Despite protests, the Arab objections went unheeded. The subsequent conflict made Palestinian Muslims a stateless people
n 1920, the Allied Supreme Council granted Britain a mandate over Palestine and Trans-Jordan, following the Ottoman Empire’s concession after World War I. The Mandate for Palestine endorsed the Balfour Declaration, explicitly providing for a Jewish homeland and self-governing institutions.
Recognising the Zionist organisation as the agency, it obligated the facilitation of Jewish immigration and land settlement while safeguarding the rights of other populations. Sir Herbert Samuel became the first high commissioner of Palestine in 1920, overseeing increased Jewish immigration, leading to Arab protests and disturbances by 1921. Despite Arab demands for self-determination and opposition to Jewish immigration and land sales, these grievances were disregarded, contributing to growing resentment among Arabs against the mandatory power and Jewish settlers.
Accused of triggering the 1929 riots, Arabs faced a longstanding dispute over the Western Wall in Jerusalem, escalating into violence in the Buraq Uprising. Arab protests, unheeded by the mandatory power and Jewish immigrants, led to anti-Jewish riots in 1933. The Nazi rise in 1930s Europe propelled Jewish immigration to Palestine, aggravating the Arab unrest.
The Arab rebellion from 1937 to 1939 intensified, prompting a 1937 Royal Commission proposal to partition Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and a neutral enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem under British administration. Reconciliation prospects between Jews and Arabs remained bleak.
In 1938, the British government dispatched a partition commission to prepare a plan based on the Royal Commission’s recommendations. However, the commission’s report faced disapproval from the British government itself. The subsequent London conference with representatives from Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Trans-Jordan yielded no result due to the arrest and deportation of Arab leaders, including Mufti Amin el-Husseini.
The harsh treatment of the mufti led to a guerrilla campaign, complicating the Palestinian problem. The British government’s White Paper proposed an independent Palestinian state within 10 years, linked to Britain by a special treaty, and limited Jewish immigration. As World War II began in 1939, the focus shifted to British security, resulting in an artificial truce in the region.
The Zionists, represented by Dr Chaim Weizmann, conveyed their willingness to support the allied forces and expressed a commitment to establish independent Jewish military units within the allied armies. Despite Great Britain’s encouragement for both Jews and Arabs to join the Palestine Pioneer Corps, Arabs did not show interest.
Seizing the opportunity, Jews formed a Jewish brigade that participated in the final stages of the allied campaign in Italy. In contrast, the Palestinian mufti visited at the war’s outset and aligned with the Germans against British imperialism, negatively impacting the Palestinian-Arab cause.
Meanwhile, from 1942 onward, American Zionists pressed for a pro-Zionist resolution to the Palestinian problem. On May 11, 1942, the American Zionist Organisation, led by David Ben Gurion, adopted the Biltmore Programme in New York. This programme called for the establishment of a Jewish state encompassing all of Palestine, the formation of a Jewish army, and unrestricted immigration of Jews into Palestine, overseen by the Jewish Agency instead of the British.
The Palestine issue reached a critical juncture on August 31, 1945, when US President Truman requested the British prime minister, Clement Attlee, for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jews to Palestine. In response, the British government suggested the creation of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, transferring part of the responsibility to the United States.
The American government accepted the proposal and the two nations appointed a committee comprising non-official citizens to conduct hearings in Washington and London. The joint committee also visited displaced persons’ camps in Germany and Austria and toured Palestine to assess the situation firsthand.
It’s worth noting that some members of the committee clearly leaned towards supporting the Zionist cause. George Lenczowski highlighted three individuals: James G McDonald and Bartley C Crum from the American group, and Richard Crossman, a British MP, who were favourable to the Zionist cause.
After completing its work on April 20, 1946, the committee presented its report with three key recommendations:
The Government of Palestine should continue as is under mandate until a trusteeship agreement is executed under the United Nations.
Immediate authorisation of 100,000 certificates for the admission of Jews who suffered from Nazi and Fascist persecution into Palestine.
Removal of limits on land transfers.
The USA and Great Britain appointed a high-powered commission to figure out how to implement these recommendations. This left the Zionists disappointed. They were particularly upset with the Labour Party’s concern for not antagonising the Arabs. In October 1946, President Truman renewed his call for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jews into Palestine.
In December of the same year, at a World Zionist Congress in Basle, Britain’s lukewarm approach to Jewish immigration and the establishment of a national state for them was strongly criticised. With British policies harshly condemned, American Zionist leadership prevailed, advocating for a Jewish state in all of Palestine and promising more effective measures to achieve this goal.
Faced with immense pressure from the American establishment and constant criticism from both the Zionists and the Arabs, Clement Attlee’s government decided to take the Palestine question to the United Nations. The General Assembly convened between April 28 and May 15, establishing a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) consisting of representatives of eleven states.
After visiting Palestine, the committee presented a report during the regular fall session of the General Assembly. The report called for the establishment of an independent and economically unified Palestine at the earliest.
However, there was a division in the report into a majority and a minority plan. The majority plan, supported by European and South American nations, proposed the partitioning of Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the internationalised city of Jerusalem. The minority plan, favoured by India, Iran and Yugoslavia, advocated for a federated state of Palestine with two states, Jewish and Arab, each having local autonomy.
Migration into the Jewish state would be permitted for three years based on its absorptive capacity, with monitoring by representatives from three Arab, three Jewish, and three United Nations members.
The Arab states preferred the minority plan, which met their key requirements: a single independent state with an Arab majority and restrictions on Jewish immigration, indicating flexibility on their part. The Zionists reluctantly accepted the majority plan, envisioning a fully independent Jewish state, although some extremists among them sought a larger territory, encompassing all of Palestine and potentially beyond.
These plans underwent debate in a special Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly during its fall session in 1947. As the session concluded, it became evident that the Zionists were determined to secure a decision in favour of the majority plan. November 29, 1947, marked a significant date in the Jewish history as the General Assembly voted to recommend the partition of Palestine with an economic union, as proposed by the majority report.
Under the plan, the Arab state would include the central and eastern parts of Palestine, Western Galilee, and a strip along the Mediterranean coast. Jaffa would be an enclave in the Jewish state, covering eastern Galilee, the valley of Esdraelon, a coastal area from Haifa to the south of Jaffa, and a significant portion of the Negev. Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with adjoining territory, were to remain outside both states under an administration accountable to the Trusteeship Council.
Thirty-three states supported the motion, thirteen opposed it and ten abstained. The United States, Soviet Union and France favoured partition, while Great Britain and China abstained. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, as well as Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Cuba, and Greece, voted against the motion.
It’s important to note that the Arabs harboured resentment towards the United States, justified by American assistance in rallying votes for the partition. This assistance contradicted promises made by both Roosevelt and Truman to seek agreement from both parties directly concerned. Despite protests, the Arab objections went unheeded. The subsequent conflict made Palestinian Muslims a stateless people.
The writer is professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore