Saint James's Conference

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SAINT JAMES'S CONFERENCE (known also as the London Conference), a round-table conference with Jewish and Arab leaders convened by the British government in February–March 1939. After rejecting the partition plan of the Royal Commission (see *Palestine Partition Plans and *White Papers), the British government decided on a drastic change of policy toward Palestine. The round-table conference with Jewish and Arab leaders was to discuss the entire problem. Jewish leaders and representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and, for the first time, the Arab states were invited and convened on Feb. 7, 1939, in the Palace of St. James. Representatives of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Transjordan attended the conference, together with the Arab delegation from Palestine, headed by Jamal al-Husseini, the lieutenant and kinsman of Amīn al-Husseini, the fugitive leader of the Arab rebellion of 1936–39. The Jewish delegation consisted of the leaders of the Jewish Agency, the Va'ad Le'ummi, Agudat Israel, and some leaders of the Jewish community in Britain. It was headed by Chaim *Weizmann, David *Ben-Gurion, Moshe *Sharett, and Stephen S. *Wise. The Arabs refused to attend joint meetings with the Jews, and the British conferred with each side separately.

The new British policy was based on the assumption that war with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy was imminent and that the enmity of the Arab world would be a serious threat to British interests in the Middle East, whereas the Jewish side would have no choice in a conflict with the Nazis. The British thus asked that the Jewish leaders "of their own free will dispose of their rights by offering terms of conciliation," as Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, put it at a conference meeting on February 14. On March 15 the British government offered its proposals, according to which the "ultimate objective" of the government was "the establishment of an independent Palestine State possibly of a federal nature." The new state would be neither Jewish nor Arab, but both nations would "share in government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each be safeguarded." Both the Jewish and Arab delegations rejected the proposals, and the conference ended in failure on March 17, 1939. Two months later, on May 17, 1939, the British government published its statement of policy known as the White Paper 1939 or the MacDonald White Paper.


Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), index; D. Ben-Gurion, Pegishot Im Manhigim Aravim (1967), 214–69; Y. Bauer, From Diplomacy to Resistance (1970), 16–51.

[Daniel Efron]

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Saint James's Conference

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Saint James's Conference