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Britain-Israel Relations: Statement on Palestine by British Foreign Secretary Bevin

(November 13, 1945)

His Majesty's Government have been giving serious and continuous attention to the whole problem of the Jewish community that has arisen as a result of Nazi persecution in Germany and the conditions arising therefrom. It is unfortunately true that until conditions in Europe become stable the future of a large number of persons of many races, who have suffered under this persecution, cannot finally be determined. The plight of the victims of Nazi persecution, among whom were a large number of Jews, is unprecedented in the history of the world. His Majesty's Government are taking every step open to them to try and improve the lot of these unfortunate people.

The Jewish problem is a great human one. We cannot accept the view that the Jews should be driven out of Europe and should not be permitted to live again in these countries without discrimination and contribute their ability and talent toward rebuilding the prosperity of Europe. Even after we have done all we can in this respect it does not provide a solution of the whole problem.

There have recently been demands made upon us for large-scale immigration into Palestine. Palestine, while it may be able to make a contribution, does not by itself provide sufficient opportunity for grappling with the whole problem. His Majesty's Government are anxious to explore every possibility which will result in giving the Jews a proper opportunity for revival.

The problem of Palestine is itself a very difficult one. The mandate for Palestine required the mandatory to facilitate Jewish immigration and to encourage close settlement by Jews on the land, while insuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced thereby. His Majesty's Government have thus a dual obligation, to the Jews on the one side and to the Arabs on the other.

The lack of any clear definition of this dual obligation has been the main cause of the trouble which has been experienced in Palestine during the past twenty-five years. His Majesty's Government have made every effort to devise some arrangement which would enable Arabs and Jews to live together in peace and to cooperate for the welfare of the country, but all such efforts have been unavailing. Any arrangement acceptable to one party has been rejected as unacceptable to the other. The whole history of Palestine since the mandate was granted has been one of continual friction between the two races, culminating at intervals in serious disturbances.

The fact has to be faced that since the introduction of the mandate it has been impossible to find common ground between the Arabs and the Jews. The differences in religion and in language, in cultural and social life, in ways of thought and conduct, are difficult to reconcile. On the other hand, both communities lay claim to Palestine, one on the ground of a millennium of occupation and the other on the ground of historic association coupled with the undertaking given in the First World War to establish a Jewish home. The task that has to be accomplished now is to find means to reconcile these divergencies.

The repercussions of the conflict have spread far beyond the small land in which it has arisen. The Zionist cause has strong supporters in the United States, in Great Britain, in the Dominions and elsewhere; civilization has been appalled by the sufferings which have been inflicted in recent years on the persecuted Jews of Europe.

On the other side of the picture the cause of the Palestinian Arabs has been espoused by the whole Arab world and more lately has become a matter of keen interest to their 90,000,000 co-religionists in India. In Palestine itself there is always serious risk of disturbance on the part of one community or the other, and such disturbances are bound to find their reflection in a much wider field. Considerations not only of equity and of humanity but also of international amity and world peace are thus involved in any search for a solution.

In dealing with Palestine all parties have entered into commitments. There are the commitments imposed by the mandate itself, and in addition the various statements of policy which have been made by His Majesty's Government in the course of the last twenty-five years. Further, the United States Government themselves have undertaken that no decision should be taken in respect to what, in their opinion, affects the basic situation in Palestine without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews. Having regard to the whole situation and the fact that it has caused this world-wide interest which affects both Arabs and Jews, His Majesty's Government decided to invite the Government of the United States to cooperate with them in setting up a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, under a rotating chairmanship, to examine the question of European Jewry and to make a further review of the Palestine problem in the light of that examination. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the Government of the United States have accepted this invitation.

The terms of reference of the Committee of Inquiry will be as follows:

(1) To examine political, economic and social conditions in Palestine as they bear upon the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement therein and the well-being of the peoples now living therein.

(2) To examine the position of the Jews in those countries in Europe where they have been the victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution, and the practical measures taken or contemplated to be taken in those countries to enable them to live free from discrimination and oppression and to make estimates of those who wish or will be impelled by their conditions to migrate to Palestine or other countries outside Europe.

(3) To hear the views of competent witnesses and to consult representative Arabs and Jews on the problems of Palestine as such problems are affected by conditions subject to examination under paragraphs 1 and 2 above and by other relevant facts and circumstances, and to make recommendations to His Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States for ad interim handling of these problems as well as for their permanent solution.

(4) To make such other recommendations to His Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States as may be necessary to meet the immediate needs arising from conditions subject to examination under paragraph 2 above, by remedial action in the European countries in question or by the provision of facilities for emigration to and settlement in countries outside Europe.

The procedure of the committee will be determined by the committee themselves and it will be open to them, if they think fit, to deal simultaneously through the medium of subcommittees with their various terms of reference.

The committee will be invited to deal with the matters referred to in their terms of reference with the utmost expedition. In complying with the second and fourth paragraphs of their terms of reference, the committee will presumably take such steps as they consider necessary in order to inform themselves of the character and magnitude of the problem created by the war. They will also give consideration to the problem of settlement in Europe and to possible countries of disposal. In the light of their investigations they will make recommendation to the two Governments for dealing with the problem in the interim until such time as a permanent solution can be submitted to the appropriate organ of the United Nations.

The recommendations of a Committee of Inquiry such as will now be set up will also be of immense help in arriving at a solution of the Palestine problem. The committee will, in accordance with the first and third paragraphs of their terms of reference, make an examination on the spot of the political, economic and social conditions which are at present held to restrict immigration into Palestine and, after consulting representative Arabs and Jews, submit proposals for dealing with these problems. It will be necessary for His Majesty's Government both to take action with a view to securing some satisfactory interim arrangement and also to devise a policy for permanent application thereafter.

This inquiry will facilitate the findings of a solution which will in turn facilitate the arrangements for placing Palestine under trusteeship.

So far as Palestine is concerned it will be clear that His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of their duties and responsibilities under the mandate while the mandate continues. They propose, in accordance with their pledges, to deal with the question in three stages:

(1) They will consult the Arabs with a view to an arrangement which will insure that, pending the receipt of the ad interim recommendations which the Committee of Inquiry will make in the matter, there is no interruption of Jewish immigration at the present monthly rate.

(2) After considering the ad interim recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry, they will explore, with the parties concerned, the possibility of devising other temporary arrangements for dealing with the Palestine problem until a permanent solution of it can be reached.

(3) They will prepare a permanent solution for submission to the United Nations and, if possible, an agreed one.

The House will realize that we have inherited, in Palestine, a most difficult legacy and our task is greatly complicated by undertakings, given at various times to various parties, which we feel ourselves bound to honor. Any violent departure without adequate consultation would not only afford ground for a charge of breach of faith against His Majesty's Government but would probably cause serious reactions throughout the Middle East and would arouse widespread anxiety in India.

His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the course which they propose to pursue in the immediate future is not only that which is in accordance with their obligations but is also that which, in the long view, is in the best interests of both parties. It will in no way prejudice either the action to be taken on the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry or the terms of the trusteeship agreement, which will supersede the existing mandate and will therefore control ultimate policy in regard to Palestine.

His Majesty's Government in making this new approach wish to make it clear that the Palestine problem is not one which can be settled by force and that any attempt to do so by any party will be resolutely dealt with. It must be settled by discussion and conciliation, and there can be no question of allowing an issue to be forced by violent conflict.

We have confidence that if this problem is approached in the right spirit by Arabs and Jews, not only will the solution be found to the Palestine question, just to both parties, but a great contribution will be made to stability and peace in the Middle East.

Finally, the initiative taken by His Majesty's Government, and the agreement of the United States Government to cooperate in dealing with the whole problem created by Nazi aggression, is a significant sign of their determination to deal with the problem in a constructive way and a humanitarian spirit. But I must emphasize that the problem is not one which can be dealt with only in relation to Palestine; it will need a united effort by the powers to relieve the miseries of these suffering peoples.

Throughout there has been the closest consultation between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and myself in this matter, which concerns him since the mandatory status of Palestine brings that territory within the responsibility of the Colonial Office. But it is also of deep concern to me since the problem is clearly an international problem.

It is the intention of the Government that the problem shall be continued to be handled in close collaboration between our two departments in order that the particular question of Palestine and the wider international issues which are involved may be harmonized and treated as a whole, as a great human problem.

Sources: New York Times, (November 13, 1945). Words of Peace-Words of War.