How Fear of an Arab-Axis Alliance Led Britain to Reject the Two-State Solution

June 26, 2020 | Yaakov Lappin
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In 1937, the Peel Commission—appointed by London in response to the Arab riots that had begun in Palestine the year beforehand—introduced a plan for partitioning the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The plan granted a third of the territory to the Jews, and the rest to the Arabs. While Zionist leaders accepted the plan, Arab leaders responded with more violence. Britain later rejected the proposal with the notorious White Paper of 1939, which sharply restricted further Jewish immigration and the Jews’ ability to purchase land. Yaakov Lappin, drawing on his own archival research, argues that this effective betrayal of the Balfour Declaration resulted from fears of an Arab-Nazi alliance:

[T]he British government, caught between the demands of two competing national movements, became alarmed by the prospect of Nazi Germany recruiting the Arab Middle East to its side.

[For its part], Berlin received several requests of help from Arab leaders seeking aid in resisting the creation of a Jewish state. Germany decided that “the fracturing of world Jewry is preferable to the founding of a Palestinian [Jewish] state,” and that “the formation of a Jewish state . . . is not in Germany’s interest because a [Jewish] Palestinian state” would “create additional national power bases for international Jewry. . . . Therefore, there is a German interest in strengthening the Arabs as a counterweight against such possible power growth of the Jews.”

In what is one of the clearest indications that 1938 saw British policy dictated by calculations based on getting the Arab world to stay within the British camp and away from the Axis powers, the Foreign Office cited the possibility of “some 20,000 German-Jewish refugees . . . admitted into Palestine, among them 10,000 Jewish children whom Jewish residents in Palestine had undertaken to adopt,” as a humanitarian effort to help the worsening situation of German Jews.

Indeed, after consulting with its diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt—who concurred that the populations of these countries would not tolerate such a proposal—the British government nixed a plan to allow a mere 5,000 German Jewish children into the Land of Israel.

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