Social Background Characteristics as Determinants of Political Behavior of the Arab Political Leadership of Palestine under the British Mandate

By Nashif, Taysir | Journal of Third World Studies, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Social Background Characteristics as Determinants of Political Behavior of the Arab Political Leadership of Palestine under the British Mandate


Nashif, Taysir, Journal of Third World Studies


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Muslim rule of Palestine--which lasted, except for about two centuries of the Crusaders' rule--since 640 A.D., was ended by the occupation of the country in 1918 by the forces of the Allied Powers. For many centuries, and until 1948, the overwhelming majority of the population of Palestine had been Arab. The Arab national awakening in Palestine was an integral part of the Arab national movement in Great Syria which began in the latter part of the 18th century.

The Arab population of Palestine amounted in 1918 to 644,000, whereas the Jewish community numbered nearly 56,000, and owned 2 percent of the country's land. (1)

In consideration of British war and political interests, and subjected to Zionist pressure, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, on 2 November 1917, which "viewed with favour the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine," while affirming that "nothing shall be done which will prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non--Jewish communities in Palestine." (2)

The Covenant of the League of Nations, which was adopted by the Paris Peace Conference, provided that certain communities which were part of the Ottoman Empire had"reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized, subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory." (3) Disregarding the wishes of the Arab population, the League of Nations assigned to Britain the mandate on Palestine.

President Woodrow Wilson dispatched Henry C. King and Charles Crane to the Middle East to assess the situation there. The King--Crane Commission reported that an overwhelming majority of the Palestine Arabs wished to keep Palestine a part of Syria. It found that, given the limited absorptive economic capacity of Palestine, the Zionist program of unlimited Jewish immigration into the country was bound to harm the Arab population. The Commission's report, which was published only in 1922, was not considered by the Peace Conference.

In disregard of the report of the King--Crane Commission and of the national aspiration of the Palestine Arabs, the Allied Supreme Council of the Peace Conference assigned, in consideration of British and Zionist interests, to Britain on 25 April 1920, the Mandate over Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration. Article 4 of the Mandate provided for the recognition of a Jewish Agency in creating a Jewish national home. The Zionist Organization was recognized as such agency. (4)

From then on, a Palestinian Arab national movement, with a focus on the Palestinian issue, started to develop, or continued to develop more forcefully, if it had started to develop earlier. It occupied itself with the issues confronting the Palestinian Arabs, mainly Zionism and the British Mandate.

Throughout the tenure of the Mandate, the Palestine Arabs' essential demands were setting up of a national government responsible to a parliament elected by the population of Palestine, Muslim, Christian and Jewish; rejection of the idea of a Jewish national home; halt of Jewish immigration and of land transfers and sales, which were threatening the Arab existence, to Zionist institutions; and termination of the Mandate.

In the early 1930s, Jewish immigration and land transfers continued to increase at a fast pace. Such immigration and land transfers resulted in increased unemployment and impoverishment of many Arabs, and in social unrest. These developments, along with a weakened hope for political independence, made Arab opposition to the British Mandate increasingly bitter. Along with this, the Arab population was criticizing the fragmentation of the sources of political power at the expense of the Arab national interest. …

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