Disorderly decolonization : the White paper of 1939 and the end of British rule in Palestine

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Apter, Lauren Elise, 1974-

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Britain's presence in Palestine coincided with a promise to Zionists to support the establishment of a Jewish national home. For two decades, Britain continued to support Zionist aims in Palestine including immigration and colonization, even in the aftermath of the first phase of an Arab Revolt in 1936 that shook the foundations of British colonial rule and could not be suppressed without intervention from neighboring Arab states. With the Arab Revolt in full force again from 1937 to 1939, in the midst of preparations for war in Europe, British statesmen questioned and reinterpreted promises the British government had made to Zionists two decades earlier. The resulting new policy was published in the White Paper of May 1939. By using the White Paper as a lens it is possible to widen the scope of investigation to examine the end of British rule in Palestine in a broader context than that provided by the years after World War II, 1945 to 1948. The White Paper of 1939 introduced three measures: immigration quotas for Jews arriving in Palestine, restrictions on settlement and land sales to Jews, and constitutional measures that would lead to a single state under Arab majority rule, with provisions to protect the rights of the Jewish minority. The White Paper’s single state was indeed a binational state, where it would be recognized by law that two peoples, two nations, inhabited Palestine. But the provisions of the White Paper were self-contradictory. Constitutional measures and immigration restrictions advanced the idea of a binational state with a permanent Jewish minority, while land restrictions aimed to keep Jews where they had already settled, legislation more in keeping with the idea of partition. The debate between partition and a binational state continued throughout these years. This work examines the motivations for the White Paper, foremost among them to keep the world Jewish problem separate from Britain's Palestine problem and to assure stability throughout the Middle East. An investigation based on the White Paper introduces a number of important debates that took place between 1936 and 1948 and echo into the present.