Following the riots of 1 May 1921, the British decided that action needed to be taken in order to appease the Arab community. To begin with, on 15 May, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel temporarily prohibited Jewish immigration, going so far as to prevent the arrival of 150 immigrants who were already on their way to Palestine. Next, on 3 June, during a ceremony at Government House held in honor of the King’s birthday, Samuel delivered a speech on the “unhappy misunderstanding” with the Arabs. He assured them that the Balfour Declaration had no intention of creating a Jewish government to rule over the Muslim and Christian majority and that the British would never impose any policy contrary to the inhabitants’ religious, political, and cultural interests. Furthermore, he stated that the rate of Jewish immigration to Palestine from then on would depend on the country’s economic capacity to absorb the newcomers. Samuel’s speech was ratified by the British Government and considered an official announcement of policy. The Government also intended to establish a constitution in Palestine, providing for a council whose members—Jews, Arabs, and Christians—would be elected by the local population.

Despite Samuel’s reassurances and the Government’s intention to draft a constitution, the Arab leadership resolved to send a delegation to London. In July, the delegation presented three main demands to the Colonial Office, which was at the time headed by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill- abolition of the idea of a Jewish National Home, creation of a national government and an elected parliament in Palestine, and a halt to Jewish immigration until such a government was formed.

The British Government dismissed the first and third demands as non-negotiable, but was prepared to work towards an understanding on the issue of an elected assembly. The British agreed to various combinations- either an entirely elected assembly that would have no legislative power, or a legislative assembly with a permanent majority of officials or nominated members, ensuring British policy. In other words, the British were not prepared to allow a genuinely representative assembly with substantial powers. The delegation rejected all these proposals, and the talks reached an impasse. In November, the Arabs consented to meet with the Zionists, but this meeting, too, yielded no results, as the parties’ positions were irreconcilable.

The Arabs also focused their demands on the question of Jewish immigration. They objected to the principle regulating immigration according to the country’s economic capacity to absorb the immigrants. It was the political consequence of the Jews’ immigration, the Arabs stated, and not its economic impact (competition within the local labor market), which was the source of concern.

After many months of fruitless negotiations, the British resolved to issue a policy statement. They invited both the Zionists and the Arab delegation to express their support, but specified that the policy would be implemented regardless of the reactions of the two factions. The statement was based on Samuel’s speech of 3 June 1921, as well as on selected correspondence between the Colonial Office, the Arab delegation, and the Zionist Executive. It was published as a White Paper in June 1922.

The Churchill White Paper was a new official interpretation of the Balfour Declaration. Its aim was to create a balance between the two irreconcilable interests. Thus it declared the continuation of the British commitment to support Zionism, stating that the Jewish people were in Palestine by right and that for this reason the Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally recognized and guaranteed. However, the White Paper simultaneously reassured the Arabs of Palestine, stating that there was no question of Palestine becoming “as Jewish as England is English”; that the Arabs need not fear the disappearance of their population, language or culture; and that the British would never impose a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine. Regarding Jewish immigration policy, the statement asserted that Jewish immigration must continue but must not exceed the country’s economic capacity to absorb new arrivals without causing local unemployment. Finally, the White Paper referred to the intention to establish a measure of self-government in Palestine, proposing to set up a Legislative Council consisting of twelve elected and ten appointed members, headed by the High Commissioner.

On the whole, although the Zionists did not regard the White Paper as a great triumph, they did not reject it. Weizmann and several other Zionist leaders believed that the economic absorptive principle, which would now guide immigration policy, afforded a framework for building up a Jewish majority in Palestine. Therefore the Zionist Organization formally accepted the White Paper. The Arabs, on the other hand, repeated that the economic factor was irrelevant to immigration policy, since Jewish immigration was harmful politically and socially. They also rejected the kind of self-government that the White Paper proposed, demanding the creation of a representative government which would have complete control over immigration. On these grounds the Arabs rejected the White Paper.

Despite the Arabs’ opposition, the Government approved the White Paper. What followed was a string of disappointments for the Arab nationalists, as a month later—July 1922—the Palestine Mandate was ratified by the League of Nations and a month after that—August—the Palestine Constitution was promulgated. In accordance with the Constitution, what should have followed was the creation of a Legislative Council. As the elections of 1923 soon showed, however, Britain’s plan to bring about a Zionist-Arab government did not turn out as expected.


The Churchill White Paper, London- HMSO, Cmd. 1700, June 1922.


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. 3.

Efron, Daniel, “White Papers- Churchill White Paper,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, vol. 16, p. 483.

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