HL Deb 18 February 1947 vol 145 cc715-21

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, the following is a statement on Palestine which is being made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place, and according to the usual practice your Lordships would wish it to be made also in your Lordships' House.

The following is the statement:

I am sorry to have to inform the House that the Conferences with the Arabs and the consultations with the Zionist Organization about the future of Palestine, which have been proceeding in London, have come to an end because it has become clear that there is no prospect of reaching, by this means, any settlement which would be even broadly acceptable to the two communities in Palestine. Ever since they have taken Office the Government have laboured incessantly to find a solution to the Palestine problem. Most members on this side of the House believed that no solution could be found along the lines of the White Paper of 1939, and the Government, therefore, addressed themselves at once to the task of devising a different approach on which they could negotiate with the parties concerned.

In view of the keen interest shown by American Jewry in the aspirations of Zionism it was thought desirable that the Government of the United States should be associated with this endeavour and as a result an Anglo-American, Committee of Inquiry was appointed in November, 1945. At the same time it was decided that Jewish immigration into Palestine should be temporarily continued at the rate of 1,500 a month notwithstanding the limits set by the White Paper, and an additional 21,000 Jews have already been admitted. When the Report of the Anglo-American Committee was received we agreed with the United States Government that it should be examined by British and American officials. They jointly recommended the plan of provisional autonomy which was described by my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council on July 31, 1946.

This plan gave us a basis for negotiation with the parties concerned and no time was lost in inviting them to confer with us. Neither of the two communities in Palestine accepted this invitation, but a conference with representatives of the Arab States was opened in London in September of last year. After an adjournment, due to the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Conference was resumed in January, the Palestine Arabs then joining in the discussions. The Jewish Agency have throughout refused to participate in the Conference, although informed that all proposals would be open for discussion, but it has been possible in this last phase to have conversations on an informal basis with representatives of the Agency.

From the outset both Arabs and Jews declined to accept as a basis for discussion the provisional autonomy plan put forward by His Majesty's Government. The Arabs put forward an alternative proposal, under which Palestine would achieve early independence as a unitary State with a permanent Arab majority. His Majesty's Government, seeing no prospect of negotiating a settlement on that basis, put forward new proposals of their own. These envisaged the establishment of local areas, Arab and Jewish, with a substantial degree of autonomy within a unitary State with a Central Government in which both Arabs and Jews would share.

These proposals provided that Jewish immigrants would be admitted over the next two years at the rate of 4,000 a month, and that thereafter the continuance and rate of Jewish immigration should be determined, with due regard to economic absorptive capacity, by the High Commissioner in consultation with his Advisory Council, or, in the event of disagreement, by an arbitration tribunal appointed by the United Nations. This plan, while consistent with the principles of the mandate, added an element which has hitherto been lacking in our administration of Palestine—namely, a practical promise of evolution tending towards independence by building up during a five-year period of trusteeship political institutions rooted in the lives of the people. It was offered as a basis of discussion. These three solutions have already been made known in a broad outline, and we intend to lay before the House later in the week a White Paper describing each of them in greater detail.

The latest proposals of His Majesty's Government were rejected outright by both the Arab Delegations and the representatives of the Jewish Agency, even as a basis for discussion. I think it important that the House should understand clearly the reasons which prompted the two sides to reject this solution. For the Arabs the fundamental point is that Palestine should no longer be denied the independence which has now been attained by every other Arab State and that in accordance with the accepted principles of democracy the elected majority should be free to determine the future destiny of the country. They regard the further expansion of the Jewish national home as jeopardizing the attainment of national independence by the Arabs of Palestine, which all Arab States desire, and they are therefore unwilling to contemplate further Jewish immigration into Palestine. They are equally opposed to the creation of a Jewish State in any part of Palestine.

The Jewish Agency, on the other hand, have made it clear that their fundamental aim is the creation of an independent Jewish State in Palestine. With this in view they first proposed that His Majesty's Government should continue to administer the Mandate on a basis which would enable them to continue to expand the Jewish National Home until such time as they had attained by immigration a numerical majority in Palestine and could demand the creation of an independent Jewish State over the country as a whole. When it was made clear that His Majesty's Government were unable to maintain in Palestine a mandatory administration under the protection of which such a policy could be carried out, the representatives of the Jewish Agency indicated that, while still main-taming the justice of their full claim, they would be prepared to consider, as a compromise, proposals for the creation of "a viable Jewish State in an adequate area of Palestine." While they were not themselves willing to propose a plan of partition they were prepared to consider such a proposal if advanced by His Majesty's Government.

His Majesty's Government have thus been faced with an irreconcilable conflict of principles. There are in Palestine about 1,200,000 Arabs and 600,000 Jews. For the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine. The discussions of the last month have clearly shown that there is no present prospect of resolving this conflict by any settlement negotiated between the parties. But if the conflict has to be resolved by an arbitrary decision, that is not a decision which His Majesty's Government are empowered, as Mandatory, to take. His Majesty's Government have of themselves no power under the terms of the Mandate to award the country either to the Arabs or to the Jews, or even to partition it between them.

It is in these circumstances that we, have decided that we are unable either to accept the scheme put forward by the Arabs or by the Jews or to impose ourselves a solution of our own. We have, therefore, reached the conclusion that the only course now open to us is to sub- mit the problem to the judgment of the United Nations. We intend to place before them an historical account of the way in which His Majesty's Government have discharged their trust in Palestine over the last twenty-five years. We shall explain that the Mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken to the two communities in Palestine have been shown to be irreconcilable. We shall describe the various proposals which have been put forward for dealing with the situation—namely, the Arab Plan, Zionist aspirations so far as we have been able to ascertain them, the proposals of the Anglo-American Committee and the various proposals which we ourselves have put forward. We shall then ask the United Nations to consider our Report and to recommend a settlement of the problem. We do not intend ourselves to recommend any particular solution.

Though we shall give immediate notice of our intentions, we see great difficulty in having this matter considered by the United Nations before the next regular Session of the General Assembly in September. We regret that the final settlement should be subject to this further delay, particularly in view of the continuing strain on the British Administration and Services during this further period. We trust, however, that, as the question is now to be referred to the United Nations, all concerned will exercise restraint until their judgment is known.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to thank the First Lord of the Admiralty for the very full statement which he has made with regard to the position in Palestine. Clearly, this statement is historic. It has disclosed the failure of the Government—I use the word "failure" in no offensive sense—to find, despite their utmost efforts, a basis of agreement acceptable to both the Arabs and the Jews, and their decision to submit the whole problem to the United Nations. Whether this step might have been rendered unnecessary by earlier and more resolute action I do not propose to discuss to-day. But we do recognize, of course, in all quarters of the House, the immense difficulties with which the Government have been faced, and we recognize that, very likely, they have no other course open to them at the present time than that which they have taken. At any rate, I do not propose to discuss it to-day, but I would like to give notice to the Government that we shall put down a Motion for debate at an early date.


My Lords, in all quarters of the House regret will be felt that the discussions which have taken place should have resulted in failure, though such a result was by no means unexpected. In the present situation there is little doubt that the only course open to the Government is to make a reference to the United Nations, though I am sure that in all quarters of the House the regret of the Government will be shared that so long a delay will be involved before consideration of this question by the United Nations can be undertaken. Meanwhile, we would all wish to abstain to-day from engaging in any discussion, especially in view of the notice which has been given by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, to ask for a debate at any early date in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I do not wish to enlarge this discussion in any way but I would like to ask my nobly friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty if I may, two questions which I think are important and practical. There is bound to be—as the noble Viscount has reminded your Lordships—considerable delay before this problem is considered by the United Nations, and in the meantime, there are certain problems of administration in Palestine about which I think the House is entitled to some information, particularly in view of what fell from the lips of my noble friend with regard to the White Paper of 1939. In the interim, which may be very long—it may be a year or more before there is some satisfactory settlement—what is going to happen with regard to immigration? I do not gather that any new figure has been announced. Secondly—and this is quite urgent—are the present restrictions on the purchase of land in Palestine to be maintained in force? I would be very grateful if my noble friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, can give me some information on those two points.


The two matters which have been referred to by my noble friend, Lord Strabolgi, are two of many which are now being considered by the Government. I desire to express my thanks to the two noble Viscounts who have spoken very briefly upon the statement which has been made, and I can assure them that a day will be set aside at an early date for a debate in your Lordships' House on this matter.