Palestine within the context of the Second World War

Palestine within the context of the Second World War – Prospects and Challenges


Sulafa Hijjawi


In September 1939, the British “White Paper” on Palestine was on the agenda of the Council of the League of Nations. As war broke out during the same month, the paper was shelved and anew phase of history was written for Palestine and its Palestinian people
On the local level, tension was at its highest. The Palestinians had just emerged from their revolt which lasted from 1936 to 1939, broken and disillusioned. The British Mandatory Power did not spare any means to crush the revolt. Any available Arab institutions were destroyed, economy collapsed and political leadership was chased out, while the Zionists were consolidating their economic grip by means of the Ha’vara Agreement which the Zionist organization concluded with Nazi Germany in 1933 to allow Jews to depart and take out their assets in the form of German industrial equipments
The British White Paper of 1939 marked a shift in British policy. Throughout the twenties and up to the mid thirties, Britain was determined against any possibility of transforming Palestine into a state either for Arabs or Jews or for both. While the covenant of the league Nations stated in 1919 that Palestine should become an independent state in due time, the authority of Britain to be the mandatory power in Palestine did not include any reference (1923) to such a prospect, while those of Syria and Iraq included such a prospect. Instead it included the text of the Balfour Declaration which talked about a Jewish “national home ” in Palestine and not a state
In fact, the Balfour Declaration was adopted by Britain in 1917 in the context of a British strategy aimed at preventing France from having a valid excuse to demand the inclusion of Palestine under French mandate, hence reach the Suez Canal under the pretext that the people of Palestine were homogeneous with the people of Syria
While the British Peel Commission recommended in 1937 the Partitioning of Palestine into two Arab and Jewish states, the White Paper of 1939 spoke about the impracticality of partition, and indeed it was impracticable because it meant that any Jewish state would automatically include more native Arabs than Jews. Then it spoke about its determination to establish a bi-national state in the whole of Palestine, “in which Arabs and Jews share in government in such away as to ensure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded”
On the face of it, it seemed that the British power decided at last to take the wishes of the people in regard and to allow for the principles of the modernity to be implemented in Palestine
In fact, Britain was not concerned with this matter in as much as it was concerned with her interests in the context of the climatic changes in the power struggle on the international scene : the rise of Nazi Germany, the consolidation of Soviet power, and the advent of the U.S.A to global politics
By the end of the thirties, Britain was to fight hard to prevent any power from having a footing in the Arab region.  As Arab cooperation was vital to British strategies, particularly as war was looming, an independent state in Palestine, tied to Britain with a treaty, was the best solution in that it allays Arab fears and promotes their cooperation with Britain
At the outset of the Second World War, British goals were    targeted towards ousting France from the region and checking any German advance into it
In 1942, British hopes were high after it defeated the advancing German forces in Egypt and ousted the French Vichy government from Syria. In 1944, Britain stood behind the convening of the Alexandria conference which lay the cornerstone of the Arab league. The atmosphere was quite propitious for the establishment of a Palestinian state for Arabs and Jews, tied to Britain by a treaty
Changes in the International Scene
By the end of the war with the defeat of Germany, a new phase of power conflict began to emerge. While the atmosphere of the Yalta (4-2-1945) Conference was somewhat convenient for the victorious powers, the Potsdam Conference in 17-7-1945 witnessed   the beginning of friction between the two new super powers: the U.S.A and the Soviet  Union. As Britain emerged weak from the war, both were looking forward to inherit its position in the world, especially in the Arab region. After the war, oil became a major target for both: the U.S.A was in need of oil to reconstruct Europe, and the destruction of the oil industry in the Soviet Union was a good excuse for the soviets to keep an eye on the  Arab  Region. This was heightened after the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Iran, after the fall of the communist government of Azerbegan, and after the Soviet Union failed to conclude a treaty with Turkey concerning the water straits. The strategic value of Palestine soared high
The Palestine problem was supposed to be discussed both at Yalta and Potsdam. But the American president, Roosevelt refrained, at the  last moment, from  doing so
While the beginning of 1945 witnessed an agreement between the  U.S.A and Britain concerning the White Paper, and while  both of them  agreed upon resettling the Jewish refugees back in the countries from which they left, especially in Poland, President Truman  discussed the question again with Britain at Potsdam and requested that the gates of Palestine be opened for the hundred thousand Jews who were in the refugee camps in Europe
This change in Policy is believed to have been a result of information that the Soviet Union was sending communist Jews to Palestine
As Palestinians became again the bone of contention, a proposal from the American State Department suggested in 1945 that Palestine be neutralized by means  of internationalizing it – to be administered by the U.N through a British trusteeship
But the American government soon changed its policy, and in 1947, Britain  referred the Palestinian problem to the U.N after it had failed to gain the approval of the American President on a British trusteeship.
At the U.N, the options of partition on a unitary state were the subject of fierce competition between the two new super powers
Each was fighting hard in order to gain control of that strategic territory called Palestine
The minutes of the discussions as well as the changing positions of each of them reveal a wicked game of hide and seek in which the future of either the Arabs or the Jews was irrelevant.
Instead, cold calculations as to the vital interests of each, were the rule of the game, especially that the two new super powers were not sure where the loyalty of the Zionist Organization was. For whereas the headquarter of the Zionist Organization was in the U.S since the early forties, reports were coming to the American President that communist Jews were having the upper hand in Palestine
While it is quite arduous to follow up in this paper all the interactions of that game, suffice it to say that the Soviet Union voted in April 21,1947 for a draft resolution calling for the termination of British mandate and the declaration of the independence of Palestine. The short  term objective of the Soviet Union was to get Britain out. The U.S voted against. In Nov., 29,1947, the two powers voted for partition. In Feb., 29, 1948, the U.S reversed its position, declaring that the partition resolution was just a recommendation, and asked the U.N Secretary General to submit the Palestine Question to another discussion about a trusteeship regime for Palestine. Verified reports were coming at the time about the batches of Czechoslovakian arms to the Zionists in Palestine. While a second to the discussion of the problem did not take place and as the Soviet Union opposed the idea fiercely, the American position remained vague until the declaration of the independence of the Jewish state, when the administration extended warily defacto recognition while the Soviet Union extended de jure recognition
In the Soviet Union, national activities revived during the war years, among them Jewish activities. Some members of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee, which was formed in 1942, were close to Stalin and supportive of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Available documents tend to reveal that the committee played a role in convincing Stalin that a Jewish in Palestine would be pro-Soviet.  The fate of some members of the committee and its dissolution late in 1948 reinforces the idea that Stalin believed that the committee had deceived him and made him vote for partition, the result of which was that he lost the Jewish state to the Americans and lost Arab cooperation as well
The events that took place in Palestine since the Palestine resolution were  most dramatic and tragic. The Zionists, between Nov. 1947 and May 1948. that is before the declaration of independence and before the intervention of Arab forces, had managed to evict by force of arms and shameful massacres, about four hundred thousand Palestinians. Another four hundred thousand were evicted in the same way after the midst of May, the date of the declaration of the state of Israel and the entry of Arab armies to Palestine. The Arab forces did not in fact fight any real battle or enter the territory designated for the Jewish state in the U.N partition resolution
  For the Palestinian people, the Second World War did not end in 1945 and if fascism was defeated as an institution, it remained active in different form and allegations. The international order and the nature of the balance of power which dominated the scene since the Second World War in particular has made life very difficult for the human race. A national liberation movement may start by its own, but it could not achieve its goals unless it tied itself to this as that power. The Soviet Union used the Palestinian Question to promote its own interests in the Arab region, just like any other power. And the U.S ignored the plight of Palestinian refugees and stood behind the Israeli occupation of the rest of Palestine since 1967 to foil Soviet policies. And as the Palestinian people were the victims of British – French rivalry over colonies, so are they the victims of American – Soviet rivalry over spheres of influence. Now that the Soviet Union has gone to oblivion, and we are living the Uni-polar power system, where rivalries are dormant at  their minimal level, can the democratic forces avail themselves of this change in the balance of power and impose  the democratic solution for the Palestine problem as well as for the other problems every where in the world
It is a big question because political decisions never cease to shift, and persecuted people have to be clever enough to catch opportunities whenever they occur