Churchill White Paper

Front cover of the White Paper
Pages 17-21 included the text of the proposed "British Policy in Palestine", for which comment was request from the Zionist Organization and the Arab Delegation.

The Churchill White Paper of 3 June 1922, officially Correspondence with the Palestine Arab Delegation and the Zionist Organisation was drafted at request of Sir Winston Churchill in response to the 1921 Jaffa Riots which began with intra-jewish violence escalated into Arab attacks against Jews. Although the attacks were primarily facilitated by the Arabs, the British White Paper concluded that the violence was sparked by resentment towards Jewish Zionists and the perceived favoritism towards them by the British, as well as Arab fears of subjugation. While maintaining Britain's commitment to the Balfour declaration and its promise of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, "internationally guaranteed" and "recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection," the paper emphasized that the establishment of a Jewish National Home would not impose a Jewish nationality on the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, and "the status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian".[1] To reduce tensions between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine the paper called for a limitation of Jewish immigration to "the economic capacity of the country to absorb new arrivals".[2] This limitation was considered a great setback to many in the Zionist movement,[3] though unlike the later White Paper of 1939, it acknowledged the necessity that "the Jewish community in Palestine should be able to increase its numbers by immigration", "as of right not of sufferance".

Key provisions

The main provisions of this white paper are summarized by these quotations from it:

Having clarified the understanding and intent of the British government, the White Paper continues, outlining measures to assist in attaining the objectives: 'For the fulfilment of this policy it is necessary that the Jewish community in Palestine should be able to increase its numbers by immigration. This immigration cannot be so great in volume as to exceed whatever may be the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals. It is essential to ensure that the immigrants should not be a burden upon the people of Palestine as a whole, and that they should not deprive any section of the present population of their employment. Hitherto the immigration has fulfilled these conditions. The number of immigrants since the British occupation has been about 25,000.' The document notes an exception however, saying: ‘It is necessary also to ensure that persons who are politically undesirable be excluded from Palestine, and every precaution has been and will be taken by the Administration to that end.’

It also expressed the British view on the reason for not immediately forming an independent government of Palestine, addressing the conflicting claims related to the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, Sykes-Picot Agreement and subsequent Balfour Declaration:

'It is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty's Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated 24 October 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty's High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty's Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir. Henry McMahon's pledge'. Churchill's interpretation of the agreements was consistent with the interpretation given by Prime Minister Lloyd George during the Paris Peace Conference, which envisioned Arab independence in zones A and B according to Sikes-Picot Agreement, which did not include the core of Palestine west of the Jordan River.[4]

The 1922 White Paper did not put an end to the controversy, The text of the Sykes-Picot Agreement had included a proviso that required coordination with the Sharif of Mecca regarding the so-called international zone (Palestine). It also called for an Arab State or confederation under an Arab Chief, and the British government had arranged for the meetings leading up to the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement.

Map showing the boundaries of the proposed protectorate of Palestine, as outlined by the Zionist representatives at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, superimposed on modern boundaries.

The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement said that the boundaries between an Arab State and Palestine should be determined by a Commission after the Paris Peace Conference. The Zionist delegation submitted a map that proposed a border west of the Hedjaz Railway, exactly where Balfour had suggested it be drawn in a memo to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon.

Contrary to popular belief, the borders of Palestine were not defined in the texts of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, The San Remo conference, The Treaty of Sèvres, the Treaty of Lausanne, or even by the British Mandate for Palestine. The preamble of the Mandate read:

The Council of the League of Nations:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have agreed, for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to entrust to a Mandatory selected by the said Powers the administration of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire, within such boundaries as may be fixed by them;

On the day that the first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, signed for 'one Palestine, complete' [5] there were no formally recognized borders. The Zionist Committee's proposal excluded the area from Amman to the Mesopotamian and Arabian frontiers. According to Sykes, Churchill, and Balfour the areas lying east of the line from Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Alleppo (the Hedjaz Railway route) had been pledged to the Arabs (as noted in Churchill's analysis). The Vilayet of Ma'an and the port of Aqaba were annexed to Transjordan from the Kingdom of Hedjaz as the latter fell to Ibn Saud. The Occupied Enemy Territory which later became Syria Mesopotamia, and Palestine were mentioned in Section VII, Articles 94-97 of the Treaty of Sèvres, the short-lived Kingdom of Hejaz is mentioned separately in Section VIII, articles 98-100.

Subsequent revelations

A committee established by the British in 1939 to clarify the various arguments observed that many commitments had been made during and after the Great War—and that all of them would have to be studied together. The Arab representatives submitted a statement to the committee from Sir Michael McDonnell[6] which explained that whatever McMahon had intended to mean was of no legal consequence, since it was his actual statements that constituted the pledge from His Majesty's Government. They also pointed out that McMahon had been acting as an intermediary for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Grey. Speaking in the House of Lords on 27 March 1923, Lord Grey had made it clear that, for his part, he entertained serious doubts as to the validity of the Churchill White Paper's interpretation of the pledges which he, as Foreign Secretary, had caused to be given to the Sharif Hussein in 1915.[7]

Years later, scholars searching through the declassified files in the National Archives discovered evidence that Palestine had been pledged to Hussein. The Eastern Committee of the Cabinet, previously known as the Middle Eastern Committee, had met on 5 December 1918 to discuss the government's commitments regarding Palestine. Lord Curzon chaired the meeting. General Jan Smuts, Lord Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and representatives of the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Treasury were present. T. E. Lawrence also attended. According to the minutes Lord Curzon explained the Hussein, Sykes-Picot, and Balfour commitments:

"The Palestine position is this. If we deal with our commitments, there is first the general pledge to Hussein in October 1915, under which Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future . . . Great Britain and France—Italy subsequently agreeing—committed themselves to an international administration of Palestine in consultation with Russia, [and the Sharif of Mecca] who was an ally at that time . . . A new feature was brought into the case in November 1917, when Mr Balfour, with the authority of the War Cabinet, issued his famous declaration to the Zionists that Palestine 'should be the national home of the Jewish people, but that nothing should be done—and this, of course, was a most important proviso—to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Those, as far as I know, are the only actual engagements into which we entered with regard to Palestine."[8]

See also


  1. Yale Avalon Project. Yale University Retrieved 10 October 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. Yale Avalon Project. Yale University Retrieved 10 October 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. "Frontline, PBS Historic Documents". Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  4. see 'The Council of Four: minutes of meetings 20 March – 24 May 1919, page 1-8
  5. Herbert Samuel received the mandated territory from its military commander along with a receipt 'Handed over to Sir Herbert Samuel, one Palestine, complete' Rosalind Franklin, By Brenda Maddox, Page 7
  6. Report of a Committee Set up to Consider Certain Correspondence Between Sir Henry McMahon and the Sharif of Mecca in 1915 and 1916 Archived 30 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine., UNISPAL, Annex C.
  7. "Palestine Constitution"; Lords' speeches 27 March 1923 and following speeches on the "Strategical value of Palestine"
  8. Palestine Papers 1917-1922, Doreen Ingrams, page 48 and UK Archives PRO. CAB 27/24

External links

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