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 Arab general strike in Mandatory Palestine. 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.
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 to 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 wrote that "The Arab charge that the Jews have obtained too large a proportion Iof 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". 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."
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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 reaction
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. 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 2 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.[qt 1] 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 reaction
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
- Report, p. 363.
- Report, p. 289.
- Report, p. 299.
- Report, p. 242.
- Report, p. 242.
- Report, p. 364.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985; pp 180-182
- (One Palestine Complete, p. 414)
- 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."
- 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."
- 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 UNISAL.
- 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