to the Arabs’ demands, particularly the demand to have an Arab majority in the council, the talks broke down.

The results of the elections, held in late February 1923, showed the overwhelming success of the boycott campaign and proved a humiliating failure for Britain’s intended policy. Whereas the voting was supposed to have resulted in the election of 809 secondary electors, who should have then chosen the members of the legislative council, in reality there were no more than 213 secondary electors. The highest abstention level was, of course, among the Muslims, whose votes sufficed for only 107 secondary electors instead of the projected 663. The Muslims who were elected were all opponents of the Arab Executive, and as such did not enjoy widespread support. Some of them even withdrew their candidacy after the elections.

The first stage of the elections had failed, and the British did not even attempt to carry out the next step of electing the actual members. The whole plan for a legislative council was suspended and, although Samuel tried to propose several substitutions, no elected body of Arab and Jewish representatives ever assembled under the British Mandate. The design for a unitary form of government had collapsed. Accordingly, Palestine was governed by the High Commissioner after 1923 and until the end of the Mandate, while the Arabs and Jews developed their own separate representative institutions.


Porath, Y., The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918–1929, London- Frank Cass, 1974, chap. 3.

Mossek, M., Palestine Immigration Policy Under Sir Herbert Samuel, London- Frank Cass, 1978, chap. 4.

Wasserstein, Bernard, The British in Palestine, Oxford- Blackwell, 1991, Second Edition, chap. 6.