The period between the end of the Great Rebellion and the events of 1948 unfolded in two phases: the war years (1939-45) and the two years immediately following (1945-47). During the first phase the Palestinians were generally quiescent. Their passivity was due partly to the brutality and thoroughness of the British repression of the rebellion, and partly to the relatively reassuring provisions of the 1939 White Paper on Zionist immigration and land acquisition. Other contributing causes were the economic war boom brought about by an increased level of expenditure on the part of British and Allied forces deployed in the Middle East, and the pronouncements made by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden in favor of postwar Arab unity - a cause popular with Palestinian and other Arab nationalists.


Throughout the war years, and in spite of the 1939 White Paper and Eden's pronouncements, the British continued to outlaw the Arab Higher Committee as well as all other Palestinian political activity. The principal Palestinian leaders remained in hiding, exile, or under arrest; Haj Amin al-Husseini himself escaped jail and worse (the British plotted his assassination in exile) by fleeing in 1941 to the Axis countries, where he spent the remaining war years. In addition, the British continued to hold thousands of Palestinian activists in detention camps, and persevered in their campaign to disarm the Palestinian population. Nevertheless, some eight thousand Palestinians volunteered for service with the British forces in North Africa.

In October 1944 a preparatory conference on Arab unity was held at Alexandria, Egypt. Five months later, in March 1945, the League of Arab States was born. Comprising Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan, and Yemen, the Arab League pledged itself to safeguard the Arab character of Palestine. As the war drew to a close, many Palestinians looked to the League for help in the coming days.

Anglo-Zionist relations were generally strained during the war as a result of the 1939 White Paper. But the Nazi threat, and especially the North African German expedition against Egypt, muted rising Zionist hostility toward Britain, except in the case of the dissident terrorist group known as the Stern Gang. Some 27,000 Jews from Palestine enlisted in the British forces, and the Jewish industrial base in Palestine was vastly expanded to meet British war requirements.

Both at the beginning of the first phase and throughout the second phase, the 1939 White Paper's policy on immigration was a particular target of Zionist political strategy. In the early war years, the Zionist leadership tried to undermine the White Paper policy by organizing the admission of unauthorized immigrants without reference to the White Paper quota, i.e., instead of using it fully. The British reply was to offer the illegal immigrants alternative accommodation outside Palestine for the duration of the war, but this measure served only to infuriate the Zionists. The Zionists charged that Britain's White Paper policy prevented the rescue of Jews from the barbarities of Nazism; as already noted, however, Zionist prewar immigration strategy itself had not focused on pressuring countries with vast absorptive capacities (e.g., the United States and the British dominions) to admit the maximum number of Jewish refugees from Europe. Moreover, the tragic fact was that the rapid pace of military developments in Europe, and their horrendous consequences for the Jewish communities there, later prevented the Zionist leadership from using even the visas authorized by the White Paper for the five-year period from April 1939 to April 1944. For this reason the British decided in November 1943 to extend the five-year period beyond April 1944 without obtaining Palestinian "acquiescence" as prescribed in the White Paper. In the event, the 75,000 visas permitted by the White Paper were not all used until December 1945.

The most significant indication of the breakdown of the Anglo-Zionist entente occurred during the war years. Early in the war the Zionist leadership in Palestine decided to attempt to activate the American Jewish establishment as a means of mobilizing the United States government on behalf of the Zionist cause. Representing the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion traveled to the United States, where in May 1942 a conference was held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York. Attended by leading American Zionists, the Biltmore Conference called for the establishment of all Palestine as a "Jewish commonwealth"—a euphemism for "Jewish state." This maximalist program constituted a frontal assault on the 1939 White Paper and even on the Balfour Declaration, which had merely envisioned a Jewish national home in Palestine. As the tide of war receded from Egypt and North Africa, but before Hitler had been defeated, the Irgun and the Stern Gang opened a campaign of terror against the British. Increasing Zionist aggressiveness toward Britain reflected not only increasing American support, but also the steady cumulative shift in the local balance of power - in favor of the Zionists and at Palestinian expense - that had been taking place under British protection over the preceding three decades. If the Zionists were dependent on the British in 1917, this was no longer the case in 1945.


The second, postwar phase (1945-47) saw the Zionists escalating their confrontation with the British and setting the pace for events that led to London's decision to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations as a prelude to British abandonment of the Mandate.

The Zionist campaign against the British was waged on three levels: the diplomatic, the military, and the propagandistic. On the diplomatic level, the Zionists found a powerful ally in President Harry Truman soon after his inauguration. Pressuring London first on the immigration issue, Truman repeatedly (in August 1945, June 1946, July 1946, and October 1946) called for the immediate unconditional admission into Palestine of 100,000 Jewish immigrants, thus altogether undermining the 1939 White Paper. Truman's motivation has been attributed to humanitarian considerations, but these should presumably also have been reflected in concurrent and equally urgent efforts to set an example by admitting a proportionate number of Jewish immigrants into the United States.

In August and October 1946, Truman went a step further in his support of Zionism by endorsing a Jewish Agency plan for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The plan envisaged the incorporation into the Jewish state of some 60 percent of Palestine at a time when Jewish landownership in the country did not exceed 7 percent. Truman's support for these Zionist territorial ambitions destroyed whatever hopes remained (and they were not plentiful) for negotiated federal or cantonal solutions that the British were proposing at the time.

The Zionist military offensive took the form of terrorist attacks against British personnel and installations. The attacks relied heavily on the use of mines and other explosives, as well as on assassination. It was during this second phase that the car bomb was first introduced, by the Irgun, into urban warfare. For some time the Haganah participated in these attacks, mostly against installations (bridges, harbor and communications facilities, etc.), but decided in the early summer of 1946 to desist for fear of massive British retaliation. The Haganah's military cautiousness toward the British did not, however, prevent it from exploiting the political and psychological advantages resulting from the continued operations of the Irgun and Stern Gang.

Actually, British reaction to the Zionist terror campaign was surprisingly mild, on account of three factors: Britain's war weariness, Zionist support in the United States, and Britain's reluctance to employ the same measures against a European community that it had resorted to against the Asian Palestinians. Thus, for example, the Arab Higher Committee had been outlawed for eight years, but members of the Jewish Agency were arrested on 29 June 1946 only to be released on November 5 of the same year. The restraint of British countermeasures is perhaps best illustrated by the casualty figures for each side: 169 British killed as compared with 37 Zionist terrorists—probably a unique ratio, in the annals of rebellion, of casualties suffered by security forces in relation to those of the insurgents.

The most effective propaganda tactic used by the Zionist leadership during the postwar phase was the staging of large-scale illegal immigration. Dozens of ships (often unseaworthy) were loaded with Jewish refugees at various European ports and directed by special units of the Haganah toward the shores of Palestine. If they succeeded in evading the British naval patrols, another blow would be struck at the 1939 White Paper; if the British intercepted them, this action could be (and was) presented to the world as callously depriving the wretched remnants of the concentration camps of their only hope of survival.

But the war was at an end, and the survivors of the concentration camps had been removed from their horrible surroundings and put under humane Allied care. There was ample opportunity for countries genuinely concerned on humanitarian grounds to contribute to the alleviation of the survivors' plight by lifting the restrictions on refugee immigration across their own borders. The British government had already reneged in November 1945 on its 1939 White Paper promises by allowing continued Jewish immigration into Palestine (after the exhaustion of the five-year quota) at a monthly rate of fifteen hundred, in spite of the clear absence of Palestinian "acquiescence."


The Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries viewed these developments with growing alarm. Early hopes that American policy would be evenhanded were based on a meeting held at the Suez Canal in February 1945 between President Franklin Roosevelt and King ibn-Saud of Saudi Arabia. At the meeting Roosevelt had assured ibn-Saud that the United States would take no action on the Palestine problem that "would be hostile to the Arabs." Yet within a matter of months President Truman opened his campaign against the 1939 White Paper and soon thereafter declared his sponsorship of Zionist territorial demands. By so doing he began the "dialogue of the deaf" on Palestine that has continued to this day between Washington and the Arab world, and gratuitously launched the Arabs on their path of alienation from the United States.

Although now organized in the Arab League, the Arab countries were far from capable of effective collective action. The League itself was a loose confederal association still very much in its infancy. The dynasties of Saudi Arabia and Egypt were in conflict with those of Iraq and Transjordan. The ruler of Transjordan had dynastic claims in republican Syria and Lebanon. It was not until 1946 that Syria and Lebanon rid themselves of the last French troops left over from the former Mandatory regime. Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan were all tied to Britain by unequal treaties that considerably circumscribed their power to act in the military, diplomatic, and economic fields. Although Iraq had been producing oil for some time, its oil revenues were minimal as a result of inequitable agreements with Western oil companies. Saudi Arabia was still on the threshold of oil production. Nevertheless, the League countries were all deeply concerned about developments in Palestine. Their publics instinctively sympathized with the Palestinian cause and demanded government action in its support.

Throughout the postwar phase, the cornerstone of Arab League strategy was to pressure Britain to adhere to the 1939 White Paper. This pressure was exerted mainly through quiet diplomacy and negotiations. Some Arab countries (as well as Arab public opinion in general) demanded economic sanctions against Western oil interests in retaliation for American pro-Zionist policies; but no official Arab consensus was ever reached on the subject. Inside Palestine, Arab League strategy was to avoid involvement in the fighting between the Zionists and the British, to encourage conciliation between Palestinian factions, and to support the reconstituted Arab Higher Committee, which the British finally permitted to function again in 1945. The League also set up an agricultural fund to advance credit to Palestinian farmers and thereby curb Zionist land acquisition. In sharp contrast to Zionist strategy, there was a total absence on the Arab side of any military preparedness or planning. The first time the Arab League seriously faced this question was in September 1947, though even then the measures decided on were altogether inadequate. Arab inattention to the military dimension resulted largely from a misplaced belief that Britain would not abdicate its responsibilities as the Mandatory power in Palestine.

But the British were caught at the point of intersecting pressures generated by Washington and the Zionists on the one hand, and the Arab League on the other. They were now harvesting the crop sown with the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Reluctant to crush the Zionist rebellion, and unable to implement either the 1939 White Paper policy (because of Zionist opposition) or partition (because of Palestinian and Arab opposition), they were rapidly reaching the end of their tether. At first they tried to coopt the United States into serious joint decision-making on Palestine as a means of tempering the American bias in favor of Zionism. In November 1945 they suggested the formation of an Anglo-American committee of inquiry as well as another joint team of experts to follow up on the committee's findings. This effort failed, however, because President Truman endorsed only those recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee's report (issued in May 1946) that supported the Zionist viewpoint. And the joint team's plan for a federal solution of the Palestine problem (issued in July 1946), which neither the Arabs nor the Zionists accepted, was dealt a final blow by Truman's endorsement in August 1946 of the Zionist plan for partition. When another plan, put forward in February 1947 by Britain and based on the concept of provincial autonomy, was also rejected by both Zionists and Arabs, the British referred the whole matter to the United Nations.

By now it had become abundantly clear that a partition plan providing for the establishment of a Jewish state in the greater part of Palestine was the only solution acceptable to the Zionists. It had been equally clear for a decade that such a "solution" was abhorrent to the Palestinians for the same reasons that had spurred them to fight their bitter fight against partition in 1937-39. Only Britain stood in the way of a direct collision between the two protagonists.

Meeting in a special session in April and May of 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided on the dispatch to Palestine of yet another commission of inquiry: the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). In September the new committee produced a majority report endorsing partition and a minority report recommending a federal solution. On 29 October 1947 Britain indicated that it would leave Palestine within six months if no settlement agreeable to both Zionists and Palestinians were reached. Britain was getting out of the way.