Britain in Palestine (1917-1948) - Occupation, the Palestine Mandate, and International Law

Patrick Terry

Abstract


At a time when there are not even negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in order to resolve their longstanding dispute, this article seeks to explain the origins of the conflict by examining Britain’s conduct in Palestine from 1917-1948, first as an occupier, then as the responsible mandatory, under international law. Although at first sight dealing with a purely historical issue, a discussion of British conduct in Palestine is relevant at a time when the realization of a viable two-State-solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is becoming ever more urgent and concurrently less likely. This article analyses the developments in Palestine as of 1917 and the legality, in international law, of (mainly) British actions. It will be argued that British attempts at implementing the Balfour Declaration -which, as will be shown, had no standing in international law- while being occupiers of enemy territory were contrary to the Hague Regulations as acknowledged by leading British officials at the time. It will then be explained that the Palestine Mandate, as confirmed by the League of Nations’ Council, contravened Article 22 (4) of the League of Nations Covenant, and that British efforts to implement it as of 1920 -and thus four years before the peace treaty with Turkey came into force- were similarly inconsistent with the Hague Regulations. Far from believing in the legality of their actions, leading British officials and politicians were, as will be documented, well aware of their conduct’s “legal imperfections”. It will be concluded that British conduct in Palestine could rarely, if at all, claim to be accordance with the new international legal order the UK had helped to create following WWI. Repeatedly ignoring international law did not benefit the British: their rule in Palestine was to end in humiliating defeat in 1948. Almost seventy years later the world is still trying to resolve a conflict the British set in motion in 1917 with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration.


Keywords


Palestine (1917-1948); United Kingdom; Public International Law

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DOI: 10.6092/issn.2531-6133/7663

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Copyright (c) 2018 Patrick Terry

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