How Arab Rejectionism Encouraged the British to Arrive at an Early Version of the Two-State Solution

April 1, 2020 | Oren Kessler
About the author: Oren Kessler is a Tel Aviv-based journalist. He was previously deputy director for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and is currently writing a book about the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt.

In 1936, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British-appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem, launched a general strike in Mandatory Palestine to protest the prospect of further Jewish immigration. The strike quickly led to violence and riots. After the initial violence had been quelled, Britain sent Lord William Peel to the land of Israel in order to head a commission that would investigate the situation and propose a solution. Oren Kessler, in a detailed look at the commission’s proceedings, describes its interviews with Arab leaders:

In mid-January [1937] the commissioners met Husseini. His appearance before them was short but sharp. The Mandate was illegitimate, he said, speaking through an interpreter. . . . What is more, he insisted, Jewish nationalism imperiled Muslim holy sites. . . . Creating a Jewish home in “an Arab ocean” has no historical precedent, he warned, and would make the Holy Land a permanent backdrop for blood. “It is impossible to place two distinct peoples, who differ from each other in every sphere of their life, in one and the same country.”

He reiterated his core demands: terminating the mandate, abandoning [Britain’s commitment to create a Jewish] national home, ceasing [Jewish] immigration, and prohibiting land sales. Questioned as to the fate of the 400,000 Jews already in Palestine, Husseini ventured only, “We must leave all this to the future.” Pressed as to whether the country could assimilate them, his response was brief. “No.”

In the subsequent days more prominent Arabs delivered testimony similar to Amin’s, berating Britain for the Mandate’s intrinsic inequity. The head of the Istiqlal party, [a hardline group but more moderate than Husseini], said the Arabs could neither forsake “one meter” nor the country handle one more immigrant. He refused to sit at the same table as Zionists, or to touch Mandate stamps because alongside [the Arabic word] Filastin they bore the Hebrew letters alef and yod, [the Hebrew acronym for “the land of Israel”].

In arriving at its suggestion that Mandatory Palestine be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states, the Peel Commission reflected the influence of this rejectionist Arab attitude. This, notes Kessler, “was Britain’s first recorded proposal of partition, of a ‘Jewish state,’ and of a two-state solution to the Palestine problem.”

Read more on Fathom: