The Peel Commission, formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission, was a British Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by Lord Peel, appointed in 1936 to investigate the causes of unrest in British Mandate for Palestine following the six-month-long Arab general strike in Mandatory Palestine.
On July 7, 1937, the commission published a report that, for the first time, stated that the Mandate had become unworkable and recommended partition. British cabinet endorsed the Partition plan in principle, but requested more information. Following the publication in 1938 the Woodhead Commission was appointed to examine it in detail and recommend an actual partition plan.
The Jewish leadership accepted partition in principle as an opportunity for sovereignty, although in a letter to his son in October 1937, David Ben-Gurion explained that partition would be a first step to "possession of the land as a whole". The same sentiment was recorded by Ben-Gurion on other occasions, such as at a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938, as well as by Chaim Weizmann. "Most of the Arabs" condemned the Plan considering it unjust.
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. On 11 November 1936, the commission arrived in Palestine to investigate the reasons behind the uprising. 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. On 25 November 1936, testifying before the Peel Commission, Weizmann said that there are in Europe 6,000,000 Jews ... "for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter."
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.
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The causes of the Arab rebellion that broke out in the previous year were judged to be
[F]irst, the desire of the Arabs for national independence; secondly, their antagonism to the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, quickened by their fear of Jewish domination. Among contributory causes were the effect on Arab opinion of the attainment of national independence by ‘Iraq, Trans-Jordan, Egypt, Syria and the Lebanon; the rush of Jewish immigrants escaping from Central and Eastern Europe; the inequality of opportunity enjoyed by Arabs and Jews respectively in placing their case before Your Majesty’s Government and the public; the growth of Arab mistrust; Arab alarm at the continued purchase of Arab land by the intensive character and the "modernism" of Jewish nationalism; and lastly the general uncertainty, accentuated by the ambiguity of certain phrases in the Mandate, as to the ultimate intentions of the Mandatory Power.
The Commission found that the drafters of the Mandate could not have foreseen the advent of massive Jewish immigration, that they considered due to "drastic restriction of immigration into the United States, the advent of the National Socialist Government in Germany in 1933 and the increasing economic pressure on the Jews in Poland." They wrote that "The continued impact of a highly intelligent and enterprising race, backed by large financial resources, on a comparatively poor indigenous community, on a different cultural level, may produce in time serious reactions."
The Commission found that "though the Arabs have benefited by the development of the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory effect. On the contrary, improvement in the economic situation in Palestine has meant the deterioration of the political situation". Addressing the "Arab charge that the Jews have obtained too large a proportion of good land cannot be maintained," noting that "Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamp and uncultivated when it was purchased." They write that "The shortage of land is, we consider, due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population". "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 Commission stated that Government have attempted to discharge the contradictory obligations of the Mandatory under conditions of great difficulty by "holding the balance" between Jews and Arabs. Repeated attempts to conciliate either race have only increased the trouble. The situation in Palestine has reached a deadlock. Development of local autonomy and selfgoverning institutions, this also has been hampered.
The summary report statement concerning the possibility of lasting settlement states:
An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.
The Commission reached the conclusion that the Mandate had become unworkable and must be abolished. In favor of partition, as the only solution to the Arab-Jewish "deadlock". It outlined ten points on: a Treaty system between the Arab and Jewish States and the new Mandatory Government; a Mandate for the Holy places; the frontiers; the need for Inter-State Subvention; the need for British Subvention; tariffs and ports; nationality; civil service; Industrial concessions; and the Exchange of land and populations.
A Treaty system based on the Iraqi-Syrian precedent, proposed: Permanent mandates for the Jerusalem area and "corridor" 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 linked with Trans-Jordan was to receive territory in the south and mid-east which included Judea, Samaria, and the sizable Negev desert.
The report stated that Jews contribute more per capital to the revenues of Palestine than the Arabs, and the Government has thereby been enabled to maintain public services for the Arabs at a higher level than would otherwise have been possible. Partition would mean, on the one hand, that the Arab Area would no longer profit from the taxable capacity of the Jewish Area. On the other hand, (1) the Jews would acquire a new right of sovereignty in the Jewish Area; (2) that Area, as we have defined it, would be larger than the existing area of Jewish land and settlement; (3) the Jews would be freed from their present liability for helping to promote the welfare of Arabs outside that Area. It is suggested, therefore, that the Jewish State should pay a subvention to the Arab State when Partition comes into effect. Citing the separation of Sind from Bombay and of Burma from the Indian Empire, as precedents for such financial arrangement.
The report stated that if Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population. Citing as precedent the 1923 Greek and Turkish exchange, which addressed the constant friction between their minorities. While noting the absence of cultivable land to resettle the Arabs, which would necessitate the execution of large-scale plans for irrigation, water-storage, and development in Trans-Jordan, Beersheba and the Jordan Valley. The population exchange, if carried out, would have involved the transfer of up to 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews.
The Arab reaction
The Arab leaders, both in the Husseini-controlled Arab Higher Committee and in the Nashashibi National Defense Party denounced partition and reiterated their demands for independence, 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. With the Arab Higher Committee also lobbying, 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.
The Jewish reaction
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".
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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."
The two main Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and Ben-Gurion had convinced the Zionist Congress to approve equivocally the Peel recommendations as a basis for more negotiation. 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 Peel Plan proved to be the master partition plan, on which all those that followed were either based, or to which they were compared, ushering in a fundamental change in the British outlook on Palestine's future.
Following the report publication the British Government released a statement of policy, agreeing with its conclusions and proposing to seek from the League of Nations authority to proceed with a plan of partition. In March 1938, the British appointed the Woodhead Commission to "examine the Peel Commission plan in detail and to recommend an actual partition plan". The Woodhead Commission reported on 1938, and found that "it was impossible, whatever boundaries we might recommend, to set up an Arab State which should be self-supporting". It proposed "a modification of partition which, ...seems, subject to certain reservations, to form a satisfactory basis of settlement", if the U.K is prepared to provide a "sufficient assistance to enable the Arab State to balance its budget". The British Government accompanied the publication of the Woodhead Report by a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable.
- Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry - Appendix IV Palestine: Historical Background
- Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948
- Letter from David Ben-Gurion to his son Amos, written 5 October 1937, Obtained from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Hebrew, and translated into English by the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut
- Morris, Benny (2011), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, p. 138, ISBN 9780307788054 Quote: "No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of the Land Of Israel. [A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning ….. Our possession is important not only for itself … through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state …. will serve as a very potent lever in our historical effort to redeem the whole country"
- Finkelstein, Norman (2005), Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, p. 280, ISBN 9780520245983
- Quote from a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938: “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state, we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.” in
Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 107, ISBN 9780887282355; and
Segev, Tom (2000), One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Company, p. 403, ISBN 9780805048483
- From a letter from Chaim Weizmann to Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, High Commissioner for Palestine, while the Peel Commission was convening in 1937: “We shall spread in the whole country in the course of time ….. this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years.” Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 62, ISBN 9780887282355
- 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
- Chaim Weizmann (1 January 1983). The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann: series B. Transaction Publishers. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-0-87855-297-9.
On 25 November 1936, testifying before the Peel Commission, Weizmann said that there are in Europe 6,000,000 Jews ... "for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter."
- Report, p. 363-364.
- Report, p. 289.
- Report, p. 299.
- Report, p. 242.
- LEAGUE OF NATIONS SUMMARY OF THE REPORT OF THE PALESTINE ROYAL COMMISSION 
- Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929-1948, By Roza El-Eini, pages 320
- OFFICIAL COMMUNIQUE IN 9/37: Summary of the Report of the 'Palestinian Royal Commission'
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict: An Introduction and Documentary Reader, Sep 1, 2009, By Gregory S. Mahler, Alden R. W.
- 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[dead link]
- Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 7th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010), 138-140.
- William Roger Louis (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B.Tauris. p. 391. ISBN 978-1-84511-347-6. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Benny Morris (2009). One state, two states: resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict. Yale University Press. p. 66. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Benny Morris (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press. pp. 11, 48, 49,. ISBN 978-0-521-00967-6. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
p. 11 "while the Zionist movement, after much agonising, accepted the principle of partition and the proposals as a basis for negotiation"; p. 49 "In the end, after bitter debate, the Congress equivocally approved –by a vote of 299 to 160 – the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiation.
- Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985; pp 180-182
- (One Palestine Complete, p. 414)
- "Woodhead commission report".
(p. 236) FINANCE...we found that it was impossible, whatever boundaries we might recommend, to set up an Arab State which should be self-supporting.... deficits of £P.610,000 per annum for the Arab State (including Trans- Jordan) and of £P.460,000 per annum for the Mandated Territories, but a surplus of £P.600,Q00 per annum for the (p. 237 ) Jewish State. We have found that it is not possible to call upon the Jewish State for a direct subvention to the Arab State, and neither practicable nor equitable to set up an Arab State with a budget so very far from being balanced. We conclude that, if partition is to be carried out, there is no alternative but that Parliament should be asked to provide, in some form, sufficient assistance to enable the Arab State to balance its budget. (p. 246)...CONCLUSION ... The question whether partition is practicable involves considerations of two kinds : practical and political. The former concern chiefly finance and economics ;.... But the financial and economic difficulties, ..., are of such a nature that we can find no possible way to overcome them within our terms of reference. ... we have proposed, ... a modification of partition which, ... seems to us, subject to certain reservations, to form a satisfactory basis of settlement, if His Majesty's Government are prepared to accept the very considerable financial liability involved. There remain the political difficulties. .... But there is still the possibility that both sides may be willing to accept a reasonable compromise.
- Anglo-American Committee Report, Appendix IV. "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 of the Report of the Palestine Royal Commission (from the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine - UNISPAL)
- Full text of the report at UNISPAL.
- David Ben-Gurion Laments Rejection of Peel Commission Recommendations Shapell Manuscript Foundation
- 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