London (Roundtable) Conference (1939)

views updated May 11 2018


Conference convened at St. James's Palace (London) to consider the future of Palestine.

In late 1938, as fears of a European war loomed, Britain sought ways of pacifying growing Arab displeasure over her pro-Zionist policy in Palestine. On 7 November 1938 the British Cabinet proposed convening a conference that would bring together Jews and Arabs in "separate parallel discussions between His Majesty's Government and the Arabs, and His Majesty's Government and the Jews."

The Palestinian position heading into the conference called for the establishment of an Arab national government in Palestine; the cessation of all Jewish immigration; the prohibition of further land sales to Jews; and the granting of minority rights to Jews. Representatives of several Arab states met in Cairo in January 1939 and agreed on a joint position. During the days leading up to the opening session, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion advocated the following four guidelines for the Zionist negotiation strategy: no concessions on immigration; no Arab state, but a regime based on parity in Palestine; cantonization might be acceptable if the Jewish area was not less than that recommended by the Peel Report and if control over immigration were in Jewish hands; and a Jewish state would be willing to belong to a future Middle Eastern confederation.

The conference opened at St. James's Palace on 7 February 1939. Representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, Yemen, and the Palestinians (led by Jamal al-Husayni, George Antonius, and Musa al-Alami) met with British officials, who held parallel discussions with members of the Jewish delegation. Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald served as host and go-between. Because of the Arab refusal to meet directly with the Jewish delegation, the British managed to convene only two informal meetings between several representatives from the Arab states and Jewish delegates.

During the lengthy discussions, the Arabs presented their position as formulated in Cairo, demanding an end to the Mandate and insisting on the creation of an independent Arab state in Palestine. They also argued that the HusaynMcMahon Correspondence (19151916), which they interpreted as including Palestine within the areas of promised Arab independence, took precedence over the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which committed Britain to promote a Jewish national home in Palestine. The Jews, for their part, would not budge from their insistence on large-scale immigration into Palestine, becoming even more adamant in light of Adolf Hitler's escalating anti-Jewish policies and the recent annexation of Austria.

Faced with no prospect of mutual agreement after some three dozen sessions with the parties, on 15 March 1939 Malcolm MacDonald outlined Britain's proposals: After ten years, a Palestinian state would be created, possibly a federation with Arab and Jewish cantons. Since the Arabs would have a majority in the assembly, legal guarantees would be included for the Jewish minority and its national home. During the coming five years, 75,000 Jewish immigrants (of whom 25,000 would be refugees) would be admitted into Palestine. Subsequent immigration would depend on Arab consent.

The conference officially ended on 17 March. Chaim Weizmann informed MacDonald that the Zionists were unable to accept Britain's terms. British officials in Cairo resumed contact with representatives of the Arab states, leading to some modifications of MacDonald's provisions in an effort to gain fuller Arab acceptance of the proposed new British policy. Finally, on 17 May 1939, Britain published the MacDonald White Paper, the end result of the London conference's failure to reach an Arab-Zionist agreement. Its termsadmittedly "disappointing to both Jews and Arabs"would govern Britain's official Palestine policy for the coming war years, although little was implemented on the ground, with both Arab and Zionist leaders continuing their efforts to obtain changes favorable to their respective causes.

see also balfour declaration (1917); husaynmcmahon correspondence (19151916); macdonald, malcolm; white papers on palestine.


Caplan, Neil. Futile Diplomacy, Vol. 2: Arab-Zionist Negotiations and the End of the Mandate, 19311948. Totowa, NJ; London: Frank Cass, 1986.

Lesch, Ann Mosely. Arab Politics in Palestine, 19171939: The Frustration of a Nationalist Movement. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.

Porath, Yehoshua. The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion, vol. 2, 19291939. Totowa, NJ; London: Frank Cass, 1977.

Rose, Norman A. The Gentile Zionists: A Study in Anglo-Zionist Diplomacy, 19291939. London: Frank Cass, 1973.

neil caplan

London Conference (1956)

views updated May 08 2018


Two conferences convened in August and September 1956 in London to handle the crisis triggered by President Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company.

In response to Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company in late July 1956, the United States, Britain, and France convened two conferences to which certain maritime states were invited to consider the proper reaction to the crisis. The first London Conference met from 18 to 23 August 1956. The invitation was sent to all states signatory to the 1888 Constantinople Convention, which regulated the administration and supervision of the Suez Canal, plus states that shipped considerable cargo through the Canal. Egypt declined to attend but the Soviet Union and the representative of India tried to represent the views and the rights of Egypt. During the conference Selwyn Lloyd, Britain's minister of foreign affairs, managed to induce eighteen states, including the United States, to sign a formal declaration demanding the establishment of a new international agency, representing the interests of the Canal users, to take over the administration of the Canal affairs.

The expected failure of a delegation, headed by Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, to convince Nasser to accept the London Conference decisions and the growing signs of an imminent Franco-British military operation moved John Foster Dulles, the U.S. secretary of state, to call for a second conference, which convened in London on 19 September. The eighteen states that had signed the first declaration adopted Dulles's proposal to establish a Suez Canal Users Association (SCUA), which was mandated to deal with matters of finance and administration of the Canal on a practical level and thus enforce the users' rights. But, as Anthony Eden later said, the new association was "stillborn." The new Egyptian management continued to operate the Canal successfully, leaving the SCUA unable to enforce its own agenda.

There was nothing illegal in Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal, but the British and French governments considered it a severe blow to their standing in the Middle East and North Africa. The London conferences were part of a larger campaign to mobilize international pressure to make Nasser revoke his action. As it later became clear, these two Western powers were less interested in annulment of the nationalization as in a clear rebuff to the Egyptian president and perhaps his ouster as leader of both Egypt and the Arab world. Indeed, even while they were drumming up international diplomatic support, their chiefs of staff were busy planning and preparing a military attack on Egypt, code-named "Musketeer." To a large degree the London conferences were little more than an attempt to go through the motions in order to prove that only a military response could solve the problem. Following a last-minute failed attempt by UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld to mediate a compromise, the British and French, in collusion with Israel, decided to opt for a military solution, leading to the Suez war (Israel's "Sinai Campaign") in late October 1956.

see also suez canal; suez crisis (19561957).


Kyle, Keith. Suez. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Lloyd, Selwyn. Suez 1956: A Personal Account. London: Cape, 1978.

Love, Kennett. Suez: The Twice-Fought War. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Murphy, Robert. Diplomat among Warriors. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964.

mordechai bar-on