The Peel Commission of 1936-1937, formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission, was a British Royal Commission of Inquiry set out to propose changes to the British Mandate for Palestine following the six-month-long Palestinian general strike. It was headed by Lord Peel.
On 11 November, 1936, the commission arrived in Palestine to investigate the reasons behind the uprising. It returned to Britain on 18 January 1937. On July 7, 1937, it published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition.Although initially endorsed by the government, it was condemned by the Arabs. Following the publication of the Woodhead Commission report in 1938, the plan for partition was declared unimplementable.
The Commission was established at a time of increased violence; serious clashes between Arabs and Jews broke out in 1936 and were to last three years. The Commission was charged with determining the cause of the riots, and judging the grievances of both sides. Chaim Weizmann made a speech on behalf of the Jews. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, testified in front of the commission, opposing any partition of Arab lands with the Jews. He demanded full cessation of Jewish immigration. Although the Arabs continued to boycott the Commission officially, there was a sense of urgency to respond to Weizmann's appeal to restore calm. The former Mayor of Jerusalem Ragheb Bey al-Nashashibi—who was the Mufti's rival in the internal Palestinian arena, was thus sent to explain the Arab perspective through unofficial channels.
According to the Peel Commission report, Arab allegations regarding Jewish land purchase were unfounded. "Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamp and uncultivated when it was purchased...There was at the time of the earlier sales little evidence that the owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land." The land shortage decried by the Arabs "was due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population". However, "Endeavours to control the alienation of land by Arabs to Jews have not been successful. In the hills there is no more room for further close settlement by Jews; in the plains it should only be allowed under certain restrictions.
The report recommended that the Mandate be eventually abolished—except in a "corridor" surrounding Jerusalem, stretching to the Mediterranean coast at Jaffa—and the land under its authority (and accordingly, the transfer of both Arab and Jewish populations) be apportioned between an Arab and Jewish state. The Jewish side was to receive a territorially smaller portion in the mid-west and north, from Mount Carmel to south of Be'er Tuvia, as well as the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee, while the Arab state was to receive territory in the south and mid-east which included Judea, Samaria, and the sizable Negev desert.
The report recommended that "sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population" and that "in the last resort the exchange would be compulsory". The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey was cited as a precedent, while noting the absence of cultivable land to resettle the displaced Arabs. The population exchange, if carried out, would have involved the transfer of up to 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews.
The Arab leadership in Palestine rejected the plan, arguing that the Arabs had been promised independence and granting rights to the Jews was a betrayal. The Arabs emphatically rejected the principle of awarding any territory to the Jews. After lobbying by the Arab Higher Committee, hundreds of delegates from across the Arab world convened at the Bloudan Conference in Syria on 8 September and wholly rejected both the partition and establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Jewish opinion remained divided. The Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich (3-16 August 1937) announced "that the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission is not to be accepted, [but wished] to carry on negotiations in order to clarify the exact substance of the British government's proposal for the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine".
At the same Zionist Congress in Zurich, David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, told those in attendance that, though "there could be no question...of giving up any part of the Land of Israel,... it was arguable that the ultimate goal would be achieved most quickly by accepting the Peel proposals." University of Arizona professor Charles D. Smith suggests that, "Weizmann and Ben-Gurion did not feel they had to be bound by the borders proposed [by the Peel Commission]. These could be considered temporary boundaries to be expanded in the future."
Ben-Gurion wrote: "The compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we have never had, even when we stood on our own during the days of the First and Second Temples: [a Galilee almost free of non-Jews]. ... We are being given an opportunity which we never dared to dream of in our wildest imagination. This is more than a state, government, and sovereignty—this is a national consolidation in a free homeland. ... if because of our weakness, neglect or negligence, the thing is not done, then we will have lost a chance which we never had before, and may never have again".
Ben-Gurion wrote 20 years later: "Had partition [referring to the Peel Commission partition plan] been carried out, the history of our people would have been different and six million Jews in Europe would not have been killed—most of them would be in Israel".
The British response was to set up the Woodhead Commission to "examine the Peel Commission plan in detail and to recommend an actual partition plan". This Commission declared the Peel Commission partition unworkable (though suggesting a different scheme under which 5% of the land area of Palestine become Israel). The British Government accompanied the publication of the Woodhead Report by a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable.
- citation needed
- British Policy in Palestine, 1937-38: From the Peel to the Woodhead Report, Bulletin of International News, Vol 15, No. 23 (Nov. 19, 1938), pp.3-7
- The Peel Commission Report.
- Peel Commission Report, p364.
- Report, p. 389–391
- Swedenburg, Ted (1988) "The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt 1936–1939". in Islam, Politics, and Social Movements, edited by Edmund Burke III and Ira Lapidus. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06868-8 pp 189-194 & Marvin E. Gettleman, Stuart Schaar (2003) The Middle East and Islamic world reader, Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-3936-1 pp 177-181
- Pappé Ilan (2004) A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-55632-5
- British Policy in Palestine, 1937-8: From the Peel to the Woodhead Report, Bulletin of International News, Vol 15, No. 23 (Nov. 19, 1938), pp.3-7
- Mattar, Phillip (2005), Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, Infobase Publishing, p. 104, ISBN 0-8160-5764-8
- "Timeline: 1937", Jewish Agency for Israel
- Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 7th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010), 138-140.
- Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985; pp 180-182
- (One Palestine Complete, p. 414)
- "Appendix IV: Palestine: Historical Background" Jewish Virtual Library. "The British Government accompanied the publication of the Woodhead Report by a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable in the light of the Commission's investigations, but suggesting that Arab-Jewish agreement might still be possible."
- Summary section of the Report of the Palestine Royal Commission (from the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine - UNISPAL)
Further reading 
- Palestine Royal Commission Report Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, July 1937. His Majesty’s Stationery Office., London, 1937. 404 pages + maps.
- Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World (Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1970) pp. 207-210
See also