League of Nations Establishes Mandate for Palestine

After the League of Nations granted Great Britain the authority to administer the mandate over Palestine, conflicting expectations of Jews and Arabs about what had been promised them by the British erupted into enduring hostility.

Summary of Event

At the conclusion of World War I, the victorious Allies met in Paris in 1919 to decide the fate of the defeated Central Powers. The year before, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed in his Fourteen Points Fourteen Points that the principle of self-determination would be used to determine future territorial boundaries, including for Arabic peoples under Ottoman rule. Great Britain had further encouraged nationalist hopes during the war by enticing ՙAlī ibn Ḥusayn, grand sharif of Mecca and king of the Hijaz, to lead a revolt against the Turks. However, in 1916, Britain had also negotiated with France to divide Ottoman territories in the Middle East into spheres of influence. Furthermore, Britain had publicly suggested that it would look favorably on the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration Balfour Declaration (1917) . The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 Paris Peace Conference (1919) established both the League of Nations and a mandatory system by which the major world powers were to oversee the political development toward independence of formerly subjugated peoples. League of Nations;Palestine
British mandate (Palestine)
Palestine;British mandate
[kw]League of Nations Establishes Mandate for Palestine (July 24, 1922)
[kw]Palestine, League of Nations Establishes Mandate for (July 24, 1922)
League of Nations;Palestine
British mandate (Palestine)
Palestine;British mandate
[g]Palestine;July 24, 1922: League of Nations Establishes Mandate for Palestine[05590]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 24, 1922: League of Nations Establishes Mandate for Palestine[05590]
[c]Colonialism and occupation;July 24, 1922: League of Nations Establishes Mandate for Palestine[05590]
Balfour, Arthur
Weizmann, Chaim
Faisal I
Lloyd George, David
Ḥusaynī, Amīn al-

The French had ambitions to receive the mandate on greater Syria, which included the region of Palestine to the south, an area supposedly agreed upon in 1916 by the British and French foreign officials Sir Mark Sykes and François-Georges Picot. Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916)[Sykes Picot Agreement] However, after the British army had secured the Suez Canal against Turkey, they advanced into Palestine. In 1917, faced with the imminent possibility that revolution would force Russia to withdraw from the war, the War Cabinet publicized British sympathies toward the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, hoping in vain that Russian Jews would persuade the Bolsheviks to continue fighting the Turks. However, British ambitions were still served by the fact that Zionists much preferred a Palestine controlled by Great Britain to one controlled by France.

Chaim Weizmann, a Russian immigrant and British citizen after 1910, championed the idea of creating a national home for the Jews. Weizmann had earned official favor by discovering an industrial fermentation process to produce acetone, a key ingredient in cordite-explosive propellants. In October of 1917, the War Cabinet approved the issuance of a letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild declaring that the British government would look favorably on the “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” providing that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. . . .” In November, the Balfour Declaration was made public by the Zionist Federation. Zionist Federation
Zionism While there was considerable intended ambiguity in the use of the term “national home,” newspapers took it to mean the eventual emergence of a Jewish state, as did Weizmann and most Zionists. Later, Great Britain repeatedly denied that the government had intended to create an actual Jewish state or a state under Jewish domination.

The question of who would receive the mandate for Palestine remained open, as both the French and the Italians had interests in protecting the Holy Land. On the other hand, the British cabinet was divided about the merits of accepting the responsibilities inherent in a mandate. While Balfour had become a firm Zionist, he believed British interests would not be served in receiving the trust for such a problematic enterprise. Others thought the mandate should be internationalized, and some believed the United States should accept the task, although it had never declared war against Turkey and was otherwise opposed to annexationist European ambitions. The American King-Crane Commission (1919) reported great Arab sympathy toward an American mandate, but the idea died when the United States refused to join the League of Nations. Neither the British, the Zionists, nor the Arabs were inclined to see the title awarded to France, and the British prime minister David Lloyd George, whose strict Baptist upbringing made him sympathetic to Zionism, believed strongly that English colonial interests in Egypt necessitated control of Palestine.

On the eve of World War I, some eighty-five thousand Jews lived in Palestine among approximately six hundred thousand Arabs, a small number of whom were Christians. Approximately thirty-five thousand Jews had arrived since the 1880’s, and many of them cleaved to the Zionist position that immigration should be promoted as much as possible, so that the region would be undeniably Jewish. Mounting Arabic hostility to the implications of such an immigration policy resulted in negotiations between Weizmann and Faisal I, future king of greater Syria. Apparently, Faisal did not consider the Palestinians to be true Arabs, and he was persuaded that he could use Zionist support in his claims against the French in Damascus. As a result, he agreed to accept continued Jewish immigration as long as other promises to Arabs were fulfilled. The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, Faisal-Weizmann Agreement (1919)[Faisal Weizmann Agreement] signed on January 3, 1919, became part of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Faisal signed for the Arab kingdom of Hijaz, and Weizmann signed for the World Zionist Organization. World Zionist Organization The parties agreed to conduct all relations in the most cordial goodwill and understanding, to permit the immigration of Jews while protecting the rights of Arab peasants and tenant farmers, and to safeguard the practice of all religious observances. Muslim holy places were to be under Muslim control. The kingdom of Hijaz agreed to support the Balfour Declaration, while Zionists pledged to assist the region’s efforts to develop natural resources and a strong economy.

However, the General Syrian Congress, General Syrian Congress (1919) held in Damascus in July of 1919, completely rejected any idea of a Jewish commonwealth or further Jewish immigration. In Jerusalem, where Palestinian Arabs had not been consulted in negotiations, the Ḥusaynī clan enhanced its political power by becoming increasingly anti-British and adamantly opposing any conciliation with Zionists. In March of 1920, a confrontation broke out between bedouins and an isolated Jewish settlement in Tel Hai, and people on both sides were killed. In April of 1920, three days of rioting during the Nebi Musa celebration led to further casualties. British military officials were sympathetic to Arab discontent and blamed Jews for the trouble, and London achieved a more explicit recognition of the Balfour pledge by establishing a civilian administration under the High Commissioner Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, a Jew who pardoned the notorious anti-Zionist Amīn al-Ḥusaynī for his role in the attacks of 1920 and made him grand mufti of Jerusalem.

In the spring of 1920, at the London and San Remo conferences, Great Britain gained rights to the Palestine mandate, and on June 24, 1922, at the League of Nations meeting in Geneva, the mandate was officially instituted. Eastern borders of the mandate were drawn with an eye toward facilitating the building of a British oil pipeline from its mandate in Iraq through Transjordan (now Jordan) to seaports in Palestine. In September, the eastern portion of the mandate (then known as the Emirate of Transjordan and now known as Jordan), an autonomous political division under ՙAbd Allā ibn al-Ḥusayn, elder son of the sharif of Mecca, was excluded from all provisions concerning Jewish settlement, while the territory west of the Jordan River became known as Palestine.


Although some British officials, such as George Nathaniel Curzon, Curzon, George Nathaniel former viceroy of India, expressed serious reservations about British support of Zionism, many others naïvely believed that Arabs and Jews could live in harmony in Palestine. Since the Balfour Declaration only referred to a national home for the Jews, the Turkish millet system, which allowed for semiautonomous confessional communities, was thought a possible solution to the conflicting promises arising from British policy. Nevertheless, shortly after the mandate was established, the Fifth Palestine Arab Congress, held in Nabulus in August of 1922, adamantly rejected any efforts to establish a Jewish homeland through immigration, and the congress adopted a covenant to resist such a policy. After some 200,000 deaths in Arab-Israeli wars, thousands of additional Jewish and Palestinian civilian deaths as the result of assassinations and terrorism, and related global hostilities between Islamic societies and the Christian West, a peaceful resolution to the mandate’s inherent contradictions remained elusive. League of Nations;Palestine
British mandate (Palestine)
Palestine;British mandate

Further Reading

  • Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Henry Holt, 1989. A comprehensive history of the battles and negotiations that ended World War I in the Middle East.
  • Sanders, Ronald. The High Walls of Jerusalem: A History of the Balfour Declaration and the Birth of the British Mandate for Palestine. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983. A detailed account of events during World War I leading to the Balfour Declaration and the British mandate.
  • Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. Translated by Haim Watzman. New York: Henry Holt, 2000. Passionate stories of Jews and Arabs in Palestine who experienced the events that led to the creation of the mandate.
  • Sicker, Martin. Reshaping Palestine: From Muhammad Ali to the British Mandate, 1831-1922. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999. A history of the emergence of Zionism and its role in the creation of Palestine.
  • Stein, Leonard. The Balfour Declaration. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961. Detailed description of the events and statesmen associated with the Balfour Declaration by a friend of the leading Zionists.

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