Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Inter-Arab Rivalry and the All-Palestine Government of 1948

Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Inter-Arab Rivalry and the All-Palestine Government of 1948

Article excerpt

On 30 September 1948, an assembly of Palestinian political leaders met in Egypt- controlled Gaza to declare a Palestinian state. The assembly elected a president and voted on a number of resolutions naming Jerusalem as the capital, using the flag from the 1916 Arab revolt, and adopting a provisional constitution. It further instated an army, created a delegation to send to the United Nations, and issued fourteen thousand passports.1 The All-Palestine Government, as it was called, had the trappings of an emerging nation-state in the post-Mandate period. However, this government existed only nominally for mere weeks before it was dismantled. Internal Palestinian disunity and inter-Arab politics in the wake of Israel's declaration of statehood precluded the possibility of a new Palestinian state. In other words, "It was all farce."2

The All-Palestine Government, officially sanctioned by the Arab League in October 1948, never held the sufficient political or military power to be its own state. It was the instrument of inter-Arab state conflict, which Fawaz Gerges describes as "a magnet for rivalry between Egypt and Transjordan and deepened suspicion and mistrust within Arab ranks during the war and afterwards."3 Egypt's recognition of the Palestinian governmental body contrasts sharply with Transjordan's active opposition to it. An examination of the historical context and creation of the All-Palestine Government illuminates the regional dynamics and colonial factors that shaped Palestinian nationalism, and further reasons why it could not ultimately manifest in a governing body. This piece looks at the British mandatory period in Palestine, Palestinian national activity, and inter-Arab rivalry, clarifying both why the All-Palestine Government was created and reasons for its failure soon after its inception.

The conflicting and shifting interests that defined the regional politics of the Middle East in 1948 characterized the existence and failure of the All-Palestine Government. There may have been some genuine concern for the fate of the Palestinians, but Egypt's and Transjordan's relationships with the All-Palestine Government are a better indication of their own interests. While Egypt and other Arab League states supported the idea of a Palestinian state, their decision to support the All-Palestine Government was motivated more by blocking Transjordan's claims to represent the Palestinians than by a fundamental desire to realize Palestinian national aspirations. King Faruq of Egypt did not need Gaza as much as King Abdallah of Transjordan needed the West Bank for political gain, and this difference informed the two countries' contrasting approaches to the question of a Palestinian government. Historian Avi Shlaim writes, "Ostensibly the embryo for an independent Palestinian state, the new government, from the moment of its inception, was thus reduced to the unhappy role of a shuttlecock in the ongoing power struggle between Cairo and Amman."4

A number of factors shaped the political environment in which the All-Palestine Government was created. British policies in Palestine from 1922 to 1948 subverted Palestinian national ambition, preventing the development of national institutions that might have actualized a future state. King Abdallah's close ties to the British and his collusion with the Zionists, with the aim of keeping the West Bank for his new kingdom, alienated other members of the Arab League and cemented their support of the new Palestinian government. Palestinian leadership was factious, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, Jerusalem's mayor Raghib al-Nashashibi, and Istiqlal party leader 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi. Quandt elaborates on this disunity: "The main political parties were based on this structure [of clan networks], the parties of the particularly influential Husayni and Nashashibi families having ties throughout the country. However, this structure made it difficult to unify the national movement. …

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