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Britain Maps Federal State Plan, Seeks Approval of Jews and Arabs

March 12, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A new plan for solution of the Palestine question, now being drafted by the British Government for submission to the Arab and Jewish delegations within the next few days, provides for eventual establishment in Palestine of a federal state composed of two or more cantons following roughly the present population demarcation, it was indicated in official circles today. Although the plan in all its details is so far by no means complete, some days still being required to fill in a number of important points, its broad outlines have already been indicated to the representatives of the Arab states who, it was reliably learned, have approved them.

The question of the cantonal boundaries is now engaging the attention of the British ministers. It is understood the ministers today had High Commissioner Sir Harold Alfred MacMichael’s replies to a number of questions relating to distribution of the Arab and Jewish populations and the possible boundaries. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald met the delegates of Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia this afternoon and discussed some of the points involved in the plan.

Mr. MacDonald met Dr. Chaim Weizmann last night and is understood to have told him of his desire for a further informal meeting with the Jews to clarify a number of points. Dr. Weizmann suggested that Mr. MacDonald had better defer the meeting until after the Jews receive the Government’s reply to their letter requesting guarantees that continued development of the Jewish national home will be safeguarded under any plans proposed by the Government.

Mr. MacDonald and Foreign Undersecretary Richard A. Butler will meet some of the Jews informally tomorrow afternoon to discuss the letter. The Jewish delegation will be headed by David Ben Gurion, and includes Lord Reading. It expects the Government’s definite reply on whether the mandate is to be retained or, alternatively, if the Jewish national home’s development will be guaranteed under the new plan. If the reply is in the affirmative to either question, the Jews will announce their readiness to discuss the new plan. Dr. Weizmann left for Paris today and is expected to return Monday or Tuesday.

Regarding the question of Jewish immigration, Mr. MacDonald is reliably said to have in mind a figure of 10,000 annually for five years, with the likelihood that 10,000 refugee children would be admitted the first year above the quota. He is reportedly still “undecided” on how immigration would be regulated after this period, apparently in view of strenuous Jewish objections to an earlier suggestion that after five years the question of further immigration would be fixed by mutual agreement with the Arabs. The Jews rejected the suggestion, declaring they would never accept the principle of Arab veto or consent to Jewish immigration.

It is understood that division of Palestine into cantons under the new plan envisioned by the Government would be put into effect as soon as possible and cantonal self-governing institutions established. The cantons would have a large measure of local autonomy. At the same time, the Government would proceed with organization of a federal government in which Arabs and Jews would both be represented. It is not yet known whether Mr. MacDonald intends to follow suggestions on a constitution that were submitted to the Arabs and the Jews a fortnight ago, providing a bicameral legislature with Arab and Jewish ministers.

Mr. MacDonald this morning received Rabbi Moshe Blau and H.A. Goodman, of the non Zionist Agudath Israel, and discussed the situation. He expressed the hope that it might be possible to find a generally satisfactory solution of the problem.

During private sessions with the Arabs yesterday, Mr. MacDonald is reliably said to have stressed British friendship for the Arabs and to have assured them that Great Britain was acting in good faith in seeking a solution of the problem. He is said to have pointed out that the Government must take into consideration British and American public opinion, both of which would be most hostile to immediate establishment of an independent State and stoppage of immigration and land sales.

The British Government consequently, Mr. MacDonald’s argument is described as continuing, could not fix a short transition period but would have to leave it indefinite and dependent upon the growth of self governing institutions in Palestine and development of positive Arab-Jewish cooperation. Because of British and American opinion, the Government could not stop immigration and land acquisition completely, the Colonial Secretary reportedly told the Arab representatives, indicating that the most the Government could do would be to introduce additional restrictions.

Mr. MacDonald is understood to have tried to convince the Arab states that they should exercise a moderating influence on the Palestine Arabs to accept the British proposals when finally submitted. The Arab states originally were invited to the conference in the hope they would exercise such an influence, but so far it has not been apparent that they have done so. In fact, at one stage they seriously embarrassed the British representatives by making a joint declaration of support of the Palestine Arab maximum demands.

Dr. J. Machover, chairman of the Jewish State Party of Great Britain, has resigned from the Jewish conference advisory panel in protest against continuation of participation in the conference.

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