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British Palestine Mandate: The St. James Conference


After having reviewed the results of the Woodhead Commission, the British government decided to investigate alternatives to partition as a solution to the problems in Palestine. To that end, the British called for a conference of Arabs and Jews to discuss various scenarios. The St. James Conference, also known as the Round Table Conference of 1939, brought together Arab and Jewish delegations, each with their own internal differences.

On the Jewish side, both Zionist and non-Zionist groups within the Jewish Agency organized under the leadership of Chaim Weizmann. The Arabs were led by the mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and included the more moderate party of the well-known al-Nashashibi family. In addition to the Arabs of Palestine, the Arabs of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, and Yemen were also represented.

From the start, the conference was fraught with difficulties. The Arab delegates refused to meet directly and formally with the Jewish representatives, since they did not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish Agency. As a result, the British were forced to negotiate with each delegation individually.

British proposals at the conference were met with resistance on both sides. Since no agreement was reached, the British formed its own policy. As they had suggested at the conference, only 75,000 Jews would be allowed to immigrate over a period of five years. This quota would be filled to capacity only if economic conditions permitted it. Another provision authorized the regulation of further land purchases in Palestine by Jews.

These policies were stated formally in the White Paper of 1939, resulting in a storm of protests by Zionists throughout the world.

Sources: The Jewish Agency for Israel and The World Zionist Organization