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Britain Drops Partition, Maps Peace Parleys; Agency Rejects Woodhead Report As Talks Basis

November 10, 1938
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The British Government reported to the House of Commons today that it regarded partition of Palestine as “impracticable” and proposed to reach a solution of the holy land problem by continuing the mandate and seeking an Arab-Jewish understanding as “the surest foundation for peace and progress in Palestine.”

Accordingly,” the Government announced in a statement of policy accompanying the report of the Woodhead Commission, it will immediately invite representatives of the Palestine Arabs and neighboring states, on the one hand, and of the Jewish Agency, on the other, to confer with the Government in London as soon as possible regarding future policy, including the immigration question.

Stressing the importance of reaching a decision at an early date, the Government said that if the London discussions did not produce an agreement within a reasonable period of time, Britain would make its own decision in the light of its examination of the problem and the London discussions.

The Jewish Agency for Palestine announced, meanwhile, that the commission’s report could not serve as a basis for negotiations, either between Jews and Arabs or between the Agency and the British Government. The Agency declared that it could participate in new discussions only on the basis of the Balfour Declaration and the terms of the mandate. (Complete story of the Agency’s statement will be found on another page.)

In its statement of policy, the Government reserved the right to “refuse to receive those leaders whom they regard as responsible for the campaign of assassination and violence” in Palestine. This was taken to refer to such Arab leaders as Haj Amin el Husseini, ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, who is in exile in Lebanon, and on whose shoulders the Palestine Royal Commission of 1937 placed a large portion of the blame for the Palestine disorders.

The Government promised, in conclusion “to keep constantly in mind the international character of the mandate with which they have been entrusted and their obligations in that respect.” This was interpreted as assurance of consultation with the League of Nations, and also, if American rights under the Anglo-american convention on Palestine are considered to be affected, with the United States Government — a point which Washington has stressed in recent weeks.


The conclusion reached by the Government after study of the Partition Commission’s report, the statement said, is “that this further examination has shown that the political,

The 310-page report presented three alternative forms of partition, but the four members could not agree unanimously on any of the alternatives, and reported that they were unable to recommend boundaries within the terms of reference which would give a reasonable prospect of the eventual establishment of self-supporting Arab and Jewish states.

Not wishing to end its inquiry on a negative note, the commission suggested in conclusion a modified form of partition called “economic federalism,” under which both states would be required, as condition of surrender of the mandate, to enter into a customs union with the territories remaining under mandate, the Mandatory Power to determine the fiscal policy after consulting both states.

“The customs revenue would be collected by the Mandatory, and the net surplus after meeting certain common charges would be distributed between the three areas according to an agreed formula, subject to periodic review,” according to the summary of the report. “The Commission suggest that initially each area’s share should be one-third.

“To enable the Arab State to balance its budget without subjecting it to external financial control, it should receive a supplementary share out of the share of the mandated territories, under conditions which will entitle it to share in the expansion of customs revenue resulting from an increase of prosperity in the rest of Palestine.

“This arrangement could be extended, if desired, to cover internal communications–railways, posts and telegraphs — thus removing certain obvious administrative difficulties consequent on partition. While this arrangement withholds fiscal autonomy from the Arab and Jewish states it seems to the Commission, subject to certain reservations, to form a satisfactory basis for settlement, provided his Majesty’s Government are prepared to accept the considerable financial liability involved.”


The four-man commission headed by Sir John Woodhead examined three alternative schemes of partition. Plan A, the Peel Royal commissions scheme, was rejected. Plan B, a modification of plan A, was preferred by one member. Plan C, A further Modification, was considered by two members, including Chairman Woodhead, as the best that could be devised under the terms of reference. The fourth member, while agreeing that Plan C was the best that could be devised under the terms of reference, regarded both plans as impracticable.

The three plans are as follows:

(A) The Peel plan for a coastal Jewish state, a British-mandated corridor from Jerusalem to Jaffa and the rest of Palestine to be combined with Transjordan into an Arab state. This was rejected on the ground that the Galilee should not be included in the Jewish state.

(B) Same as Plan A, except that the Galilee and a small southern portion are excluded from the Jewish state. This plan was rejected by a majority on the principal grounds that no disposition could be made of the Galilee and Haifa that would not endanger either Arab or Jewish interests.

(C) Retention of northern and southern Palestine under mandate, with central Palestine to be partitioned into a small coastal Jewish State, an Arab state and a permanently-mandated corridor called the “Jerusalem enclave.”

In addition, the commission rejected proposals for the inclusion in the Jewish State of part of Jerusalem and certain other areas outside the Jewish State as outlined by the Peel Commission.


Plan C is the only one of the partition schemes to receive detailed examination. The report makes recommendations as to immigration and the political future of the mandated territories under this plan, discusses budgetary prospects and customs and tariffs, and finally declares that the interests of both states demand that the three areas should constitute a customs union.

Under this plan, northern Palestine would be held under mandate until both races agreed to its independence as part of the Jewish or Arab state or as a separate Palestinian state, but Haifa and Acre would only be granted independence if this could be done safely, considering Britain’s responsibility for protection of holy places and defending the new states against aggression. The southern territory would be held under mandate for at least ten years and no independent state would be set up if even a minority of its inhabitants objected.

Regarding land acquisition in the proposed mandated territories, Plan C recommends that the Mandatory be empowered to prohibit land transfer in these territories, and that land transfer to Jews be immediately prohibited in the Galilee for ten years or more, except for Haifa and Tiberias, which would be declared “free areas.” In the southern territory, the “Unoccupied Area” would be declared public domain where a Jewish company could receive leases, while in the “Occupied Area,” where bedouins live, Jewish Land acquisition would be prohibited until the good will of the bedouins was obtained for development.

Immigration into the mandated territories would be regulated by “political, social and psychological, besides economic considerations,” with Jews given preference in immigration. Sir Alison Russell, in making reservations to this plan, said it was not in accord with the obligations to the Jews.


Discussing budgetary prospects, the report opposes as unwise a Jewish State subvention to the Arab State as proposed by the Peel Commission. It foresees a surplus of £600,000 for the Jewish State, a deficit of £600,000 for the Arab State and a deficit of £460,000 for the mandated territories, without provision for defence.

Declaring that “it is only the Jewish contributions to tax revenue that have enabled Palestine to balance its budgets,” the report declares that no boundaries could be recommended that would afford a reasonable prospect for a self-supporting Arab State. Since the Arab State would need the mandated territories as an outlet for agricultural produce and the Jewish State would need them as an outlet for manufactures, a customs union comprising the three areas is suggested.

“But a customs union between a mandated territory and an independent state or states would create serious constitutional difficulties,” the summary says. “His Majesty’s Govern- ment could not be expected to approve a scheme which would deprive them of the right to insist on changes in the fiscal policy of any member-state which they may think necessary, on revenue grounds, as a condition of their continuing to vote assistance to enable that member to balance its budget. A customs union between the mandated territories and the Arab and Jewish states would therefore be impossible except under conditions which would be inconsistent with the grant of fiscal independence to these states.”

It is here that the proposal for “economic federalism” is made as the conclusion.

The Woodhead Commission was appointed by then Colonial Secretary William G.A. Ormsby-Gore on March I. The members, besides Chairman Woodhead, are Sir Alison Russell, A.P. Waterfield and Thomas Reed. The commission arrived in Palestine April 27 and did 3,000 miles of touring. Fifty-five sessions were held in Jerusalem, only two of them public, to hear evidence. the Commission left on Aug. 3 for London and held nine further hearings there before beginning preparation of its report.

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