Peel Commission Report (1937)

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royal commission report that listed the causes of unrest between arabs and jews in mandated palestine and recommended territorial partition.

During the Arab general strike, which began in April 1936, the British decided to send a high-level fact-finding commission to mandated Palestine. In May the colonial secretary stated that the Royal Commission would investigate the causes of unrest after order was restored, but it would not question the terms of the Mandate. After the strike ended in October, the commission sailed to Palestine, headed by William Robert Wellesley, the first earl Peel, former secretary of state for India. In Jerusalem the commission heard the testimony of sixty witnesses in public sessions and of fifty-three more witnesses in forty private sessions. In January 1937 the commissioners returned to London and heard two witnesses in a public session and eight witnesses (including Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann) during the course of seven in camera sessions.

The British government issued Command Paper 5479 on 7 July 1937. It concluded that the terms of the Mandate were unworkable and could only be enforced by repressing the Arab population. Both Arabs and Jews demanded political independence. Establishing an Arab state would violate the rights of the Jewish minority, but forming a Jewish state in the entire territory would violate the rights of the Arab majority and arouse international Arab and Muslim opposition. The only feasible solution was partition: two sovereign states? Arab and Jewish? with a British zone encompassing Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a narrow corridor to the Mediterranean near Jaffa. Britain would temporarily control the strategic ports of Haifa and Aqaba. The Jewish state would cover about 25 percent of the country, north from Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean coast and all of Galilee. The Arab state would lie in the central mountains and the Negev, include Jaffa port, and merge with the Hashimite state in Transjordan.

The Jewish Agency accepted the principle of partition but criticized the proposed boundaries and insisted that all Palestinians be deported from the Jewish state at British expenseat that time, 300,000 Palestinians, a number equal to the Jewish residents in the area. The Palestinians' Arab Higher Committee denounced the plan and insisted that Palestine remain a unitary state because 70 percent of the population was Palestinian and 90 percent of the land was under Palestinian control. Palestinians in Galilee, whom the Jewish Agency wanted expelled, then played leading roles in the rebellion that erupted again in October 1937.

The Woodhead Commission, appointed to recommend partition borders, concluded in Command Paper 5854 (8 November 1938) that partition was not feasible and proposed limited zones of sovereignty within an economic federation. The government's Command Paper 5893 concluded "that the political, administrative and financial difficulties involved in the proposal to create independent Arab and Jewish states inside Palestine are so great that this solution of the problem is impracticable" (A Survey of Palestine, vol. 1, p. 47). Maintaining a unitary Palestinian state was reaffirmed in the MacDonald White Paper of May 1939. But the partition idea, first broached by the Peel Commission Report, reemerged as the basis of the majority proposal approved by the United Nations General Assembly in November 1947.


Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry. A Survey of Palestine, vol. 1. Jerusalem: Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry, 1946. Reprint, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991.

Hurewitz, J. C. The Struggle for Palestine. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.

John, Robert, and Hadawi, Sami. The Palestine Diary: Volume 1, 19141945. New York: New World Press, 1970.

Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the ZionistArab Conflict, 18811999. New York: Knopf, 1999.

ann m. lesch