1937 Peel Commission: On the Way to Statehood

The establishment of the State of Israel came in 1948, though the battle to declare independence went through a number of international forums and negotiations, on-the-ground sectarian conflict, and the struggle of the descents of David driving out a Goliath-size occupying force. Since the Roman destruction of Jewish civilization and the exile of the Jewish people from their land in 70 CE, Jews had been bound to the outskirts of Europeans capitals for over two thousand years. In the late 19th century following into the early 20th century, after decades of developing the Land of Israel, the Jewish people received the opportunity to fight for sovereignty in their homeland. The Peel Commission of 1937 was just one of the steps that ultimately led the Jewish people to the vibrant, desert-blooming country that defies the odds east of the Jordan River today.

In 1916, as World War I was coming to a close, the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, and later the United States, had gathered great interest in determining the future of the territories held by the opposing Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. In particular, the Ottoman Empire, which had been noticeably collapsing for decades, was referred to as the “sick man of Europe.” The Allied Powers, whom at the time were no stranger to imperialism, divided up the remains of the once-powerful Ottoman regime in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement set the borders for most of today’s Middle Eastern countries, in which the geographic details relied more on land space, resources and location than on tribal lines and sectarian divides.

In 1917, after enjoying the agreement’s outcome, Britain’s Zionist Federation which represented the interests of the Jewish people in regard to a Jewish state, moved to gain British recognition as well as assistance in creating a Jewish homeland in the newly determined territory of Palestine (the Land of Israel). Lord Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, had heard the narrative of the Zionist Federation as well as their proposal. Lord Balfour had respect and compassion as well as a strategic eye for the future, he would compose the Balfour Declaration, a letter to the Lord Rothchild, head of Britain’s Zionist Federation, announcing Her Majesty’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While international forums allow political actors to test and negotiate possible international solutions, the first forum that addressed the Jewish people’s claim for sovereignty in the Land of Israel was in 1920 at San Remo. San Remo’s relevancy was that the international agreeance to separate Transjordan (present day: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) from the British Mandate of Palestine.

The Peel Commission of 1937 was the next stage of Middle East negotiations, the first serious discussion of legitimizing the Jewish people’s right to govern in their ancient homeland, instead of living under British occupation. The conference was headed by Lord Peel and held in the wake of the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt. The British Royal Commission’s mission was to investigate why the Arab population of British Mandatory Palestine were taking violent action against the Jewish community as well as the British armed forces there. The Commission had published a report July 7, 1937, claiming that the mandate of the League of Nations was irreverent to solving the conflict and recommended partitioning the land between Arab and Jew.

The Peel Commission’s endorsed map of what partition would look like was insulting to Jewish and Arab leaders. Compared to previous promises made to Jewish leaders, the Jewish people would be taking a significant cut in land. This includes the 1917 Balfour Declaration that promised much of present-day Israel and Jordan and the 1920 San Remo Conference which had rescinded Transjordan from possible Jewish sovereignty, including historically Jewish land on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Even though Jewish leaders at the time were not pleased with the continued carving up of historically Jewish land in the Land of Israel, the promise of a Jewish state in any borders, a place that the Jewish people could be safe and thrive in their own ways, were enough for Jewish leaders to accept the partition. The Arab leaders flat out rejected any division of the land, claiming that they opposed the idea of Jewish state in any borders. The Arab population called for halts on Jewish immigration and land purchase in the British Mandate of Palestine, in order to cease the creation of a Jewish state, all of this only two years before the European adventurism which Nazi Germany would take as a prerequisite to World War II.

The Peel Commission of 1937 would lead to the Woodhead Commission of 1938 and eventually to the 1947 United Nations Palestine Partition Plan. These plans would serve as precedent to the creation of a Jewish sovereign state in the Land of Israel. While it took much diplomatic maneuvering through international forums and conferences, the successful push towards statehood brought the Jewish people of Israel the ability to live safely in the Land of Israel as well as the ability to prosper in numerous fields including many of today’s contemporary intellectual achievements.