Mandate for Palestine

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The mandate system was established after World War i by the Treaty of Versailles for the administration of the former overseas possessions of Germany and parts of the Turkish Empire. Its purpose was to implement the principles of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which said in paragraph 4:

Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized, subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

Class A of the mandates included former Turkish provinces constituted as Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The first two were assigned to the administration of Great Britain and the third to France. The mandates for Iraq and Syria ended in 1932 and 1936, respectively, their main purpose having been to prepare the countries to be able "to stand alone." The mandate for Palestine differed from the other "A" mandates in that its primary purpose was the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, as stated in its preamble, paragraph 3, "putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917 [the *Balfour Declaration] by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the other Allied Powers …" Moreover, the reason for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine is related to the recognition of "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country" (para. 3). Great importance was attached to the wording of this paragraph, as it made it clear that Palestine was not just a country in which a national home should be built, but was taken as the historic land of the Jews. Therefore the national home is to be reconstituted, and not just constituted, there (see *White Papers).

The second article of the mandate makes it the responsibility of the mandatory power, i.e., Great Britain, to place "the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble." To this is added the aim of "the development of self-governing institutions," an intentionally vague phrase that implied the gradual preparation of Palestine for self-rule as a process parallel to the establishment of the Jewish national home (particularly when compared with the Mandate for Iraq (Mesopotamia)). The fulfillment of the main purpose of the Palestine mandate was to be assured by establishing "an appropriate Jewish Agency for the purpose of advising and cooperating with the Administration of Palestine," by facilitating Jewish immigration into Palestine, encouraging close settlement by Jews on the land (art. 6), and "facilitating the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews" (art. 7). The Zionist Organization was recognized as such an agency until the establishment of the *Jewish Agency in 1929 (art. 4).

The Hebrew language was recognized as one of the three official languages of the country (art. 22). The Mandate was also to safeguard the "civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion" (introd. and art. 2) and to set up the judicial system so that it assured the rights of all and respected the "personal status of various peoples and communities" and that religious interests (in particular waqfs) be "fully guaranteed" (art. 9). Also many other articles dealt with religious autonomy for the various religions strongly emphasizing this as one of the important functions of the mandate (see arts. 13, 14, 15, 23). Each community was allowed to maintain its own schools in its own language (art. 15); and no modification of the mandate was possible without the consent of the League of Nations (art. 27). According to Article 25 of the mandate, "In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable," and by virtue of this saving clause, Transjordan was severed from the territory destined to include the Jewish national home (see *White Papers).

The mandate for Palestine was given to Great Britain at *San Remo on April 25, 1920, and a civil administration (which superseded the British Military Administration), headed by Sir Herbert *Samuel, was effected on July 1, 1920. The mandate itself was ratified by the Council of the League of Nations on June 24, 1922. A special American-British Palestine Mandate Convention was ratified in March 1925, as the United States was not a member of the League of Nations. In this convention the United States agreed to the terms of the mandate and Great Britain agreed that no modification in these terms would be possible without the assent of the United States (art. 7); thus any modification in the mandate needed the assent of both the League of Nations and the United States. The mandate terminated with the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.


League of Nations, Mandate for Palestine (1922); reproduced in W. Laqueur (ed.), The Israel-Arab Reader (1969), 34–61; U.S. Department of State, Mandate for Palestine (1927, 19312); Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), 347–64 and index; N. Bentwich, The Mandates System (1930); B. Joseph, British Rule in Palestine (1948).

[Daniel Efron]