The Consul General at Jerusalem (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

No. 503

Sir: The outstanding event of the last fortnight’s developments in this country, I have the honor to report, was the publication on January [Page 890]4, simultaneously in London and Jerusalem, of an elaboration of the Statement of Policy issued by the British Government on July 7, last,5 when making public the Report of the Palestine Royal Commission6 (despatch No. 265 of July 23 [9], 19377). The new statement takes the somewhat unusual form of an official communiqué citing the text of a despatch dated December 23, 1937, from the Colonial Secretary to the High Commissioner.8 Copies are enclosed.

On December 22, as reported in my last political despatch (No. 401 of December 26, 1937)7 the Colonial Secretary had stated in Parliament9 that there would be no avoidable delay in sending to Palestine the commission proposed to and approved by the League Council last September (see pages 7–8 of annex10 to enclosure herewith). This projected commission was to negotiate with Jews and Arabs and to submit to the British Government a detailed scheme of tripartite partition. The Colonial Secretary added that he expected shortly to announce its terms of reference. This the new statement does. Stated briefly, they are: To recommend boundaries and solutions of the economic and financial questions involved in partition. Studied in detail, they reflect the serious complexity of the various problems involved in any comprehensive plan of settlement.

In Palestine, between publication of the Colonial Secretary’s statement of December 22 and of the communiqué of January 4, keenly interested speculation as to the nature of the new statement of policy was the order of the day. There was high hope in Arab circles and considerable apprehension in those of the Yishuv11 that the whole policy of partition would be scrapped or at least soft-pedaled in favor of one which would more nearly meet Arab demands for an undivided Palestine in which the Jews, with extensive guarantees, would be required to accept minority status. Telegraphic reports of London press comment, featured by the local press, lent some color to this view: e. g., the Evening Standard of December 28 was quoted as reporting a strong anti-partitionist sentiment in Foreign Office circles based on growing “alarm at the reactions of the Moslem world”; the Daily Telegraph of December 29 as prognosticating for the new commission “wider latitude than was originally intended”; and the Daily Herald of December 30 as reporting “a serious cleavage within the [Page 891]Cabinet”, certain of its members pressing for “overthrow of the Jewish National Home idea.”

From higher British officials here, however, I learned that no such departure from declared policy was anticipated, i. e., that a scheme of partition on the general lines recommended by the Royal Commission was still held to offer “the best and most hopeful solution”. The British undertaking to the League Council to pursue its study of the problem “while concentrating on a solution involving partition” was emphasized. Since publication of the new white paper, the Palestine Treasurer and Attorney General (two of three members of the Executive Council now in the country) have again confirmed to me their view that, in spite of Arab and anti-partitionist Jewish opposition, the home Government will not be deflected from endeavoring to prepare and implement, in the words of the January 4 communiqué, an “equitable and practicable” scheme of partition. To my queries among such officials as to the tempo which might reasonably be anticipated in the pursuance of such course of action—a subject of burning import to this economically stagnant and disorder-ridden land but which was passed over in the despatch with the observation that the new investigations “will undoubtedly occupy many months”—I have received varying replies. All agree that very considerable progress has already been made, both here and in London, in preparing the necessary data for effective consideration of the complex technical problems involved. Most concur that, with this spade-work largely completed, the new Technical Commission (to give it the name now generally adopted) need not pursue its studies in situ more than two to three months. Thus, a number (including the Attorney General) argue that, if, as seems probable, the commission comes to Palestine in February, we may, barring unforeseen circumstances, envisage a progression of developments not dissimilar to those of the last year, i. e., completion of the report by end June, Parliamentary discussion in July, consideration by representative Jewish bodies and by the Mandates Commission in August, and presentation to the League Council in September. Others, however, are sceptical. Events, they observe, rarely transpire in Palestine as per schedule, even if, as in this instance does not appear to be the case, there be a schedule. The foregoing paragraphs deal largely with “the course of action which His Majesty’s Government have in view”, one of the two matters treated in the new statement of policy. The second is stated to be the emphasizing of “certain implications of the acceptance in principle” of the Royal Commission’s recommendations regarding partition. As I read them, the points emphasized are: 1) H. M. G. is “in fro sense committed to approval” of the suggested tentative plan of [Page 892]partition; 2) the “proposal for the compulsory transfer in the last resort of Arabs from the Jewish to the Arab area” has not been accepted; 3) the new commission possesses “full liberty to suggest modifications of that plan”, including variations of area but with the proviso that such boundaries as it recommends shall necessitate the inclusion of the fewest possible Arabs and Arab enterprises in the Jewish area and vice versa.

This implied repudiation of compulsory transfer—the possibility of voluntary exchanges of land and population is envisaged—and the wording of the last-quoted phrase are here generally read as connoting disapproval of the Royal Commission’s inclusion of the predominantly Arab region of northern Palestine within its suggested Jewish State. In his explanations last August to the Mandates Commission the Colonial Secretary had stated only that the latter half of the proposition, i. e., that “the basic principle of any partition scheme would be to leave as few Jews as possible in the Arab State”; and he had added: “But, however you draw that frontier, it is inevitable that there will be a large Arab minority in the Jewish State” (page 3 of annex13 to enclosure herewith). In Arab circles, however, such saps [sops] to Arab feelings are brushed aside. Their non possumus to partition, both in principle and in practice, is maintained. No such scheme, they hold, can possibly be evolved which would be “equitable” to the Arabs. Secretary Moghanam of the relatively moderate National Defence (Nashashibi) Party characterizes the whole statement as “vague and indefinite, another attempt to bluff both Jews and Arabs”. There follow pertinent extracts from editorial comment in Falastin and Ad-Difa’a (respectively Nashashibi and Istiqlalist dailies) of January 6:

[Here follow excerpts from the Palestine press.]

On this subject of the reestablishment of the country’s traditional immigration policy of economic absorptive capacity we shall, I feel certain, hear much from Jewish organizations during the coming weeks. Much pressure to that end will be brought in London and elsewhere. Commenting in this sense last evening the Attorney General added that he had just completed a special memorandum on the subject, that its conclusion was unfavorable. I gathered that, so long as the door was not definitely closed to Arab-Jewish negotiation for settlement along lines other than partition—and the new statement of policy does not close that door—he believed it would be manifestly unwise to reestablish an element of policy which, more than any other, has engendered bitter Arab hostility and would but strengthen Arab distrust of both British and Jews.

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Again, in this particular connection, as in almost any one of the various problems involved in Palestine settlement, there is to be seen the peculiarly difficult position in which the Mandatory finds itself.

Respectfully yours,

George Wadsworth
  1. British Cmd. 5513: Palestine, Statement of Policy, July 1937.
  2. British Cmd. 5479: Palestine, Royal Commission Report, July 1937.
  3. Not printed.
  4. British Cmd. 5634: Policy in Palestine: Despatch dated 23rd December, 1937, from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the High Commissioner for Palestine.
  5. Not printed.
  6. United Kingdom, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th ser., vol. 330, p. 1956.
  7. British Cmd. 5634, pp. 10–11.
  8. Jewish Community in Palestine.
  9. British Cmd. 5634, p. 7.