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The Peel Commission and the End of the Palestine Mandate

In late 1936, just as Yasin al-Hashimi fled west and Fawzi al-Qawuqji fled east, another British commission of enquiry arrived in Palestine. The Peel Commission stayed in the mandate two months until January 1937 and published its report in July 1937. The Arabs mostly boycotted the Commission and the Zionists mostly cooperated. The findings of the Commission were nevertheless new and damning for the supporters of both the mandate mission and Zionism. The Commission found that the one million Arab inhabitants were in “open or latent” rebellion against the 400,000 Jews. The Arabs desired “a free and united Arab

World.” The Jews desired to show “what the Jewish nation can achieve when restored to the land of its birth.”6 British officials had long consoled themselves that Arab opposition was focused on Zionism, but this time the fiction was dropped. The report called the revolt “an open rebellion of the Palestinian Arabs, assisted by fellow-Arabs of other countries, against British mandatory rule.”7 The prospect of armed revolt throughout the region remained the singular fear of the mandate governments.

The solution to this state of affairs was abandonment of the mandate, and partition of the country. The report recommended the end of the mandate, the division of the territory under mandate, the conclusion of treaties, and population and territory exchanges on the model of the Greek and Turkish exchanges.8 The report concluded forlornly, “partition seems to offer at least a chance of ultimate peace. We can see none in any other plan.”9 As Gudrun Kramer has pointed out, the report opined that the Arabs of Palestine were certainly generous enough to bear the sacrifice of helping to solve the “Jewish Problem.” They would thus “earn the gratitude not of the Jews alone, but of all the Western World.”10

But both Arabs and Zionists hated the idea of partition, though the Zionists opposed it more quietly, and within months the rebellion resumed. The British government arrested, jailed, and deported all the Arab political leaders they could catch. Amin al-Husayni escaped to Lebanon, Baghdad, and eventually Berlin, with fateful consequences for his reputation and legacy. Jamal al-Husayni fled to Baghdad but was eventually arrested and spent the war years in prison in what was then the British colony of Southern Rhodesia. British forces repressed the uprising during 1938 and early 1939 and in May of 1939 British Colonial Secretary Malcolm McDonald announced a new White Paper designed to limit Arab and Muslim colonial opposition to Britain in view of the anticipated war. The White Paper capped Jewish immigration at 75,000 over the following five years (1940 4), and only allowed immigration thereafter with Arab acquiescence, restricted Jewish land purchases, and proposed a binational state to last ten years till ultimate independence. The White Paper was widely understood as a renunciation of the Balfour Declaration, Zionism, and the mandate, and as a desperate move to defend British colonialism and the empire.

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