London Conference of 1946–47

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Proposals for the Future of Palestine – July 1946 – February 1947, Cmd 7044

The London Conference of 1946–47, which took place between September 1946 and February 1947, was called by the British Government of Clement Attlee to resolve the future governance of Palestine and negotiate an end of the Mandate. It was scheduled following an Arab request after the April 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry report.[1]

A press statement made by President Truman on October 4 advocating for the Jewish Agency proposal effectively "torpedoed" British plans for the conference.[2]

Bevin blamed Truman for the failure of the conference in a speech a week after he announced its failure;[3][4][5][6][7] according to Professor Arieh Kochavi, "Bevin was furious at what he regarded as the President's bowing to American Jewish political pressure."[8] Bevin's speech was widely attacked in the United States.[9] Truman commented on the matter in detail in his memoirs.[10]

Background[edit]

The Council of the Arab League had met at the Bloudan Conference of 1946 to consider the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry report which had been published on 20 April 1946; recommendations resulting from this conference were sent to the British government. The Arab governments invited the British government to meet in order to reach an agreement ahead of the upcoming second meeting of the First session of the United Nations General Assembly:[11]

... the conclusion of an agreement which will put an end to the present situation in Palestine and transform it into one in conformity with the provisions of the Charter and agreeable with its aims ... before the next Session of the General Assembly to be held in September, 1946

First conference: Arab League[edit]

The British government issued invitations on 25 July 1946, just three days after the King David Hotel bombing, to the Governments of the member countries of the Arab League, the Jewish Agency for Palestine and to the Palestine Arab Higher Executive. Subsequently Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam, the Secretary General of the Arab League as well as "prominent Palestinian Arabs" and "representatives of Jewish opinion in the United Kingdom and in Palestine" were invited.[12] Neither the Jewish Agency for Palestine nor the Palestine Arab Higher Executive accepted the invitations.[13]

The conference began on 9 September 1946, with only representatives of the Arab States in attendance, but without Jewish or Palestinian representatives.

The first item for discussion was the Morrison–Grady Plan,[12] which was to be rejected by all parties.[14]

The British government later described the Arab reaction to the plan:

The Arab Delegates at once made it clear that they were opposed to this plan in principle and could not accept it as a basis for discussion. They criticized many of its features; but was clear that, fundamentally, their rejection of this solution was based on their conviction that any scheme of provincial autonomy would inevitably lead to partition.[12]

The alternative plan put forward by the Arab states consisted of the following:[12]

(a) Palestine would be a unitary State with a permanent Arab majority, and would attain its independence as such after a short period of transition (two or three years) under British Mandate.
(b) Within this unitary State, Jews who had acquired Palestinian citizenship (for which the qualification would be ten years’ residence in the country) would have full civil rights, equally with all other citizens of Palestine.
(c) Special safeguards would be provided to protect the religious and cultural rights of the Jewish community.
(d) The sanctity of the Holy Places would be guaranteed and safeguards provided for freedom of religious practice throughout Palestine.
(e) The Jewish community would be entitled to a number of seats in the legislative Assembly proportionate to the number of Jewish citizens (as defined) in Palestine, subject to the proviso that in no case would the number of Jewish representatives exceed one third of the total number of members.
(f) All legislation concerning immigration and the transfer of land would require the consent of the Arabs in Palestine as expressed by a majority of the Arab members of the Legislative Assembly.

(g) The guarantees concerning the Holy Places would be alterable only with the consent of the United Nations; and the safeguards provided for the Jewish community would be alterable only with the consent of a majority of the Jewish Members of the Legislative Assembly.

In early October the Conference was adjourned at the beginning of October as a result of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York; it then reassembled on 27 January 1947.[15]

22nd World Zionist Congress[edit]

While the conference was on hold, the 22nd World Zionist Congress was held in Basle between 9 and 24 December 1946.[16]

The congress described the Morrison-Grady plan as "a travesty of Britain’s obligations under the Mandate", unacceptable as a basis for discussion, and confirmed that the Zionist Organization could not "in the existing circumstances" participate in the London conference.[12] The congress's demands were that:[17]

(i) that Palestine be established as a Jewish commonwealth integrated in the structure of the democratic world;
(ii) that the gates of Palestine be opened to Jewish immigration;

(iii) that the Jewish Agency be vested with the control of immigration into Palestine and with the necessary authority for the upbuilding of the country.

Second conference: Arab League and Palestine Higher Executive, with parallel Jewish Agency discussions[edit]

The conference restarted in January 1947. This time, a Delegation representing the Palestine Arab Higher Executive joined the Arab League states, and Jewish Agency representatives engaged in parallel via informal conversations with the British government. On 7 February 1947 the British government submitted a new proposal to all parties. The plan proposed a five-year British trusteeship over Palestine with the intention to prepare the country for independence.[18]

The new proposals were later summarized by the British government as follows:

The proposed terms of trusteeship would include provision for a substantial measure of local autonomy in areas so delimited as to include a substantial majority either of Jews or of Arabs. The High Commissioner would retain responsibility for protecting the minorities in these areas. At the centre, the High commissioner would endeavour to form a representative Advisory council. At the end of four years, a Constituent Assembly would be elected. If agreement was reached between a majority of the Arab representatives a majority of the Jewish representatives in this Assembly, an independent State would be established without delay. In the event of disagreement, the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations would be asked to advise upon future procedure.[12]

The new British proposal was rejected all parties – the Jewish Agency, the Palestine Arab Higher Executive and the Arab countries. The Jewish Agency requested that Palestine should become a Jewish State, that Jewish immigration should be permitted up to the full extent of the country’s economic absorptive capacity and “a viable Jewish State in an adequate area of Palestine.”[15]

Outcome[edit]

On 18 February 1947, immediately following the conference, foreign secretary Ernest Bevin announced that Britain was unable to solve the problem and would pass it to the United Nations to propose a solution:

His Majesty's Government have of themselves no power, under the terms of the Mandate, to award the country either to the Arabs or to the Jews, or even to partition it between them. It is in these circumstances that we have decided that we are unable to accept the scheme put forward either by the Arabs or by the Jews, or to impose ourselves a solution of our own. We have, therefore, reached the conclusion that the only course now open to us is to submit the problem to the judgment of the United Nations. We intend to place before them an historical account of the way in which His Majesty's Government have discharged their trust in Palestine over the last 25 years. We shall explain that the Mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken to the two communities in Palestine have been shown to be irreconcilable. We shall describe the various proposals which have been put forward for dealing with the situation, namely, the Arab Plan, the Zionists' aspirations, so far as we have been able to ascertain them, the proposals of the Anglo-American Committee, and the various proposals which we ourselves have put forward. We shall then ask the United Nations to consider our report, and to recommend a settlement of the problem. We do not intend ourselves to recommend any particular solution.[19]

The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was formed on 15 May 1947.[20][21]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kadi, Leila S. (1966). Arab Summit Conferences and the Palestine Problem (1936–1950), (1964-1966). Research Centre, Palestine Liberation Organisation. pp. 30–32.
  2. ^ H. Levenberg, Bevin's Disillusionment: The London Conference, Autumn 1946, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 615–630: "He again used his tactics to bring pressure to bear upon the British Government by publishing his demands without consulting or coordinating with the British Government. Truman's statement torpedoed Bevin's plans for Palestine and from a speech to the House of Commons at a later period one can infer his indignation."
  3. ^ Michael J. Cohen (14 July 2014). Palestine and the Great Powers, 1945–1948. Princeton University Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-1-4008-5357-1. On February 25, Bevin opened the Commons debate on Palestine. A substantial part of his speech was taken up with castigating President Truman, whom Bevin blamed for spoiling the negotiations of the previous October.
  4. ^ PALESTINE (GOVERNMENT POLICY) HC Deb 25 February 1947 vol 433 cc1901–2007
  5. ^ Michael Cohen; Martin Kolinsky (3 April 2013). Demise of the British Empire in the Middle East: Britain's Responses to Nationalist Movements, 1943–55. Routledge. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-136-31375-2. Speaking in parliament on 25 February, Bevin bitterly blamed President Truman for the failure of the London Conference, and expressed his hope that the disputing parties would be more willing to come to an understand in view of the British position. It is quite clear that at this stage Bevin still perceived the decision to refer Palestine to the United Nations as a tactical, hence reversible, step.
  6. ^ White House Statement in Response to Foreign Secretary Bevin's Remarks Relating to U.S. Interest in Palestine
  7. ^ John Snetsinger (1974). Truman, The Jewish Vote, and the Creation of Israel. Hoover Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-8179-3393-7. During a heated debate in the House of Commons on February 25, 1947, Bevin elaborated on the reasons why the conference had failed. Although a few days earlier he had stressed the near impossibility of bringing the Jews and Arabs together, Bevin now spoke of the conference in far different terms. According to the foreign secretary, the London sessions were on the verge of a settlement when they were undercut by the president of the United States.
  8. ^ Arieh J. Kochavi (1995). "British Assumptions of American Jewry's Political Strength, 1945–1947". Modern Judaism. Oxford University Press. 15 (2): 161–182. JSTOR 1396413. In his famous, controversial address in the House of Commons on 25 February 1947, Ernest Bevin, Britain's Foreign Secretary, told of the Govemment’s decision to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations. Bevin admitted the failure by the Government to break the impasse that had been reached in the negotiations on the Palestine question with both the Zionists, on the one hand, and the Arab states and the Palestinians, on the other. As it turned out, this decision led to the British retreat from Palestine. The frustrated Foreign Secretary bluntly blamed Harry S Truman, the U.S. President, for blocking his efforts to solve the Palestine problem ... Bevin was furious at what he regarded as the President's bowing to American Jewish political pressure. The public accusations made by Britain's Foreign Secretary were unprecedented in Anglo-American relations.
  9. ^ Richard Wevill (15 May 2012). Britain and America After World War II: Bilateral Relations and the Beginnings of the Cold War. I.B.Tauris. pp. 170–. ISBN 978-0-85772-246-1.
  10. ^ Harry S. Truman (31 October 2014). 1946–52: Years of Trial and Hope. New Word City. pp. 193–. ISBN 978-1-61230-816-6.
  11. ^ Kadi, Leila S. (1966). Arab Summit Conferences and the Palestine Problem (1936–1950), (1964–1966). Research Centre, Palestine Liberation Organisation. p. 31.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Political History of Palestine under British Administration
  13. ^ Levenberg, Haim (1993). Military Preparations of the Arab Community in Palestine, 1945–1948. Psychology Press. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-7146-3439-5.
  14. ^ Steven L. Spiegel (10 December 2014). The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America's Middle East Policy, from Truman to Reagan. University of Chicago Press. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-0-226-22614-9.
  15. ^ a b Levenberg, Haim (1993). Military Preparations of the Arab Community in Palestine, 1945–1948. Psychology Press. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-0-7146-3439-5.
  16. ^ Zaslawski, Valerie (3 January 2017). "Zionistenkongress von 1946: Den Judenstaat endlich vor Augen" [Zionist Congress of 1946: The Jewish state]. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  17. ^ Gavison, Ruth (20 June 2013). The Two-State Solution: The UN Partition Resolution of Mandatory Palestine – Analysis and Sources. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 214–. ISBN 978-1-62356-826-9.
  18. ^ Jonathan David Fine (1 March 2018). A State Is Born: The Establishment of the Israeli System of Government, 1947–1951. SUNY Press. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-1-4384-6797-9.
  19. ^ Hansard PALESTINE CONFERENCE (GOVERNMENT POLICY) HC Deb 18 February 1947 vol 433 cc985–94
  20. ^ A/RES/106 (S-1) Archived 2012-08-06 at the Wayback Machine of 15 May 1947 General Assembly Resolution 106 Constituting the UNSCOP
  21. ^ Report of the First Committee, 13 May 1947. Preparing meeting (doc.nr. A/307)

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