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British Palestine Mandate: The Peel Commission

(July 1937)

At the height of the 1936-39 disturbances, a royal commission of inquiry came to Palestine from London to investigate the roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict and to propose solutions. The commission, headed by Lord Robert Peel, heard a great deal of testimony in Palestine, and in July 1937 issued its recommendations: to abolish the Mandate and partition the country between the two peoples. Only a zone between Jaffa and Jerusalem, about 8 percent of Palestine, would remain under the British mandate and international supervision.

The Jewish state would include the coastal strip stretching from Mount Carmel to south of Be'er Tuvia, as well as the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee, about 17 percent of Palestine. The Arab state would consist of about 75 percent and include the hill regions, Judea and Samaria, and the Negev. The Commission also called for the Arab state to be united with Transjordan (it had been separated in 1921 by Winston Churchill).

Until the establishment of the two states, the commission recommended, Jews should be prohibited from purchasing land in the area allocated to the Arab state.

To overcome demarcation problems, it was proposed that land exchanges be carried out concurrently with the transfer of population from one area to the other. Demarcation of the precise borders of the states was entrusted to a technical partition committee. The Peel Commission did not believe that Jewish immigration was detrimental to the financial well-being of the Arab population and assumed that the issue of Jewish immigration would be resolved within the Jewish state.

In the United States, Felix Frankfurter warned Stephen Wise “not to make any outcry against the commission.”

The British government accepted the recommendations of the Peel Commission regarding the partition of Palestine, and the announcement was endorsed by Parliament in London. Among the Jews, bitter disagreements erupted between supporters and opponents, but the option became moot when the Arabs rejected the proposal on October 11, 1938. Arab leaders rejected the Balfour Declaration, reiterated their opposition to Jewish immigration, and concluded: “Partition would create in Palestine two neighboring hostile states between which it is impossible to imagine the possibility of an exchange of inhabitants, property and holy places, such as mosques, churches, and cemeteries. Furthermore, partition would deprive Arabs of their land, which constitutes the bulk of their wealth in the territory to be ceded to the Jewish State.”

The plan was ultimately shelved but the partition idea was resurrected and adopted by the UN in 1947. Today, most proposals for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are based on a similar understanding of the need to create two states.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry,
Jared Sorhaindo, “Did FDR Really Abandon the Jews of Europe?” Mosaic, (March 3, 2020);
Benny Morris, “The War on History,” Jewish Review of Books, (Spring 2020).
Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar, “The Middle East and Islamic World Reader,” (New York: Grove Press, 2003), p. 183.