All-Palestine Government

views updated


PostWorld War II concept for forming an Arab government for the whole of Palestine after the end of the British mandate, 14 May 1948.

The All-Palestine Government was the product of the complex relationship between the Palestinian national movement led by Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and the Arab states loosely organized within the Arab League. After World War II, when the British mandate over Palestine was to expire and the struggle between the Arabs and the Jews was approaching its climax, the weakness of the Palestinian Arabs made them ever more dependent on the Arab League. Within the league, however, no one policy existed for the future of the region: The mufti's plan was maximalist, an independent Palestinian state throughout the whole of Palestine; King Abdullah of Transjordan's plan was to accept the partition of Palestine with the Jews and to incorporate the Arab part into his kingdom.

From December 1947, the mufti pleaded with the Arab League for the establishment of a Palestinian government to manage the affairs of the country and direct the struggle against the Jews, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He and his colleagues on the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) were progressively marginalized. Thus, when the British mandate over Palestine expired and the State of Israel was proclaimed on 15 May 1948, the Arabs of Palestine had no government, no administrative regime, and no unified military command.

On 8 July 1948, the Arab League decided to set up a temporary civil administration in Palestine, to be directly responsible to the Arab League. This was a compromise proposal that failed to satisfy either of the two principal claimants. With strong opposition from King Abdullah, and only half-hearted support from the AHC, the new body was never properly established.

The Egyptian government, suspicious of King Abdullah's growing power in Palestine, put a proposal to the Arab League meeting that opened in Alexandria on 6 September 1948. The plan would turn the temporary civil administration, which had been agreed to in July, into an Arab government with a seat in Gaza for the whole of Palestine. The formal announcement of the Arab League's decision to form the Government of All-Palestine was issued on 20 September. In the eyes of its Egyptian sponsors, the immediate purpose of this government was to provide a focal point of opposition to King Abdullah's ambition to federate the Arab part of Palestine with Transjordan. The other Arab governments supported the Egyptian proposal at least partly because it furnished them with a means for withdrawing their armies from Palestine with some protection against popular outcry.

Despite the unpopularity of the Mufti of Jerusalem in most Arab capitals, the AHC played a major part in the formation of the new government, which was headed by Ahmad Hilmi Abd al-Baqi. Hilmi's cabinet consisted largely of followers of the mufti but also included representatives of the other factions of the Palestinian ruling class. Jamal alHusayni became foreign minister, Raja al-Husayni became defense minister, Michael Abcarius was finance minister, and Anwar Nusayba was secretary of the cabinet. Twelve ministers in all, living in different Arab countries, headed for Gaza to take up their new positions.

During the first week of its life in Gaza, the All-Palestine Government revived the Holy War Army, with the declared aim of liberating Palestine; sought international recognition without much success;
and issued several thousand Palestinian passports. To endow the government with legitimacy, a Palestinian National Council was convened in Gaza on 30 September 1948, under the chairmanship of the Mufti of Jerusalem. The council, in a mood of great elation, passed a series of resolutions culminating in a declaration of independence over the whole of Palestine. Although the new government claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Palestine, it had no administration, no civil service, no money, and no real army of its own. Even in the small enclave around the town of Gaza, its writ ran only by the grace of the Egyptian authorities. Taking advantage of the new government's dependence on them for funds and protection, the Egyptian paymasters manipulated it to undermine King Abdullah's claim to represent the Palestinians in the Arab League and international forums. Ostensibly the embryo for an independent Palestinian state, the new government was thus reduced to the unhappy role of a shuttlecock in the ongoing power struggle between Egypt and Jordan.

The Jordanian authorities were determined to stop the growth of the mufti's army. On 3 October, Jordan gave the order to the Arab Legion to surround, and forcibly disarm, various units of the Holy War Army. This move effectively neutralized the All-Palestine Government's military power and checked the growth of public sentiment in favor of an autonomous Palestinian state.

Shortly afterward, on 15 October 1948, Israel launched an offensive against the Egyptian army, forcing it to retreat down the coast to Gaza. Ironically, mid-October was also when the Arab governments got around to recognizing the All-Palestine Government. Nothing is more indicative of their half-hearted support than the lateness of their formal recognition. By the time it was granted, the game was over.

The Egyptian defeat deprived the All-Palestine Government of its last and exceedingly tenuous hold on Palestinian soil, forcing it to transfer its seat from Gaza to Cairo. Its weakness was exposed for all to see, its prestige slumped, and its authority was undermined. In Cairo, the Government of All-Palestine gradually fell apart because of its impotence, ending up four years later as a department of the Arab League. Thereafter, it continued to exist in name only until Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed its offices in 1959.

Although the All-Palestine Government was projected as the nucleus of Palestinian self-government, it was an Egyptian-led phantom deliberately created by the Arab states to meet their publics' opposition to partition and to challenge Transjordan's claim to the rest of Arab Palestine. It was for selfish reasons that the Arab states created it, and it was for selfish reasons that they abandoned it. True, in the first three weeks of its short life, this fledgling government did represent a genuine attempt by the Palestinians to assert their independence from their dubious sponsorsto assume control over their own destiny; but the attempt was short-lived. Born of inter-Arab rivalries, the All-Palestine Government soon foundered on the rocks of inter-Arab rivalries. Consequently, if there is one lesson that stands, it is the need for Palestinian self-reliance, especially for defending the Palestinian cause against control and manipulation by the Arab states.

see also league of arab states.


Shlaim, Avi. "The Rise and Fall of the All-Palestine Government in Gaza." Journal of Palestine Studies 20, no. 1 (Autumn 1990).

Smith, Pamela Ann. Palestine and the Palestinians, 18761983. New York: St. Martin's, 1984.

Avi Shlaim