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White Papers

WHITE PAPERS

WHITE PAPERS , British government statements of policy presented to parliament; they played an important part in the history of Mandatory Palestine. Six such documents were issued between the years 1922 and 1939:

(1) Statement of Policy June 1922 (Churchill White Paper);

(2) Statement of Policy October 1930 (Passfield White Paper);

(3) Statement of Policy July 1937 (on the Peel Commission's report);

(4) Statement of Policy December 1937 (appointment of the Woodhead Commission);

(5) Statement of Policy November 1938 (on the Woodhead Commission's report);

(6) Statement of Policy May 1939 (MacDonald White Paper).

The Churchill White Paper (1922)

This document, for which Winston *Churchill was responsible as colonial secretary, contained the first important official statement of British government policy after the *Balfour Declaration. While reaffirming the declaration, it stated that there was no question of Palestine becoming "as Jewish as England is English" and that the Arabs need have no fear of "the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language or culture in Palestine." The Balfour Declaration, the statement continued, did 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." The development of the Jewish National Home meant "not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community [which, in another passage, was said to have "national" characteristics] with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a center in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride." To enable this community to develop, however, "it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance," the statement declared. That was why international guarantees were necessary.

The statement went on to say that Jewish immigration must continue, but must not exceed "whatever may be the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals"; that the government intended "to foster the establishment of a full measure of self-government"; and that, as the next step, it proposed to set up a Legislative Council consisting of 12 elected and ten appointed members, headed by the high commissioner. The Zionist Executive reluctantly accepted the policy set out in the statement, while the Palestinian Arabs did not.

The Passfield White Paper

This was issued by the colonial secretary, Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb), in the wake of the riots of 1929. The causes of the riots and the situation in Palestine had been investigated by the Shaw Commission (see *Palestine, Inquiry Commissions), and an inquiry into land settlement, immigration, and development had been carried out by Sir John Hope Simpson, who was pessimistic as to the possibilities of further Jewish immigration and settlement without displacing Arabs (see Palestine, Inquiry Commissions). A central theme in the White Paper, which was issued simultaneously with the Hope Simpson report, was the argument that under the terms of the *Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, "A double undertaking is involved, to the Jewish people on the one hand and to the non-Jewish population on the other." It rejected the view that the passages regarding the Jewish National Home were the principal feature of the Mandate.

The statement dealt with practical policy under the heads: security, constitutional development, and economic and social development. It declared that the government "will not be moved from their duty by pressure or threats" and that "any incitements to disorder or disaffection, in whatever quarter they originate, will be severely punished." It proposed the establishment of a Legislative Council, with a composition similar to that proposed in the Churchill White Paper. If any section of the population failed to cooperate, steps would be taken to ensure the appointment of the requisite number of unofficial members. In any case, the statement continued, the high commissioner would continue to have the necessary power to enable the Mandatory to carry out its obligations.

The White Paper accepted Hope Simpson's conclusion that "for the present and with the present methods of Arab cultivation there remains no margin of land available for agricultural settlement by new immigrants," with the exception of reserves held by Jewish agencies. It severely criticized the principle of Jewish labor, which, it implied, was detrimental to the Arab population, and "difficult to reconcile" with Zionist declarations of a desire to live in friendship with the Arab people. Transfers of land would be permitted only insofar as they did not interfere with the land development plans of the Palestine Administration. In determining the "economic capacity" of the country to absorb new immigrants, not only Jewish but Arab unemployment must be taken into account, and Jewish immigration would be suspended if it was held to prevent Arabs from obtaining employment.

The White Paper was severely criticized by some British statesmen as a departure from the obligations of the Mandate. *Weizmann resigned from the presidency of the Jewish Agency in protest, declaring that the White Paper went far toward "denying the rights and sterilizing the hopes of the Jewish people in regard to the National Home" and aimed at "crystallizing the development of the Jewish National Home in its present stage." A special British cabinet committee entered into negotiations with representatives of the Jewish Agency, which resulted in a letter from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald to Weizmann on Feb. 13, 1931, which was to be communicated as an official document to the League of Nations and embodied in a dispatch as an instrument to the high commissioner. Ostensibly, the letter was no more than an interpretation of the Passfield White Paper, but in reality it canceled much of its anti-Zionist implications. It reemphasized "that the undertaking of the Mandate is an undertaking to the Jewish people and not only to the Jewish population of Palestine" and reaffirmed the preamble of the Mandate, which includes the Balfour Declaration and the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine. The letter also stressed the positive obligations of the Mandate, such as facilitating Jewish immigration and encouraging settlement by Jews on the land.

The White Paper of July 1937

This was a statement of British government policy issued together with the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine (the Peel Commission). It stated that the British government accepted the commission's partition plan in principle and would take the necessary steps to put it into effect. Until the establishment of Jewish and Arab states, the government would not surrender its responsibilities for peace, order, and good government throughout Palestine. In the interim period, two steps would be taken: "to prohibit any land transactions which might prejudice such a scheme" and to limit immigration between August 1937 and March 1938 to 8,000.

The White Paper of December 1937

This consisted of a dispatch from W. Ormsby-Gore, the colonial secretary, to A.G. Wauchope, the high commissioner for Palestine, announcing the appointment of the Woodhead Commission to consider the details and practical possibilities of a partition scheme. If the government regarded the new partition scheme as "equitable and practicable," it would refer it to the League of Nations. After that body's approval "a further period would be required for the establishment of new systems of government," possibly including a system of cantonization or separate Mandates for the new Arab and Jewish areas.

The White Paper of November 1938

After the publication of the Woodhead Commission's findings, which, in effect, canceled out the recommendations of the Peel Commission, the British government came to the conclusion that the political, administrative, and financial difficulties involved in the "proposal to create Arab and Jewish independent states inside Palestine are so great that this solution of the problem is impracticable." Instead, the government would "make a determined effort" to promote "an understanding between the Arabs and the Jews." With this end in view the government would convene a conference (see *Saint James' Conference) with representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and of neighboring states … and of the Jewish Agency to confer about "future policy, including the question of immigration into Palestine." If no agreement was reached "within a reasonable period of time" the British government would take its own decision.

The Malcolm MacDonald White Paper (May 1939)

The failure of the St. James' Conference led to the publication of the White Paper of May 1939. Since the Royal Commission's partition proposal had "been found to be impracticable," the British government had devised "an alternate policy." In order to remove any doubts, the statement continued, "His Majesty's Government now declares unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State." Moreover, they would indeed regard it as "contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate …" The government was charged with the development of self-governing institutions and regarded it as "contrary to the spirit of the Mandate" to keep the Palestinian population for ever under a Mandatory regime. It announced that "The objective of His Majesty's Government is the establishment within ten years of an independent Palestine State" in which the essential interests of both Arabs and Jews should be safeguarded. There would be a transitional period during which the "people of Palestine will be given an increasing part in the government of the country." Both sections would have an opportunity to participate, but "the process will be carried on whether or not they both avail themselves of it." In the first stage, steps would be taken to place Palestinians – Arabs and Jews in proportion to their respective populations – in charge of government departments.

immigration

The government decided to curtail Jewish immigration. The principle of economic absorptive capacity, established in the White Paper of 1922 was to be replaced by a new, political, principle. The British government claimed it could not find in the Mandate any support for the view that immigration must be allowed to "continue indefinitely," or that economic absorptive capacity must be the only consideration. Although Jewish immigration had been absorbed economically, the Arabs' fear of indefinite Jewish immigration had also to be taken into account in deciding immigration policy. To expand the Jewish National Home indefinitely, the government believed, would mean "rule by force," and it had therefore decided "to permit further expansion of the Jewish National Home by immigration only if the Arabs are prepared to acquiesce in it." During the next five years Jewish immigration would be limited to 75,000, bringing the Jewish population up to approximately one-third of the total population of Palestine. After the end of the five-year period no further Jewish immigration would be permitted "unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it," and the government "will not be under any obligation to facilitate the further development of the Jewish National Home by immigration regardless of the wishes of the Arab population."

land transfer

In certain areas, the statement declared, there was no room for further transfers of Arab land, and in other areas transfers must be restricted. The high commissioner would, therefore, be given general powers to prohibit and regulate transfers of land, and on Feb. 28, 1940, the high commissioner promulgated the Land Transfer Regulations, in fact dividing the country into three zones: Zone a, including the hill country and certain other areas – 64% of Palestine – in which the transfer of land to anyone other than a Palestinian Arab was prohibited, save in exceptional circumstances; Zone b, including the Jezreel Valley, eastern Galilee, most of the Coastal Plain (except for the Tel Aviv district), and the Negev – 31% of the area – in which transfers were permitted only in specified circumstances; and Zone c – 5% of the country's area – which would remain a "free zone."

The White Paper was regarded by the Zionist movement and many outside it as a final betrayal of Britain's obligations to the Jewish people under the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate. The announcement of this policy at the outset of the Jewish mass flight from Europe became the starting point for the active struggle of the yishuv against the Mandatory regime in Palestine.

bibliography:

H.N. Howard, The King-Crane Commission (1963); Great Britain, Colonial Office, Palestine Disturbances in May 1921 Report (Cmd. 1540, 1921); idem, Palestine Disturbances of 1929 Report (Cmd. 3530, 1930); idem, Palestine Royal Commission Report (Cmd. 5479, 1937); idem, Palestine Partition Commission Report (Cmd. 5854, 1938); idem, Statement on British Policy in Palestine (Cmd. 1700, 1922) – The Churchill White Paper; ibid. (Cmd. 3692, 1930) – The Passfield White Paper; ibid. (Cmd. 5513, 1937) – On the Peel Commission Report; Dispatch to the High Commissioner of Palestine (Cmd. 5634, 1937) – Appointment of Woodhead Commission; idem, British Statement of Policy (Cmd. 5893, 1938); ibid. (Cmd. 6019, 1939) – MacDonald White Paper; Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry … Report (1946); Proposals for the Future of Palestine (Cmd. 7044, 1947); United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Report (1947).

[Daniel Efron]

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