Palestine, Retreat from the Mandate: The Making of British Policy, 1936-45

Palestine, Retreat from the Mandate: The Making of British Policy, 1936-45

Palestine, Retreat from the Mandate: The Making of British Policy, 1936-45

Palestine, Retreat from the Mandate: The Making of British Policy, 1936-45

Excerpt

The events related in this book should be seen in the context of a wider process that has been called 'The Imperial Sunset'. The historian of Britain's imperial decline dates the beginning of that process back to 1921, the year in which in the Middle East the Empire reached its apogee. 'The War had given a major impulse to anti-imperial feeling and weakened the self-confidence of the ruling élites. The desire to limit defence expenditure was a dominant factor in foreign policy ...' Among those concerned with imperial policy-making during the inter-war years, the real difference lay between those for whom 'foreign policy was a matter of securing the requirements of the nation at the minimal cost and recognizing the increasingly severe limitations that Britain had to accept, and those who were prone to believe that the incantations of the proper formulae would make foreign policy in the old sense a thing of the past.' By 1939 the 'Jewish National Home' in Palestine would be placed on the list of 'imperial luxuries' that had to be sacrificed.

During the years 1936-45 Britain reassessed and redefined its attitude to the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. The five years prior to 1936 had been a period of almost uninterrupted peace and prosperity for both the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine. But in 1936 the Mandatory administration lost control over events as the Arab community began a revolt which lasted intermittently until the very eve of World War Two.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the Arab Revolt was the almost casual transformation of the Palestine issue into a pan-Arab affair. This occurred at a juncture when Britain, faced with the growing likelihood of a global conflict, had to ration strictly the resources at its disposal for maintaining imperial strong-points. In view of its insupportable imperial burdens, Britain decided in 1939 to make a radical departure from the established policy of fostering the Jewish National Home in Palestine.

Prior to 1936, the Palestine mandate had been the exclusive concern of the Colonial Office. The 'regionalization' of the issue in that year brought the active intervention in the policy-making process of the senior Department, the Foreign Office, as well as that of the Chiefs of Staff and the War Office. Events in Palestine now assumed a significance out of all proportion to their local geopolitical context. There soon arose a conflict of policy-goals, as was seen in the debate on the partition of Palestine in 1937, between the strictly Palestinian merit of the proposal advanced by the Colonial Office and the . . .

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