Sir Harold MacMichael, High Commissioner of Palestine to Oliver Stanley,  Colonial Secretary of HMG, Jerusalem

(17 July 1944)

(Abbreviated Letter), CO 733/461/75872S

Part 2 

Top Secret       High Commissioner for Palestine


Before relinquishing my post as High Commissioner for Palestine I think it due, not only to His Majesty’s Government but to myself, that I should summarize in brief and general terms the views regarding future policy which I have formed as a result of continuous contact with the problem of Palestine during the last six and a half years. In doing so I may be forgiven if I abstain from supporting my theses at every point with detailed argument and documentation. Looking back on all that I have written and said during my tenure of office I do not think that I have failed to cover the ground sufficiently, and

2. One point I would make clear at the outset. While not by any means devoid of sympathy for Jews, Levantines or Arabs, nor for such of their aspirations as are not mutually exclusive, I hold the primary criterion to be the good name and security of our own Empire….An attitude of altruism is unconvincing to the Semitic races and greater frankness would have served to enhance appreciation of our bona fides.

3. As a rule the opening approach to the problem of Palestine has been directed to its political status. Is it to be an all— “Arab” State or an all-Jewish State, a binational State or two separate States, or should it be re-incorporated within the framework of the Empire, or be placed under international administration? The problem of Jewish immigration has, of course, been recognized as most important under any dispensation, but it has been treated as though it were secondary, in point of time, to the main problem. My own view is that the question of the future political status of Palestine can only be answered when a clear decision has been reached upon the antecedent question of the policy to be followed in respect of immigration, and that decision, I hold, should not be reached until we are sure whether or not mass immigration is more conducive to our imperial interests than a system of strict and close control under which each application for entry would be judged upon it’s intrinsic merits.

4. It is my own belief that the continuance of Jewish immigration on any considerable scale into an undivided Palestine would be disastrous to our imperial interests, to the security of the Middle East, to the Arabs, whose fear of a Jewish deluge is not without justification, and to the Jews themselves,…largely for this reason, being doubtful whether His Majesty’s Government has in any case the actual power to counter the determination of the Jews to immigrate in mass, I have felt constrained to advocate partition as offering the only remaining hope of localizing the trouble to come without inflicting grave injustice upon either of the rival claimants to domination.

5. It may objected that after the war, when Europe has been freed and when Palestine is in the throes of unemployment, the urge to come to Palestine will be small. The Jewish Agency is fully active to this danger threatening the fabric of their political ambitions. They are exerting, and will continue to exert, the most strenuous and highly organized efforts in every quarter of the globe to counteract it. Whether they will succeed or not cannot be known with surety but the power of the rhetoric, reinforced by funds which are seemingly inexhaustible, to sway the emotions of an imaginative and persistent people is very potent. The issues are, at least, in doubt, and I cannot think it safe or wise to place such reliance upon the rejection by worldly-Jewry of an emotional appeal made for the sake of the Land of Israel, as to assume that the problem will solve itself automatically.

6. This brings me to my central point. …I see no alternative to partition; whereby Jewish immigration would lose most of its terror for the Arab – and much of its attraction for the Jew. Jewish immigration into a Jewish State would become a problem for the Jews themselves to deal with as they thought best.

By partition it may be possible to save the Middle East from major disturbances and prevent our name being blackened for generations from India to Egypt and from Aden to Aleppo. I do not deny that it will involve riots and some bloodshed, protests and speeches galore from both sides, but I am convinced that the situation, firmly handled, can be restored with no great damage done and no permanent detriment to our essential interests. Some degree of finality will at long last have been achieved and the way remain open to the gradual consolidation of inter-racial relationships. Jews and Arabs alike would enjoy the possession of their own respective territories, the former protected by international guarantees for their security and the latter relieved from the fear of further encroachments at the instance of a foreign mandatory. For neither would there be the same inducements as before to out-vie the other in a crescendo of demands for more.

7. As things stand, with fanatical extremism growing daily, partition has come to provide the only road out of an impossible impasse. Maybe partition must be interpreted as the deferred penalty of vacillation, but if it is treated as an opportunity for well-planned reconstruction it need not constitute a final confession of failure.

8. Thus, in my view, the prerequisite of restoring peace and, eventually, goodwill in the Middle East is either the stoppage of mass immigration into Palestine or its confinement to a defined area. The former involves two elements on the part of His Majesty’s Government, intention and ability. In pursuance of the intention it would be necessary to resolve the ambiguities and inconsistences of the Balfour Declaration by proclaiming that it has been faithfully fulfilled in so far as the inconsistencies permit. The matter of ability, as we know from the bitter experience of dealing with illegal immigration in the past, presents a difficulty which, in the face of Jewish determination, may seem almost insurmountable for His Majesty’s Government, though less so for a group of independent Arab States. The alternative of partition is at least practicable and not unfair. It is easier to square it with the main clause of the Balfour Declaration, the pledge of Jewry, than with the proviso safeguarding Arab rights, but it’s hard to see how pledge and proviso can be squared with one another in any case, and the time has come when the Gordian knot must be cut.

9. If my assumptions are wrong and the intention and the ability strictly to control immigration stand valid, the case for partition, so inherently weak when viewed in its historical aspect, loses force. Since I became persuaded that His Majesty’s Government would not, and probably could not, strictly and effectively control immigration, I have come, if for no other reason, to regard partition as faut de mieux inevitable.

10. I would add that I am convinced that the problem of Palestine can never be satisfactorily solved in terms of Palestine alone. Whether Palestine becomes two independent States or one binational State, its re-integration, together with Transjordan, into the larger unit of which it has formed a part throughout history, is necessary to the economic stability of its people and will be conducive to the growth of peace and progress in the Middle East. Left entirely to its own devices the Levant, torn by the fissiparous forces of intrigue, ambition and inefficiency, will dissolve into chaos. We cannot afford that this should happen and some form of supervisory tutelage, in the form, perhaps of an arbitral commission, together with the grant of full and ample facilities for our armies, navies and air-forces, is surely essential. 

11. The problem of Palestine and the Levant which are so closely interrelated, have been reviewed separately upon many occasions since the clause of the last war. It is vital that they be dealt with as a whole……as the end of the war draws nearer, both Jews and Arabs are intensifying their efforts to prepare for the day of reckoning which they see looming close ahead. Determination is becoming daily stiffer; the bidding is getting higher; leaders are becoming more deeply committed by slogans and pledges; arms are being collected. To these tendencies the publicity is given, on the one hand, to “Arab Unity” talks, and, on the other, to Zionist propaganda in America, act as violent stimuli, and though the latter will no doubt lose its intensity when the presidential election is over it will have played its fill part in the exacerbation of Arab sentiment and the encouragement of Jewish ambition. In each community there is a considerable minority which is “bloody, bold and resolute,” though the majority are, it is true, somewhat lacking in boldness and resolution.

12. I am sending copies of this dispatch to His Majesty’s Minister Resident in the Middle East, His Majesty’s Ambassadors in Cairo and Baghdad and His Majesty’s Ministers in Beirut and Jedda.

I have the honor to be,


Your most obedient, humble servant,

Harold MacMichael

High Commissioner for Palestine