The Report

Following the campaign of Arab terrorism in Palestine in 1936, the British Government decided to send out a Royal Commission which would “without bringing into question the fundamental terms of the Mandate, investigate the causes of unrest and any alleged grievances either of Arabs or of Jews.” On 29 July, the appointment of this Royal Commission was announced. It was to be chaired by Lord Peel, a former Secretary of State for India. The five other members were Sir Horace Rumbold, one of the ablest men in the Diplomatic Service with wide experience as Minister and Ambassador in many countries of the world; Sir Laurie Hammond, a distinguished Indian Civil Servant; Sir William Morris Carter, an ex-Colonial Chief Justice, better known for his searching analysis of the problems of native lands and interests confronted with an immigrant community, both in Rhodesia and Kenya; Sir Harold Morris, the universally acclaimed Chairman of the Industrial Court in Britain; and Professor Reginald Coupland, Professor of Colonial History at Oxford, whose knowledge and study of Colonial administration in the then British Colonial Empire and in other colonial spheres was well known to students throughout the world.

This Commission (popularly known as the “Peel Commission”) arrived in Palestine in mid-November 1936 and during the course of the next two months took evidence from over one hundred witnesses. On their return to England, the members of the Commission worked for another six months on their Report and at the end of June 1937 presented it to the British Government. The Report was unanimous and consisted of over four hundred pages. It included a comprehensive and analytical survey of the Palestine problem, an examination of the operations of the Mandate, and proposals for “the possibility of a lasting settlement”

Chapter xxii of the Report dealt with a plan of partition. Under this plan, the Mandate would terminate and Palestine would be divided into three areas: a Jewish State including the whole of the Galilee, the whole of the Jezreel Valley, the greater part of the Beisan and all of the coastal plain from Ras el-Nakura (Rosh Hanikra) in the north to Beer-Tuvia in the South; an Arab State containing the rest of Palestine west of the Jordan together with Transjordan; a British enclave remaining under Mandate, containing Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth on a permanent basis and as a temporary measure the towns of Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and Safed, which would ultimately become part of the Jewish State.

There were nearly a quarter of a million Arabs within the boundaries of the proposed Jewish State and about one and a half thousand Jews within the boundaries of the proposed Arab State. This was seen by the members of the Peel Commission as a serious problem and section 10 of chapter xxii of the Report dealt with this issue under the heading “Exchange of Land and Population.” “If Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land, and as far as possible, an exchange of population.”(1)

A later paragraph stated that the existence of Jews in the Arab State and Arabs in the Jewish State would clearly constitute “the most serious hindrance to the smooth and successful operation of Partition.” The “Minority Problem” had become only too familiar in recent years whether in Europe or in Asia and was one of the most troublesome and intractable products of post-war nationalism. The Report noted that nationalism was at least as intense a force in Palestine as it was anywhere else in the world.(2)

Similarly, under the entry “Refugees and the Exchange of Populations”, the Encyclopaedia Britannica stated, “The mixture of populations had led to so much political trouble in modern times that this unmixing process must be regarded as a very considerable advantage.”(3)

The Peel Commission believed that the partition of Palestine between the Arabs and Jews might “ultimately moderate and appease it as nothing else could.” However, the members of the Commission were sufficiently experienced to realise that Partition could not absolutely eliminate friction, incidents and recriminations. The paragraph thus concluded, “If then the settlement is to be clean and final, this question of the minorities must be boldly faced and firmly dealt with. It calls for the highest statesmanship on the part of all concerned.”(4)

The next paragraph of the Report quoted the precedent of a compulsory exchange of population between Greece and Turkey following the Greco-Turkish War of 1922, on the basis of a proposal by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen.(5)

Nansen, who was born in Norway in 1861, was a scientist, polar explorer and statesman. In 1921, he directed relief work for famine-stricken Russia. As the League of Nations' first High Commissioner for refugees, he was responsible for the protection and settlement of Russian, Armenian and Greek refugees. In 1922, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Following the war of 1921-2 between Turkey and Greece, Nansen put forward a proposal to solve the minorities problem existing between these two countries, in which there would be a compulsory exchange of population between Greece and Turkey. At the beginning of 1923, a convention was signed in Lausanne between Greece and Turkey providing for the compulsory transfer to Greece of Greek nationals of the Orthodox faith living in Turkey and the compulsory transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals of the Moslem faith living in Greece, although some of the transferees' families had lived for over a century in the host country. A Mixed Commission and a group of sub-commissions, with members from the Greek and Turkish Governments and from the League of Nations, was set up. These commissions supervised or actually carried out the transportation of the persons transferred from one country to the other, valued their property, kept an exact record of it and established their claim for this value against the government of the country to which they were moved. A refugee settlement loan was floated under the auspices of the League of Nations, to enable Greece to absorb her refugees into productive employment. As a result of this loan, the refugees were absorbed very quickly into the economic system of the country. No such loan was made to Turkey.As a result the integration of the refugees in Turkey was more difficult. The number of people transferred was high - no less than some 1,300,000 Greeks and some 400,000 Turks. However, within eighteen months, the whole exchange was completed. Naturally, with an exchange of population involving nearly two million .people there were difficulties, particularly, in the liquidation of the ensuing property disputes, but following the settlement of all these problems, in 1930, a treaty of friendship was concluded between these two countries.

The Peel report noted that “Dr. Nansen was sharply criticized at the time for the inhumanity of his proposal, and the operation manifestly imposed the gravest hardships on multitudes of people. But the courage of the Greek and Turkish statesmen concerned has been justified by the result. Before the operation the Greek and Turkish minorities had been a constant irritant. Now the ulcer had been clean cut out, and Greco-Turkish relations, we understand are friendlier than they have ever been before.”(6)

Admittedly the analogy between the Greco-Turkish situation and the Palestine situation broke down at one essential point. In Northern Greece a surplus of cultivated land was available, or could be made available for the Greeks who were transferred from Turkey. However, in Palestine, no such surplus existed at that time. There would be no problem finding land for Jews transferred from the Arab State. The problem would arise for the far greater number of Arabs transferred from the Jewish State. The Report stated that “while some of them could be resettled on the land vacated by the Jews, far more land would be required for the resettlement of all of them.” It was to be hoped that the execution of large-scale plans for irrigation, water-shortage and development in Transjordan, Beersheba and the Jordan Valley would solve this problem.(7) It was suggested that an immediate survey and authoritative estimate be made of the practical possibilities of irrigation and development in these areas. “If, as a result, it is clear that a substantial amount of land could be made available for the re-settlement of Arabs living in the Jewish area, the most strenuous efforts should be made to obtain an agreement for the exchange of land and population.” Thus the availability of additional land would bring the situation in Palestine closer to the Greco-Turkish situation of 1923. Furthermore, the numbers to be transferred would be far smaller. Since transfer would reduce the antagonism existing between Jew and Arab and remove the potential for future Arab-Jewish friction, the members of the Commission hoped “that the Arab and the Jewish leaders might show the same high statesmanship as that of the Turks and the Greeks and make the same bold decision for the sake of peace.” In conclusion, “If an agreement on the question were secured, provisions should be inserted in or added to the Treaties for the transfer under the supervision and control of the Mandatory Government, of land and population to the extent to which new land is, or may within a reasonable period become, available for re-settlement.”(8)

As stated earlier, the Peel proposals allotted the Galilee, whose population was almost entirely Arab, and the Plains where the population was mixed, to the Jewish State. Paragraph 43 of chapter xxii made a distinction between these two areas with respect to the proposal for the exchange of land and population. In the case of North Galilee the Report stated that “it might not be necessary to effect a greater exchange of land and population than could be effected on a voluntary basis.” The use of compulsion was not, however, excluded for the remaining areas. “But as regards the Plains, including Beisan, and as regards all such Jewish colonies as remained in the Arab State when the Treaties come into force, it should be part of the agreement that in the last resort the exchange would be compulsory.”(9)

Who was to pay for the irrigation and development of the areas to which the Arabs would be moved from the Jewish State? The members of the Commission considered that the cost was heavier than the Arab States could be expected to bear, and suggested that the British people would be willing to help in order to bring about a settlement. The Commission recommended that “if an arrangement could be made for the transfer, voluntary or otherwise, of land and population, Parliament should be asked to make a grant to meet the cost of the aforesaid scheme.”(10) It can be seen that once again, the Peel Report spoke of the possibility of a compulsory transfer, or as they said “the transfer, voluntary or otherwise.”

The mechanics of such a transfer would be protracted. First, the area would have to be surveyed and if found to be favourable, would be irrigated and developed. Only then could the transfer be put into operation. The members of the Commission considered that in all probability the proposed Treaty System would come into operation before all these things were completed. Therefore it should be laid down in the Treaties “that the full control of this work, as also of any such operations for the exchange of land and population as may be agreed on, should continue to be exercised by the Mandatory Government until its completion.”(11)

The final word in the Report on this exchange of land and population was that the irrigation and development should be carried out with the least possible delay and that a new Partition Department be established in Jerusalem to deal with this work and such exchange operations as might follow.(12)

Before publication of the Peel Report, several of the members of the Commission wrote memoranda, as a basis for internal discussion. One of these memoranda was written by Reginald Coupland who said that he had “drafted this Note after full discussion with Sir Laurie Hammond and I think it represents our joint suggestions on the main points.”(13)

In this paper he dealt at length with transfer of Arabs under the heading “The Exchange of Land and Population”. While stating that this was by “far the most difficult part of the whole scheme”, he admitted that there was “the encouraging precedent of the compulsory shifting” of nearly two million Greeks and Turks.(14)

After discussing details regarding demographic distribution, availability of land, surveying and funding, Coupland continued that “the ideal would be the evacuation of all Arabs and Jews from the Jew [sic] and Arab States respectively. This ideal was actually achieved in the Greco-Turkish exchange by a system of rigorous compulsion, the hardships of which have been compensated by the creation of peace and amity.” He pointed out that this work had been made easier by virtue of the fact that both the Greek and Turkish governments had agreed and co-operated and because land had been available “it could all be done in one continuous vigorous 'push'.” It was, said Coupland, rather different in Palestine where there was not a lot of land available and thus “it is for consideration whether it might not be wise to leave the exchange of land and people during the Transition period on a voluntary basis.” However, at the end of this five year transition period “the process would become compulsory .... Arab land-owners in the Jewish State and Jewish land-owners in the Arab State (if any are left there), would be compelled to sell their land at a fixed price provided that the Department had land available in the other State for the re-settlement of the owners, tenants or labourers. The evacuation and re-settlement of these latter would also be compulsory. This compulsory process might be repeated after an interval in which more land might have become available for resettlement.”(15)

Coupland then asked if at the end “a substantial number of Arabs are left on Jewish land for whom there is no land for re-settlement, what then?” His answer was that “it would be up to the Jews to bribe the residue of Arabs out.”(16)

He felt that the use of compulsion was necessary because “only so will the maximum of exchange be achieved.”(17)

Another problem raised by Coupland to which he did not provide a solution was the fate of the urban Arabs, who were mostly labourers. “Shall we ignore them? Or shall we recommend that Government, under the Re-settlement Scheme, persuades (or compels) them to settle on the new land made available?”(18)

Coupland concluded by asking what would happen if the Arabs refused to agree to the partition of Palestine? He believed that in such a case “the Jews should nevertheless be empowered to purchase Arab land in the Jewish State at a fixed price”. With regards to compulsory transfer he was less certain. “It seems doubtful if they should also have the power to evacuate, although without that power they might be confronted with a problem of 'landless Arabs' in the Jewish State.” He hoped a solution to this problem would appear “when the time comes”.(19)

One might mention that nearly a year later, after the British Government had completely changed its views and came out strongly against compulsory transfer, Coupland wrote a confidential letter to Weizmann and asked him to consider: “Failing a full-scale transfer (such as we recommended) can a plan be made for as much organised transfer as may be possible from the J. [Jewish] to the A. [Arab] area?”(20). We can thus see that even though the British Government was now opposing compulsory transfer, Coupland was still tying to salvage what he could from the Peel Commission’s transfer proposal.

Another memorandum was written by Laurie Hammond on 23 May 1937 and was entitled “Note on 'Clean Cut'“. In it, Hammond briefly entered into the question of transfer. He wrote as regarding Arabs left in the Jewish State or Jews left in the Arab State “we are, I gather, unanimous in agreeing” on a number of principles. One of these principles was that any such Arab or Jew “can claim to be bought out and given compensation ...”. With regards to compulsory transfer he wrote “that there will be no compulsory transfer of population, except by voluntary agreement between the two States.” In other words, the Jewish and Arab States could come to an agreement to compulsorily transfer population from their respective states and thus the individual transferees would have to move accordingly, whether they liked it or not! Hammond added the provision that “such transfer can only be effected when it has been proved that land suitable for the transferred population is actually available.”(21)

Schechtman, in 1949, presenting his study of “The Case for Arab-Jewish Exchange of Population” held that there were three fundamental weaknesses in the Peel Commission's transfer proposal “which finally doomed the scheme in its entirety.”

The first was that the Commission was in fact proposing a “one-way transfer of Arabs” since one could not balance 1,250 prospective Jewish transferees for the Arab State against 225,000 Arabs to be transferred from the Jewish state. “The ratio of almost 1:200 was conducive to the idea that there was not only inequality in numbers, but inequality in the very approach to, and treatment of the two ethnic groups involved.” Actually, Schechtman is not mathematically accurate here. The Peel Report did not envisage the transfer of all the Arabs from the Jewish State. Paragraph 43 of Chapter xxii of the Report specifically stated that the transfer of the Arabs of North Galilee, as distinct from the remainder of the country, would be on a voluntary basis. In all probability, many North Galilean Arabs would choose not to transfer. The ratio would therefore be much lower than 1:200. However, it would still be high, hence the psychological argument brought by Schechtman is still valid.

The second weakness in the Peel Commission's proposal was that it “provided for the transfer of Arabs from the prospective Jewish State to the prospective Arab State only, without envisaging their resettlement in other, already existing, large Arab States with insufficient population.”(22) In the Parliamentary debates following the Peel Commission's Report, several members had suggested that the Arab emigrants from the Jewish State be in part resettled in various existing Arab countries, rather than entirely within the borders of the original Mandatory Palestine.

Ten years later in 1947, following the decision of the United Nations to create separate Jewish and Arab States in Palestine, Anthony Eden, who had been Foreign Secretary at the time of the Peel Report, reminded the House in a two-day debate on Palestine, that the Peel Commission had recommended a population transfer, but the difficulty had been that “they were dealing only with Palestine.” Eden then said, “I should have thought that the question which now arises is whether, with the co-operation of the adjoining Arab states, room might not be found to absorb some part of the Arab minority which will be left in the Jewish State. I should have thought that this was a question worth pursuing.”(23)

The third weakness Schechtman noted was that “the lack of clarity about the voluntary or compulsory character of the transfer, jeopardised the workability of the entire partition solution.”(24) It is difficult to understand Schechtman here. As far as the Report is concerned, paragraph 43 of chapter xxii clearly designated which areas were to have, if necessary, a compulsory transfer of population, and in which areas transfer was to be voluntary.

Jewish Agency Discusses Transfer

In the autumn of 1936, whilst the Peel Commission was collecting evidence, the executive of the Jewish Agency held two meetings in which the subject of transfer of Arabs was discussed.

The first of these meetings took place on 21 October.(25) At it, the Chairman David Ben-Gurion said: “Mr. Ussishkin spoke on population transfer, but the example which he mentioned was a population exchange between two countries Turkey and Greece who came to a mutual agreement on this. To our sorrow we are not yet a state and England will not do this for us and will not remove the Arabs from Palestine.” Later in his speech, Ben-Gurion argued that if the Jews were to tell the Peel Commission that the Arabs should be transferred to Iraq or Iran, this would only strengthen the hands of the anti-Zionists. The members of the Commission would return to England believing that the Jews wanted to expel the Arabs from Palestine, and thus, this approval by Ussishkin would be a catastrophe for the Jews.

To this Ussishkin retorted, “Is it our politics to expel the Arabs from Palestine?”

Ben-Gurion then answered Ussishkin, “But that is what you said”, adding, that if he would repeat it before an Englishman he would only cause damage.

From this exchange, it seems that Ben-Gurion was not opposed to transfer, but felt it was bad tactics and thus harmful to bring it up before the Peel Commission. We can in fact see Ben-Gurion's approval of transfer from a further meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive held just a few weeks later on 1 November. Needless to say these meetings were closed and the minutes clearly marked “Confidential”!

At this November meeting,(26) Ben-Gurion asked, “Why can't we purchase land there [Transjordan] for Arabs who want to settle in Transjordan? If it is permitted to transfer an Arab from the Galilee to Judea, why is it forbidden to transfer an Arab from the Hebron area to Transjordan, which is far closer?” Ben-Gurion said that he could see no difference between the west bank and the east bank of the Jordan.

Rabbi Yehudah Leib Fishman (later Maimon) was worried that by transferring Arabs only to Transjordan, the Jews would be giving up their rights to this area. Ben-Gurion categorically discounted this saying that by transferring Arabs to Transjordan the Jews would be solving an overcrowding problem west of the Jordan. Rabbi Fishman then asked Ben-Gurion, “Why not transfer them also to Iraq?”

Ben-Gurion replied that Iraq was not within the area of the Palestine Mandate. However if King Ghazi of Iraq would agree, Ben-Gurion said that he would not object, adding however that the Iraqi authorities at that period were not prepared to agree to such a transfer. He then argued, “If for some reason we are not able to settle there [Transjordan] we will resettle there the Arabs whom we will transfer from Palestine. Even the High Commissioner [Sir Arthur Wauchope] has agreed to this on condition we provide the transferees with land and money ... and we agreed to this.”

After Ben-Gurion had summarised his remarks, Maurice Hexter and David Senator, two non-Zionist members of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, objected to the proposal to transfer Arabs to Transjordan. [However, just a year later, after the Peel Commission had proposed transfer, Senator was to tell the same Jewish Agency Executive, “We should strive for maximum transfer”, and Hexter was to attend meetings of the Population Transfer Committee of the Jewish Agency (- not for the purpose of opposing transfer!).]

During the following months, proposals for Arab transfer were submitted to the Peel Commission by Jewish organisations. Masalha goes as far as to suggest that transfer “was at the very center of Zionist lobbying efforts.”(27) However as we have already seen, the assessments by Masalha in this matter must be treated with great caution.

One such proposal was submitted to the Peel Commission by the Jewish Agency Executive in February 1937. This memorandum contained a plan which dealt with the question of land and settlement in various areas of Palestine. The first stage would be to present the British Government with a plan for “crowding together existing Arab settlement, concentrating it in one location or several specific locations and evacuating an area for Jewish settlement.” In the first instance, the Jews would try and get the agreement of the Arabs to give them part of their land in exchange for certain advantages, but should the Arabs fail to agree, then the plan required the British Government to “force the [Arab] people to exchange land or to move from one place to another.”(28)

In the following month, Namier met with Weizmann and informed him in the greatest of secrecy of a meeting he had had with Reginald Coupland who was a member of the Peel Commission. At this meeting, Coupland had asked whether the Jews would be prepared to financially help the proposed Arab state. Namier had answered that such help would not be in cash but the “Jews were prepared to develop certain areas in the Arab state, in order to use them also for the purpose of a population exchange” - (the intention being development for the purpose of transferring Arabs from the proposed Jewish state to the proposed Arab state).(29)

On 12 June 1937, Shertok dined at the house of George Wadsworth, the U.S. Consul-General, during which they conversed at length. In the course of this conversation, the question of Transjordan came up. According to Shertok's diary, Wadsworth had said that “he knew Government had been rather strongly impressed by the suggestion contained in our final memorandum to the Royal [Peel] Commission about transplanting Arabs from Western Palestine to Transjordan in order to make room for new Jewish settlers. This was considered to be an eminently constructive proposal.”(30)

It is not clear which memorandum Wadsworth is referring to. Masalha suggests that it was one drafted jointly by Ben-Gurion and Rutenberg in May 1937.(31) No such memorandum has been traced. However, a letter (not a memorandum) which indeed proposed transfer of Arabs to Transjordan, was written jointly by Ben-Gurion and Rutenberg on 7 June.(32) Perhaps the intention is to this letter.

On 17 July 1937, which was soon after the publication of the Peel Report, Felix Warburg, Chairman of the Administrative Committee of the Jewish Agency, wrote to Maurice Hexter, a non-Zionist member of the Executive of this body. Warburg felt that as soon as the British Parliament and the Mandates Commission had given their approval to the proposals of the Peel Commission, Weizmann would make the Non-Zionists (presumably those in the extended Jewish Agency) “do his bidding.” All that “the Non-Zionists will be entrusted with will be to raise huge amounts to buy land in Trans-Jordania for the speedy transfer of Arabs to Trans-Jordania.” Warburg considered this to be “very dangerous” and “very unsatisfactory” and they should thus act to delay implementation of the Peel Report’s proposals. He added that otherwise it could only cause “exit of Non-Zionists and misery for Palestine”.(33)

The “financing of the purchase of land” for such transfer, although not who would raise the money for it, appeared in a draft document written a few days earlier. The document was entitled: “Re: Partition. Outlines of an Inquiry into the Problems of Exchange of Land & Population”. The initials of the writer are illegible, but on the top right hand corner is written “Mr. [Moshe] Shertok”, showing that he received a copy of this document.

Other subjects dealt with in this document were: “the problem of transfer of population”; how the experiences of population transfer in other countries could be applicable to Palestine; “voluntary or compulsory exchange of population”; geographical and other information required to implement a transfer in Palestine; the procedure of transfer of population.(34)

We can thus see from this document that no time was lost in getting to work in order to advance the Peel Report’s proposal; to transfer Arabs from Palestine!

Reactions of American Jewish Press

In May 1937, the newspaper “The New Palestine”, which was the official organ of the American Zionist movement, put forward it own proposal for the transfer of Arabs. In an editorial entitled “Why Ignore Transjordan?”, the paper wrote that since “Transjordan is practically empty of settlers” it could support a large increase in population. This is especially so as the soil there is much superior to the soil in Western Palestine. “Transjordan could become the natural reserve for the accommodation of tens of thousands of Arabs.... Many thousands of Arabs in Palestine would automatically and naturally pass over the Jordan and find place for themselves in the Transjordan development.” The editorial writer felt that “a discussion of this idea might be fruitful of results.”(35) According to Medoff, this was the first time that “The New Palestine” “went on record as favoring efforts to encourage Arabs to leave Palestine.”(36)

A month later, the same paper again came out in favour of Arab transfer. “Perhaps a scheme can be worked out for transferring Arabs from the Jewish area to the Arab area.”(37)

British Government Reactions to the Peel Report

On 22 June 1937, the Peel Report was signed and circulated to the various ministerial departments. The Private Secretary immediately asked the Foreign Office's Eastern Department for its observations. The Report had made recommendations on provisional measures to be adopted during the continuation of the Mandate and final recommendations for a radical solution. On both these subjects, Sir George William Rendel, Director of the Eastern Department of the British Foreign Office, made his observations on the following day.

He was prepared under the prevailing circumstances to accept partition, but added that “this does not mean that the proposals of the Commission, particularly in regard to the method of partition, are not open to certain serious criticisms.”(38) He then put forward five criticisms of the Peel Commission's scheme of partition. These were - the exclusion of the new Arab state from any reasonable access to the sea; the allocation to the Jews of the best land; the problems arising from corridors; the continued British control over a number of cities in northern Palestine; and the incorporation of the new Arab state into Transjordan.(39) It is apparent that Rendel made no objection whatsoever to the proposal for the transfer of population, which was an integral part of the Peel Commission's method of partition.

Similarly a Foreign Office memorandum of 19 June, 1937 which had made preliminary comments and criticisms on the Peel Report,(40) had made no mention of the transfer proposal.

Rendel's memorandum was passed around the department for the observations of its civil servants, which were very positive. “I have no criticism to offer on Mr. Rendel's comments with which I agree cordially.”(41) “Mr. Rendel has done an admirable piece of work and I am glad that my first reactions should have been similar to his ...”(42) None of these comments made any objection to population transfer.

Two days later, William Ormsby-Gore, the British Colonial Secretary, produced a memorandum for the British Cabinet. He wrote, “It would be difficult in any circumstances for His Majesty's Government to advise the rejection of the main argument and essential recommendations of a unanimous Royal Commission.” Their “penetrating analysis of the situation” led him “to accept without hesitation” their “main conclusion that the best hope of a permanent solution... lies in the drastic and difficult operation of partition.” Ormsby-Gore continued, “The particular scheme of partition which is submitted in the Report... appears to me to be equitable and well conceived in its main outlines.” He added that “modifications of detail” might be found necessary and “numerous practical difficulties” might arise, but he saw no reason why “given a reasonable measure of consent, these difficulties should not be surmounted.”(43) Ormsby-Gore concluded by putting forward a draft statement of policy to be published simultaneously with the Peel Report.(44)

Following a request, on 28 June, Rendel presented his comments on Ormsby-Gore's memorandum. He wrote that whilst “the principle of partition is right and must be adopted” he doubted whether the Foreign office could commit themselves to Ormsby-Gore's statement that the proposed scheme of partition could be regarded as “equitable and well conceived.” He added, “Indeed, the objections to the 'particular scheme of partition' put forward by the Commission seem very formidable.” He then referred to his earlier memorandum in which his objections were listed.(45) Later in his memorandum, Rendel suggested amendments to Ormsby-Gore's draft “Statement of Policy”.(46)

Simultaneously, with the publication of the Peel Report on 7 July, the British Government brought out a “Statement of Policy”, which closely resembled the draft written by Ormsby-Gore together with some, but by no means all, of the amendments suggested by Rendel. This statement began by noting that the Government had considered the unanimous Report of the Peel Commission and “find themselves in general agreement with the arguments and conclusions of the Commission.”(47) They felt that Arab and Jewish aspirations could not be satisfied under the terms of the present Mandate and that “a scheme of partition on the general lines recommended by the Commission represents the best and most hopeful solution of the deadlock.”(48) Towards the end of this document they stated that “in supporting a solution of the Palestine problem by means of partition, His Majesty's Government are much impressed by the advantages which it offers both to the Arabs and the Jews.”(49)

Insofar as this study is concerned, the relevant point emerging from all the above is that neither this “Statement of Policy” of the British Government nor the above quoted documents from the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, make any objections whatsoever to the Peel Report recommendation regarding population transfer, compulsory if necessary. This fact is particularly important in view of the document published by the British Government less than six months later (and described later in this work).

It is possible that the British Government had also expressed a positive attitude towards transfer of the Arabs from Palestine twenty years earlier, at the period of the Balfour Declaration. Earlier in this work, we referred to the tribute to Weizmann broadcast by the B.B.C. Third Programme at the end of 1963 in which Lord Boothby, a non-Jewish friend of Israel and President of the Anglo-Israel Association, stated that the Balfour Declaration “was a `watered down' version of a much tougher original draft which would have made Palestine a Jewish State outright and moved the Arab population elsewhere `more or less'.”(50) In consequence of this statement, a lively debate took place in the British Jewish press. During the course of this debate, two themes were discernible - Weizmann's own personal attitude to transfer and the British Government's attitude at the time, to this question. The first we have already dealt with under the heading of the “Attitude of Weizmann towards transfer.” With regard to the British Government's attitude, a “Jewish Chronicle” Editorial described Boothby's “original Balfour Declaration” as a myth. It pointed out that all successive versions of this Declaration were on record and nowhere was the removal of Arabs contemplated.(51)

Boothby's reply to these criticisms was that he had based himself on the memoirs of Sir Alec Kirkbride, who for decades had served the British Government in Palestine (including Transjordan). Kirkbride had written concerning this transfer of Arabs. “At the time of the issue of this (Palestine) mandate, His Majesty's Government were too busy setting up a civil administration in Palestine proper, west of the river Jordan, to be bothered about the remote and undeveloped areas which lay to the east of the river and which were intended to serve as a reserve of land for use in the resettlement of Arabs once the National Home for the Jews in Palestine, which they were pledged to support, became an accomplished fact.”(52) Boothby added that Kirkbride had been asked by a friend if he was absolutely certain of these facts, since this friend had never seen them documented either in British, Jewish or Arab archives. Kirkbride replied that he was “absolutely certain” adding that he thought that it had not been documented because “before such a plan was in even the rudimentary stage, the Churchill-Abdullah settlement of 1921, which resulted in the formation of the Emirate of Transjordan, put an end to it.”(53) The identity of this “friend” is not stated, but it is possibly Christopher Sykes, who in his book “Cross Roads to Israel” wrote in a footnote that he had received a “communication” in this matter from Kirkbride.(54)

In addition to the evidence of Sir Alec Kirkbride, Boothby had based himself on numerous conversations he had had with Weizmann, who had been a close personal fiend of his. He had also received a letter from Vera Weizmann, the widow of Chaim Weizmann confirming the accuracy of his statement in the radio programme.(55)

In letters to both the “Jewish Chronicle”(56) and the “Jewish Observer and Middle East Review”, Boothby pointed out that by a slip of the tongue, which is easy enough in an impromptu and unscripted broadcast, he gave the impression that such a transfer was written into the first draft of the Balfour Declaration. What in fact he meant to convey was that until the settlement imposed on the Middle East by Churchill in 1921, “Some transfer of population was regarded as implicit in, and consequential upon the Balfour Declaration.”(57)

Possible support for Kirkdale's and Boothby's contention can be found in a telegram sent by Brigadier-General Gilbert Clayton to the British Foreign Office on 18 November 1918. Clayton wrote that “the districts East of the Jordan are thinly populated and their development would allow of considerable emigration from Palestine thereby making room for Jewish expansion.”(58) This indicates that this was the line of thought amongst those British involved with Palestine at the end of the First World War. [At this period, Clayton was Chief Political Officer of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and also Military Governor of O.E.T.A.-South. A few years later, he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine.]

In January 1964, Jon Kimche, the Editor of the “Jewish Observer and Middle East Review” visited the Weizmann Archives. There, the Director, Boris Guriel told him that “serious substantiation can be found for Lord Boothby's contention as to the original meaning of the Balfour Declaration prior to its final version ... The Arabs were never mentioned in the original draft and, by way of omission, the possibility of a transfer became plausible.”(59) In a letter to the same newspaper, Guriel pointed out that “regardless of whether or not the actual draft contained the `transfer' point in letter, it is the spirit and the logical consequence which count.”(60) Kimche observed that after he had “heard the views of Boris Guriel, the able and knowledgeable Director of the Weizmann archives in Rehovot, it looked to me as if Lord Boothby was right after all in his controversy over the Balfour Declaration.”(61)

In the course of this correspondence, opposing opinions were expressed by Sir Leon Simon, who had been one of the members of the advisory Political Committee which Weizmann and Sokolow had set up early in 1917. This Committee heard reports of discussions with British Government representatives and discussed the various drafts of the “Balfour Declaration”, both those proposed by its own members and those submitted by the Government. Simon stated that he could not recollect a word being spoken about transfer of populations, and that “my certainty on that point is shared by Mr. Harry Sacher,” another member of this Committee.(62) In support of his case, Simon(63) quoted from instructions issued by Lord Curzon, British Foreign Secretary, and strong anti-Zionist, to the heads of the Palestine Administration. “The Arabs will not be despoiled of their land nor required to leave the country.”(64)

Simon did not, however, state the reason for the formulation of these instructions. Herbert Samuel, who at that time was Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Economic Development of Palestine, had been asked how the hostility to Zionism in Palestine could best be allayed by the administrative authorities on the spot. In his answer, Samuel pointed out that this hostility resulted from the fact that the British administrators in Palestine were acting towards the Arabs in a way which was not in accord with the Balfour Declaration. He concluded that as a result “there would naturally arise among the Arabs a feeling of doubt whether the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine is really a decided issue, and a tendency to believe that if an agitation were set on foot and a threatening attitude adopted on their part, the British Government might well be ready to abandon the intentions it had at first announced.” To prevent this contingency, Samuel proposed that certain instructions be sent by the British Government to the administration in Palestine.(65) These were accepted by Curzon, who then incorporated in a despatch the identical instructions as formulated by Samuel.

In conclusion, we might state that during the course of the correspondence in 1964, Boothby observed that this resettlement of the Arab population “could, and should, have been carried out between thirty and forty years ago by the British Government, on lavish lines, when they had both the power and the money to do it.”(66)

Bonne's Memorandum

A few days after the publication of the Peel Report, Dr. Alfred Abraham Bonne, an economist who had been Director of the Economic Archives for the Near East in Jerusalem produced a memorandum, entitled “Outline for an Enquiry into the Problems of Exchange of Land and Population.”

He began by explaining that some past population exchanges “had had good results, both by removing the latent possibilities of racial and religious strife and by creating new possibilities for increased immigration.” On the other hand “most of the efforts to settle racial controversies in territories of mixed population by agreement were not successful.” Hence, according to Bonne, the Peel Commission came to the conclusion regarding Palestine that “the racial antagonism between Jews and Arabs could only be settled by very radical means. i.e. by the exchange of population.”(67)

The Peel Commission Report had quoted as a precedent the Greco-Turkish population exchange. Bonne summed up the principles involved in this exchange and then pointed out the differences and analogues between the Greco-Turkish exchange and the proposed Jewish-Arab population exchange. He concluded that this exchange would “remove definitely the antagonism between Jews and Arabs in the new state”, but in view of the technical difficulties involved, it would have to be carried out energetically with the active support and guidance of the Government together with outside financial help.(68)

Bonne then discussed the voluntary or compulsory nature of this population exchange. He noted that the “fact that the Commissioners themselves have considered a compulsory exchange of population entitles the Jewish Agency to examine such a possiblity without the fear of being charged with the reproach to have taken the initiative for the evacuation of the Arabs.” However, he felt that the easiest solution would be for the Arabs themselves to agree to a voluntary exchange of population since a compulsory exchange would “lead to grave attacks on Zionism and would endanger the position of Jews in the Diaspora.” Bonne wrote that it would be difficult to imagine the Zionist Movement, whose aim was to create a home for a landless people, being instrumental in the expulsion of an Arab people against its will. Were the Zionists to contemplate such an evacuation, the consequences would be very grave.(69)

However, Bonne recognised the fate of the proposed Jewish State entirely dependent on this exchange of population and that it was therefore necessary “to find a formula which is acceptable to the Arabs by not having the character of a compulsory expulsion, and which will nevertheless lead to the evacuation of the country by the Arabs.” Since he was certain that the Arabs would not agree to a voluntary transfer, he considered that the problem of their evacuation should become part of a greater scheme such as, “The Reform of the Agricultural Situation in the Two New States”. Bonne proposed that the best way to implement this would be by a “Mixed Commission”, whose composition included neutral experts and which would be attached to the League of Nations. Such a Commission might “without to much stressing the point of 'Compulsory Evacuation', positively formulate its programme, say, 'Achievement of a Great Agricultural Reform in Both States by the Resettlement of the Arab Population in the New Arab State, Development of New Water Sources, Draining of Swamps, Rounding Off and Partition of Musha'a Lands, etc.'“ He added that if after thoroughly investigating the feasibility of the scheme it was found to be workable, “it could claim to eliminate the disadvantages of compulsory evacuation without foregoing its advantages.”(70)

Bonne's memorandum then discussed the statistical and technical details of such a transfer, including the size of the Arab population to be evacuated, its vocational distribution, the area of the Arab owned land in the proposed Jewish State which would have to be purchased, and the finance involved in such a transfer.(71)

Because of his expertise in this subject, Bonne was assigned various duties regarding the proposal for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. These are to found in a document headed “Distribution of Duties”. This document, which is undated, seems to have been written between the time of the publication of the Peel Report (early July 1937) and the start of the 20th Zionist Congress (early August 1937).

Amongst those listed “for the [20th Zionist] Congress” are Dr. Bonne, whose duty was concerned with the “Transfer of Arab Residents from the Jewish Area to the Arab Area”. His name was also listed “for Negotiations with the British Government and the League of Nations” on the question of “Transfer of Land and Population”.(72)

Reference was made to Bonne's memorandum in a memorandum brought out at the same period by Dr. H. Oppenheimer. In it he commented, “It has often been said that the evacuation scheme proposed by the Royal Commission is incompatible with their demand for the protection of minorities.” To resolve this conflict, Oppenheimer considered that one would have to distinguish between two periods: the transition period, namely the period whilst the Arabs were being transferred, and the period which followed after. During this transition period “the methods of protecting the minorities have to be adapted to the requirements of the evacuation scheme.” Only after completion of the transfer, would the Arabs remaining in Palestine “enjoy full protection of their rights.”(73)

Mapai Central Committee

At a meeting held between Ben-Gurion, Weizmann and the British Colonial Secretary, Ormsby-Gore on 28 June 1937, Weizmann requested that he and his friends be given a copy of the Peel Report before the official publication date. Ormsby-Gore agreed that this matter would be raised at a meeting to be held in two days time.(74)

On 1 July, Blanche Dugdale wrote in her diary, “Went to Zionist office and found Chaim (Weizmann) raging, after a telephone talk with Boyd (Ormsby-Gore's secretary) in which he learned he was not to get the Report till Monday (5 July) - i.e. three days before publication. I have never seen him so angry.”(75) We also know from her diary that by Friday, 2 July, Shertok knew the contents of the Peel Report.(76) However Baffy did not state from where Shertok got his “pre-publication” information on the contents of the Peel Report, but it could well have been from Weizmann. A few days earlier (29 June), Weizmann, who by then had elicited from various sources information on many of the points made in the Peel Report, wrote a confidential letter to Stephen Wise. In this letter he listed these points and in connection with the transfer proposal, Weizmann wrote: “Something in the way of an exchange of populations - or perhaps more correctly of territories.”(77)

On 5 July - two days before the publication of the Report - the Mapai Central Committee met. [“Mapai” - an acronym for Mifleget Poale Eretz Israel - the Palestine Workers' Party, was founded in 1930 by the amalgamation of several labour groups, as a Zionist-Socialist party faithful to the ideal of national redemption and socialism in the homeland. It immediately became the dominant party of the Jewish Community in Palestine.]

At the Mapai meeting on 5 July, Shertok gave a summary of the Peel Report, including the section on the population exchange proposal. He reported that the Commission had presented the exchange proposal very forcefully. “They say: At first glance, this appears to be a very bold thing, but the question before us is such that it requires a bold solution.”

However, as Shertok pointed out, although the Commission put forward its proposal as an “Exchange of Population”, the unequal numbers of Arabs and Jews involved by this “exchange” meant that the stress would inevitably be on a “compulsory transfer” of Arabs. He added, however, that the Peel Commission did not state this specifically but “hoped” that the Arab and Jewish leaders would themselves come to an understanding on this matter.(78)

Shertok's summary was followed by a discussion. However, only two speakers - Chaim Shorer and Yitzchak Ben-Zvi - referred to the recommendation on population transfer. Shorer felt “there was no real value to be placed on the chances of transferring the Arabs to Transjordan, because they would not wish to leave a Jewish Palestine of their own freewill, and we are not going to transfer them by force.”(79)

Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, a founder of Mapai and later the second President of the State of Israel, commented in passing on this proposal, “Obviously there are great difficulties attached to the partition plan, for example the difficulty in transferring 100,000 Arabs from the Galilean mountains.”(80)

The Mapai Central Committee was divided over the Peel Commission proposals, but decided to accept the principle of partition.

Further comments on transfer of Arabs were made by several speakers at a Mapai Council meeting held between 9 - 11 July 1937, which was a few days after the official publication of the Peel Report.

Amongst the speakers at this meeting was Yitzchak Tabenkin, who whilst stating that the Mapai Party should not press for a decision supporting the transfer of “tens of thousands of Arabs”, added that “if the Arabs were to agree and we would be able to transfer them, I would not rebel against this”. However, he said that he was against the establishment of a Jewish State if it involved the compulsory transfer of Arabs.(81) Hence we see that Tabenkin was prepared to accept voluntary transfer of Arabs whilst strongly opposing compulsory transfer.

Berl Katznelson spoke at some length on the question of Arab transfer. He said that this proposal in the Peel Report would do a great service to the Zionist cause were it to be implemented but were it not to be implemented it could be dangerous. He pointed out that there was a saying that there are things that one should always think about, but should never speak about. This saying was appropriate to the question of Arab transfer. He reminded the meeting that he had said at the time of the Arab pogroms that one needed to find all sorts of political solutions regarding the Arab question and “I told myself: The historical solution will be population exchange.” Katznelson knew that there were Arab countries neighbouring Palestine who needed money and an increase in population, but to speak about it would be harmful and could lead to the Arabs rebelling. He observed that the British were talking of Arab transfer, and he asked whether they had a plan for implementation; whether in fact there could there be such a plan and whether it could be implemented. If not why were the British talking about it?!(82)

Israel Idelson, a leading member of the Kibbutz HaMe'uchad movement, spoke about the demographic problem in Palestine and pointed out that no-one at that meeting could possibly believe that it would be possible within the near future to implement what the Peel Commission had proposed regarding Arab transfer. The Arabs would not transfer voluntarily - it was not in their interests to move to Transjordan or Beersheba. Regarding compulsory transfer, Idelson queried whether it was implementable or desirable? Moshe Shertok then interjected: “The compulsion comes after the agreement.” Idelson agreed with Shertok and drew the parallel with the Greco-Turkish transfer, adding however, that the reason for Greece's agreement to compulsory transfer was that she knew that if her nationals did not transfer from Turkey, they would remain under an oppressive regime. It was the reality of the situation which forced Greece to agree to the transfer.(83)

Another speaker who brought up the question of transfer was Yitzchak Wilkansky (Elazari-Volcani), an agronomist who was one of the founders of the Institute for Agricultural Studies in Rehovot. He reminded the meeting that in the past when the Zionists had bought tracts of land, it was called “expulsion” and “now the mouth that forbade is the one which permits and speaks of population transfer. I think that we need to hold on to this paragraph even more than [demanding] extending the borders [of the proposed Jewish State]. This paragraph is the most important one for us and we should not be over-pious and righteous at a time when the Righteous Gentiles of the World, are in fact giving us permission”. Wilkansky felt that implementing such transfer would not be easy “but this paragraph is very important and is worth more than two million dunams [of land].”(84)

These were not the first occasions that the various forums of the Mapai party had debated the question of possible partition and Arab transfer from Palestine. About sixteen months earlier, at a meeting of the Political Committee of Mapai, Ben-Gurion asked the meeting that in the event that Britain would be prepared to help the Zionists to the maximum, what should the Zionists demand from Britain. Moshe Beilinson, who was one of the chief spokesman of the Zionist Labour Movement, suggested that Britain should be approached for “extensive aid for a large development plan, which would enable the evacuation of large Arab tracts of land for our colonisation, through an agreement with the fellahin.” To this suggestion, Dov Hoz, who was one of the leaders of Mapai and the Deputy-Mayor of Tel-Aviv, immediately interjected that this suggestion needs to be linked with Transjordan(85) – namely, that the Arabs be transferred to Transjordan.

A meeting of the Mapai Central Committee was held nearly a year later at the beginning of February 1937. The Peel Commission had just finished taking evidence in Palestine and Ben-Gurion attempted on the basis of its questions and comments, to forcast its recommendations. After putting forward a number of possibilities, he suggested that the Jews should be prepared for a radical solution of the problem, such as the establishment of two states, Jewish and Arab, in Palestine. The Commission was already thinking on these lines and it had also previously been suggested by Sir Stafford Cripps, a prominent member of the British Labour Party. After discussing the minimum practical area for the Jewish State, Ben-Gurion pointed out that there would be three hundred thousand Arabs within its borders which could result in a serious rebellion by the Arabs.

In the discussion which followed, Shertok said that such a partition plan was “filled with difficulties and explosive”. He referred to the three hundred thousand Arabs who would find themselves under a Jewish Government. “It won't be easy to make a population exchange”, said Shertok, “It won't be an easy thing to remove the Arabs of Bet Dagon and Zarnuga from their houses and orchards, and resettle them in the Huleh. And if (the Commission) really want to remove the Arab population by force, it will undoubtedly lead to bloodshed on such a scale that the present (Arab) rebellion in Palestine will in comparison fade into insignificance.” He felt that population transfer could not be implemented, “at least during the transition period” without British might and he was doubtful whether the British would have the courage to defend militarily the building of a Jewish National Home.(86)

Shertok's opinion regarding the impracticability of the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine came up again in a conversation in London during the following month with a few colleagues, including Weizmann, Namier and Blanche Dugdale, who were voicing their opinions regarding the possible partition of Palestine. Shertok considered the partition plan as compared with other possibilities to be acceptable, but he felt that a major difficulty would be the question of defence. He added that population transfer was out of the question, since the Arabs in the Jewish State would not be prepared to exchange their orchards for land in Transjordan.(87)

Just over a month later at a meeting of the Zionist General Council held in Jerusalem on 22 April, the question of the Arabs in the proposed Jewish State came up. Shertok repeated his objections to the transfer of population which he felt was a “false attraction and a harmful idea.” Again he queried the likelihood of any Arab being prepared to exchange land and asked what the proposed exchange would involve, adding that such a plan could lead to bloodshed. He also discounted the parallel with the Greco-Turkish population exchange, where he maintained the conditions were completely different, although he declined to itimise the differences. However, Shertok did qualify his statement with regard to the “distant” future. He said that he was prepared to see as a future possibility “the exchange of population on a more decisive scale and over a much greater area.”(88)

Shertok's view that transfer might be possible in the future came up again at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in London at the beginning of 1943. Namier said that “transfer was the most essential thing” although he realised its difficulties especially concerning moving the peasants. To this Shertok replied that transfer could only come about by agreement. He did not envisage that such an agreement would be achieved prior to the creation of a Jewish State or of large-scale Jewish immigration though they “would work for such an agreement.” Shertok said that British experts believed that the Arabs would become reconciled to a Jewish State once it had been established and that it was “then that transfer might become a possibility” but he did not think the two things would come about simultaneously.

In answer to a query as to whether “the question of transfer should be a matter for discussion amongst themselves or in public”, Shertok replied that he “would not raise it in public, but of course, if someone were to raise it at a meeting”, he would reply to it. Namier felt that the “whole question of transfer would be discussed on a much larger scale” after the termination of the Second World War and said that he had been told that “the question of transfer was gaining ground among statesmen.” Whereupon Shertok answered , “If transfer on a large-scale were to come into question, then naturally (we) could bring in (our) own comparatively small problem.”(89)

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