1939 White Paper During Ww2

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Perspectives on the 1939 White Paper During World War II

December 7, 2004

Perspectives on the 1939 White Paper During World War II

In 1939, the British government published a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration and planning for an independent Palestinian state within ten years. On the part of the British, this was an effort to secure crucial Arab cooperation in case of war. But neither the Jews nor the Arabs were pleased with the White Paper. The Jews took direct action against it, arguing that it violated earlier promises that had been made to them. The Arabs, on the other hand, argued that the restrictions were too weak. Still, the Arabs recognized the White Paper as a move in the right direction and although they went on record as opposed to it, they did not openly fight it. While the Jews forcefully rejected the White Paper, most of the Zionist leadership postponed the fight against the British in order to support them in the war. Some Jewish terrorist organizations, however, did spring up to target Britain. Throughout World War II, the White Paper allowed the British the support they had been seeking from the Arabs, while drawing opposition from the Jews. In the period leading up to the issue of the White Paper, Britain’s attempts to resolve the crisis in Palestine “occurred against a backdrop of developing tensions in Europe and the Mediterranean that ultimately had a major impact on Britain’s Palestine policy” (Smith 139). To the British, the Arab Revolt that had taken place from 1936 to 1939 “signified a rebellion that had to be crushed, not simply to preserve Britain’s own position in Palestine as the mandatory power, but to consolidate that position by appealing for Arab support both within and outside Palestine once the revolt had ended” (Smith 139). This position was adopted as the threat of war began to loom closer. German and Italian propaganda was aimed toward the Arabs, encouraging them to revolt against the British. The British knew that they could not afford to send large numbers of troops to quash a rebellion when their forces would be necessary in Europe. They also recognized the strategic importance of Palestine, and British military planners “now began to view Palestine in light of envisaged wartime needs” (Smith 139). Any troops currently in Palestine would have to be transferred to Egypt and the Suez Canal at the outbreak of war, and eventually reinforcements from India would have to travel through Palestine. Peace in Palestine was now considered “essential to British military security” (Smith 139). But more was necessary to guarantee British security in the region. In addition to control over Palestine, the British needed “assurance of the tacit, if not open, support of the neighboring Arab countries” (Smith 140). The Palestine situation was crucial to gaining this support, as Arab leaders had become increasingly involved in the conflict during the revolt. Creating a solution that was favorable to the Arabs would promise Britain the support of the Arab world during the war. In January 1939, British strategists advised that “‘immediately on the outbreak of war, the necessary measures would be taken…in order to bring about a complete appeasement of Arab opinion in Palestine and in neighboring countries’” (Smith 140) The British also recognized that maintaining their mandatory power in Palestine was necessary if they hoped to use it as a strategic base. But the Partition Plan had already been proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937. This “raised questions in the Foreign Office: if the Jews were recognized as having national status in part of Palestine, what further justification would there be for Britain’s staying there as mandatory authority?” (Smith 140). Nevertheless, the Cabinet approved the Partition Plan. Expecting the Zionists to do the same, they were “startled by the force of Zionist opposition to the plan” (Smith 140). As a result, the...
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