Britain was unable to establish an independent Palestine ruled jointly by Jews and Arabs due to varying factors that acted as obstacles. Among these were the conflicting interests of each groups concerned: the Arabs wanted independence, the Jews a national homeland and the British imperialist rule and the fact that initially Britain did not necessarily seek to establish a completely independent Palestine . Moreover other factors such as World War II shifted attention away from the attempt and garnered sympathy and support for a separate Jewish state rather than a joint one with the Arabs. Yet perhaps the main reason was unsolvable differences between Jews and Arabs.When Britain took over the mandate to govern Palestine in 1919, it did so in a compromised position by promising the Arabs independence and the Jews a homeland, this restricted its attempts to establish a jointly ruled Palestine. In the correspondence sustained by Shariff Hussein and Sir Henry McMahon, from mid 1915 to January 1916, the High Commissioner expressed that the Britain guaranteed support for Arab independence.
However in the letters the issue of boundaries and limits was handled rather ambiguously , with Britain maintaining certain areas deemed vital to the interests of the empire, namely the region of Palestine. This promise was further reiterated by General Allenby ‘s declaration in December 1917 when occupying Palestine stated “The object of war in the East on the part of Great Britain was the complete and final liberation of all peoples formerly oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of national governments”. Hence the Arabs expected the acknowledgement and help of Britain in creating an Arab independent state.Yet matters were complicated with the Balfour Declaration in December 1917. This document written by Arthur Balfour, foreign Secretary, to Lord Walter Rothchild , leader of the British Jewish Community, stated that the British Government was committed to supporting the Jews in acquiring a homeland in Palestine, where the population was in majority Arab, withNo clear distinction was made as to what a ‘homeland’ meant , Zionist interpreted as a national state, with Chaim Weizmann affirming it would be “as Jewish as England is English”,while for others this meant a Jewish protectorate or sanctuary located in Palestine. To further complicate matters , when the Sykes-Picot agreement surfaced at the end of WWI Arabs were outraged, since in essence it contradicted the Hussein-McMahon Letters as France and Britain agreed to carve up the recently liberated Arab lands.
Hence the British had compromised their position giving both the Arabs and Jews claim to the land, it had created Jewish and Arab expectations for a separate national state yet Britain could not meet these expectations without antagonizing one or the other .In addition to that it had its own interests to consider.At the time Britain’s imperialist concerns were not in favor of relinquishing control of the region, therefore the mandate was used to assert their control over the region and protect their interest, rather than lay the foundations for a independent Palestine . Of special importance was the Suez canal that constituted a vital access route to India, Thus Palestine would serve as a buffers zone between British and French territories, protecting Britain’s control over the canal. This would allow Britain to consolidate its empire through a London-Cairo-Indian axis.
Adding to Britain’s interest over the region was the recently discovered oil fields in the Persian gulf at a time when Britain’s navy was beginning to switch from steam power to oil powered fuel. Thus Arab independence or nationalism was a threat to British interests in the region, which meant no decisive steps were taken to creating an independent state.A great impediment to an Arab and Jew jointly ruled Palestine was that Arabs considered they had a genuine and complete claim to the land. The promises in the Hussein-McMahon letters had not been fulfiled , Arab resentment grew towards the British, whom they believed had betrayed them with the Sykes-Picot agreement, in their opinion they had simply passed from Ottoman control to British rule. However the British were of the view that they had indeed helped the Arabs to achieve independence by establishing Prince Faisal as the King of Iraq and his older brother, Abdullah, as the ruler of Transjordan.
Yet Palestinian Arabs were not content with this form of semi-independence and grew frustrated and disappointed, especially considering that an army of Arabs had fought against the Ottoman Empire for their freedom under prince Faisal. This and a growing sense of Palestinian nationalism meant that the Arab population was reluctant to share an independent state with Jews, when they felt the land as rightfully theirs, this meant they stubbornly refused to share it in any form.Perhaps the greatest obstacle for a joint Arab and Jew state was the hostility existent between both. Arabs were angered by an increase in Jewish immigration brought on by the 3rd aliyah between 1920 an 1924 in which over 35 000 Jews from Russia, Poland and Romania entered Palestine. These were generally well educated people with secular Zionist beliefs and socialist views , they were more intent on establishing a Jewish homeland .Land was bought from Arab landowners, many of whom were absent landlords, and farms were created with an emphasis on establishing settlements that would operate exclusively on Jewish labor.
This aggravated the Arabs since Arabs who had worked the land as tenants were evicted since only Jews were employed to work. Hostilities increased and resulted in several riots that broke out in 1921 and later in 1929 as Jewish landownership and immigration increased reaching 160 000 Jews in 1929 compared to 60 000 in 1919. Tensions kept building up until finally they came to a head way in April 1936 when the Arabs rebelled. The British government seemed unable to control the situation and decided to restrict Jewish immigration which naturally enraged the Jewish Community in face of the growing anti Semitism in Europe.
In 1937 the British set up a Commission of enquiry to look into the causes of the revolt lead by Lord Peel. The Peel Commission’s report deemed the mandate unviable and recommended the partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states as a solution. The Jews wanted more land than they were allocated under the report but were somewhat content, that they getting closer to achieving a homeland. However Palestinian Arabs flat out rejected the plan, they were not prepared to give up any portion of their land and violence once again erupted.
By 1939 the rebellion had ended, the British abandoned partition plans and instead issued a White Paper declaring that an independent Palestine was wanted with Arab-Jew self governing institutions and controlled Jewish immigration for 5 years. This was rejected by both sides, Arabs would only accept complete and immediate independence. Jews were infuriated especially in the light of growing Nazi anti-Semitism and were aware that in a joint state they would be severely politically underrepresented.
To neither a jointly ruled Palestine seemed like a solution and weren’t prepared to accept it. In addition WWII was looming in sight and Britain had to divert its focus from solving the conflict.During the war the Jewish Agency followed the policy of supporting the British against the Germans and many Jews fought in the British army gaining them valuable military experience. It began to dawn on them that they would have to fight to defend a Jewish state as they realized Arabs would never agree to partition and would resist further Jewish immigration. Furthermore some Jewish leaders, notably David Ben-Gurion wanted the whole of Palestine as a Jewish state.
The Jews began to actively pursue the goal of a separate Jewish state by pressuring the British and garnering international support for their cause. Quick to offer their support were the American Zionist with the Biltmore Declaration in 1942.By the end of WWII the Holocaust had shaken the global Jewish community stirring them into violent action to achieve their goals in the face of British reluctance to drop immigration restrictions. They felt they had been patient long enough and would only accept a completely national and independent Jewish state in Palestine.On the other hand Arabs tenaciously continued to oppose a separate Jewish state in Palestine.
They considered that the West was responsible for the victims of the Holocaust and as such should take on the task of accommodating them and allocating them a homeland in another region of the world. There existed the fear that a separate Jewish state would demand expansion due to immigrants and refugees from the Holocaust. The Arabs would simply not compromise and refused partition or a jointly ruled state, by now both sides had reached intransigent positions.The British Government understood there would be no route to reconcilement and realized that further immigration would be resisted by Arabs and result in a civil war. As Jewish Terrorism began to escalate with events such as the bombing of the British Military headquarters in the King David Hotel in 1946 and the hanging of two British soldiers by the militant secret Zionist organization, Irgun British authority was losing control. Furthermore the British were receiving worldwide criticism especially after the Exodus incident in 1947, in which the British authorities denied entrance to a ship carrying 4500 Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine and was sent back to Europe.
This garnered further sympathy for the Jewish community which meant that public view was in favor of a separate state for Jews rather than a joint one between Arabs and Jews. The British felt they could no longer appease either Jew, Arabs or worldwide opinion, devastated by the war, with food shortages and rationing at home it was hardly feasible to maintain troops in Palestine. In May 1948 Britain decided it would hand over its mandate of Palestine to the Unites Nations, hence it was unable to establish an independent Palestine ruled jointly by Arabs and Jews.Thus the evidence presented demonstrates that initially the British government was unwilling to establish an independent Palestine since it would jeopardize its interest in the region and had compromised its position to both Jews and Arabs with the Hussein-McMahon Letters and later with the Sykes-Picot Agreement and finally the Balfour Declaration. Furthermore the conflicting interests of Arabs and Jews, their uncompromising position and the hostility existent between the two stressed that reconciliation was practically impossible.
This coupled with the British government’s inability to neither cope or handle the situation proves and demonstrates the difficulty and the intractable nature of uniting in one government and state two profoundly different ,deeply passionate and antagonistic peoples.