Found in: History of Israel
The Peel Commission of 1936-1937, formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission, was a British Royal Commission of Inquiry set out to propose changes to the Mandate for Palestine following the outbreak of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. It was headed by Lord Robert Peel.
On 11 November, 1936, the commission arrived in Palestine to investigate the reasons behind the uprising. It returned to Britain on 18 January, 1937. On 7 July, 1937, it published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition. This proposal was declared unworkable and formally rejected by the government.
The Commission was established at a time of increased violence; serious clashes between Arabs and Jews broke out in 1936 and were to last three years. The Commission was charged with determining the cause of the riots, and judging the merit of grievances on both sides. Chaim Weizmann made a speech on behalf of the Jews. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, testified in front of the commission, opposing any partition of Arab lands to the Jews. He demanded full cessation of Jewish immigration. Although the Arabs continued to boycott the Commission officially, there was a sense of urgency to respond to Weizmann's appeal to restore calm. The former Mayor of Jerusalem Ragheb Bey al-Nashashibi - who was the Mufti's rival in the internal Palestinian arena, was thus sent to explain the Arab perspective through unofficial channels.
According to the Peel Commission report, Arab allegations regarding Jewish land purchase were unfounded. "Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamp and uncultivated when it was purchased...There was at the time of the earlier sales little evidence that the owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land." The land shortage decried by the Arabs "was due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population."
The report recommended that the Mandate be eventually abolished — except in a "corridor" surrounding Jerusalem, stretching to the Mediterranean Coast just south of Jaffa — and the land under its authority be apportioned between an Arab and Jewish states. The Jewish side was to receive a territorially smaller portion in the mid-west and north, from Mount Carmel to south of Be'er Tuvia, as well as the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee, while the Arab state was to receive territory in the south and mid-east which included Judea, Samaria and the sizable, though economically undeveloped and infertile, Negev desert.
Exchange of land and population transfer
The report recommended that "[s]ooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population":
"A precedent is afforded by the exchange effected between the Greek and Turkish populations on the morrow of the Greco-Turkish War of 1922. A convention was signed by the Greek and Turkish Governments, providing that, under the supervision of the League of Nations, Greek nationals of the Orthodox religion living in Turkey should be compulsorily removed to Greece, and Turkish nationals of the Moslem religion living in Greece to Turkey. The numbers involved were high no less than some 1,300,000 Greeks and some 400,000 Turks. But so vigorously and effectively was the task accomplished that within about eighteen months from the spring of 1923 the whole exchange was completed. The courage of the Greek and Turkish statesmen concerned has been justified by the result. Before the operation the Greek and Turkish minorities had been a constant irritant. Now Greco-Turkish relations are friendlier than they have ever been before."
The Arab leadership rejected the plan, while the Jewish opinion remained heatedly divided. The Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich (3-16 August 1937) announced "that the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission is not to be accepted, [but wished]'' to carry on negotiations in order to clarify the exact substance of the British government's proposal for the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine". "Timeline: 1937", Jewish Agency for Israel
Ben-Gurion wrote: "The compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the valleys of the proposed Jewish state could give us something which we have never had, even when we stood on our own during the days of the First and Second Temples: [a Galilee almost free of non-Jews]. ... We are being given an opportunity which we never dared to dream of in our wildest imagination. This is more than a state, government and sovereignty---this is a national consolidation in a free homeland. ... if because of our weakness, neglect or negligence, the thing is not done, then we will have lost a chance which we never had before, and may never have again."S. Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985; pp 180-182
The British response was to set up the Woodhead Commission to "examine the Peel Commission plan in detail and to recommend an actual partition plan" This Commission declared the Peel Commission partition unworkable (though suggesting a different scheme under which 5% of the land area of Palestine become Israel). The British Government accompanied the publication of the Woodhead Report by a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable "Appendix IV: Palestine: Historical Background" Jewish Virtual Library''. "The British Government accompanied the publication of the Woodhead Report by a statement of policy rejecting partition as impracticable in the light of the Commission's investigations, but suggesting that Arab-Jewish agreement might still be possible."
Summary section of the Report of the Palestine Royal Commission (from the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine - UNISPAL)
Palestine Royal Commission Report Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, July 1937.His Majestys Stationery Office., London, 1937. 404 pages + maps.
Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World'' pp. 207-210
White Paper of 1939