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British Mandate

BRITISH MANDATE

Following the Allied defeat of the Ottoman army in 1918 and the Paris Peace Settlements of 1919, Britain and France assumed control over much of the former Ottoman Empire. On 24 July 1922, confirming the San Remo accords of 1920, the League of Nations entrusted Great Britain with the mission of administration and development of Palestine. Referring to Article 22 of the League of Nations Charter and the Balfour Declaration, and recognizing "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine," the League urged Great Britain to facilitate the establishment in that country of a Jewish national home. The British government published a White Paper (Command Paper 1700) in which it drew "attention to the fact that the terms of the [Balfour] Declaration . . . do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded in Palestine." After serving a five-year term, the first high commissioner in Palestine, Herbert Samuel, was replaced in 1925 by Lord Plumer. An organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, was constituted to represent the Jewish people with the British authorities and international organizations, and the headquarters of the British high commissioner was situated in Jerusalem.

Arab nationalists mobilized against the British and the Jews, leading to bloody confrontations between the communities in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1933; Jewish underground activities against the British and against the Arabs took place in the late 1930s and 1940s by groups such as the Irgun Zvaʾi Leʾumi. In April 1936, bloody riots broke out between Jews and Arabs, as well as between Arabs and the British. The intervention of Arab rulers of Iraq and Transjordan allowed a return to calm after several months of confrontations. On 22 June 1937, faced with this situation, the Palestine Royal Commission concluded that it was necessary to divide Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. The following October, a general insurrection spread to Palestine. Playing on the enmity between the great Arab families, such as the Husayni and the Nashashibi, the British authorities attempted to retake control of the situation.

In March 1938 the Woodhead Commission was formed in response to dissension within the British government over the partition plan for Palestine. The Arab and Jewish positions proved irreconcilable, and the commission's report, issued on 9 November 1939, stated that two independent states would be impracticable, in terms of both finances and administration. It called as well for a conference to negotiate a compromise. The St. James Round Table Conference, which included the Jewish Agency, Arab governments, and Palestinian Arabs, met in London in February and March 1939 but ended in deadlock. The British government then issued the MacDonald White Paper of 17 May 1939, in which it repudiated partition and proposed the creation of self-governing institutions over a ten-year period. It limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 over five years and restricted Jewish purchase of land in some parts of Palestine. The White Paper met with negative reactions on both sides. The Zionists viewed it as a harsh reversal of the Balfour Declaration and the partition proposal, and were incensed by its immigration restrictions, which were imposed at the moment that European Jews were attempting to flee Nazi persecution in Europe. The Palestinians, though they welcomed restriction of Jewish immigration and land purchase, were skeptical that London would fulfill its promises. Apart from the immigration restrictions, the MacDonald White Paper remained largely unimplemented.

Following the Holocaust and World War II, the crucial problem of the placement and treatment of Jewish survivors added an element of urgency to discussions of Jewish immigration to Palestine. The United States called for the admission of 100,000 Jews into Palestine. Britain offered to convene an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (AAC) to seek a solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict and to the plight of the European Jewish refugees. The AAC met in January 1946; its recommendations, issued three months later, included the immigration of 100,000 Jews to Palestine, the annulment of restrictions against Jewish purchase of land, and the indefinite extension of trusteeship (essentially the British Mandate system) in Palestine. The AAC's report was shelved just a few months afterward; the British backed away from its adoption, and the United States was not willing to assist in its implementation.

On 14 January 1947 the British prime minister, Ernest Bevin, decided to relinquish the British Mandate over Palestine to the United Nations (UN). On 29 November the UN voted for a partition of Palestine between two states: one Jewish and the other Arab. Arab demonstrations against the UN plan and Jewish celebrations in support of it turned to violent clashes, and Jewish and Arab forces were soon battling throughout the country. The British Mandate over Palestine expired on 14 May 1948. By that time Jewish forces had seized most of the territory allocated to the Jewish state by the UN partition plan as well as land beyond those proposed borders. On 19 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the new State of Israel. The Arab-Israeli War became an international conflict between the Jewish state and the armies of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, with some involvement by Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

SEE ALSO Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry; Arab-Israel War (1948); Balfour Declaration; Ben-Gurion, David; Bevin, Ernest; Jewish Agency for Israel; Palestine Arab Revolt (1936–1939); White Papers on Palestine.

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