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The Unique Character of the Mandate for Palestine

  • Matthijs de Blois (a1)


The Mandate for Palestine has a unique character regarding both its beneficiaries, the Jewish people, wherever they live, and the obligations of the Mandatory power. At the same time it has been a burdensome stone right from the beginning. Representatives of Palestinian Arabs have rejected it as being incompatible with their right to self-determination. The policies of Great Britain, the Mandatory power, show a gradual departure from its obligations. The establishment of the Jewish national home became, instead of the primary obligation, just one of the duties of equal weight and content as others under the Mandate. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the relevance of the mandatory system in the light of Article 80 of the UN Charter has been recognised, inter alia, by the International Court of Justice. The unique character of the Palestine Mandate, however, has been kept under wraps. Some academic writings and legal actions by the Palestinians now offer a radical revisionism, which uses the Mandate as the legal basis for a Palestinian state. This trend is not without consequences for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.



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1 League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the Thirty-Sixth Session, held at Geneva (Switzerland), 8–29 June 1939, Fourteenth Meeting, 16 June 1939, The remark was made at the closure of a debate in which Mr MacDonald used all his rhetorical skills to prove that the Palestine Mandate was unique.

2 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (entered into force 1 July 2002) 2187 UNTS 90.

3 The Statute refers to ‘information’ which may induce the Prosecutor to open an investigation proprio motu.

4 Covenant of the League of Nations (entered into force 10 January 1920) (1920) 1 League of Nations Official Journal 3.

5 Charter of the United Nations (entered into force 24 October 1945) 1 UNTS XVI.

6 Boyle, Francis, ‘The Creation of the State of Palestine’ (1990) 1 European Journal of International Law 301, 301–02.

7 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion [2004] ICJ Rep 136.

8 Crawford, James, ‘The Right of Self-Determination in International Law: Its Development and Future’ in Alston, Philip (ed), Peoples’ Rights (Oxford University Press 2001) 7, 14.

9 Quigley, John, ‘The Palestine Declaration to the International Court: The Statehood Issue’ in Meloni, Chantal and Tognoni, Gianni (eds), Is There a Court for Gaza? (TMC Asser Press 2012) 429.

10 Kattan, Victor, From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Pluto Press 2009) 117–45.

11 John Dugard, ‘Britain's Betrayal of the Sacred Trust in Palestine’, Middle East Monitor, 4 May 2015.

12 Letter from the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Walter Rothschild, 2 November 1917 (The Times, 17 November 1917).

13 Partly also by the Palestine Mandate as far as Transjordan was concerned.

14 ‘League of Nations, The Mandates System: Origin – Principles – Application’, Series of League of Nations Publications, April 1945, UN Doc LoN/1945.VI.A.1.

15 Roth, Cecil and Wigoder, Geoffrey (eds), The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (Massada Press 1975) 247.

16 n 12; Laqueur, Walter, A History of Zionism (Schocken Books 1978) 181205 ; Gilbert, Martin, Israel: A History (Black Swan 1998) 3435 . cf also Schneer, Jonathan, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Bloomsbury 2010) 7586 .

17 The United States (US) was also present at the San Remo Conference as an Associated Power, having joined the First World War in April 1917. cf Wallace, Cynthia D, Foundations of the International Legal Rights of the Jewish People and the State of Israel: And the Implications for the Proposed New Palestinian State (Creation House 2012) 4.

18 The text is included in Wallace, ibid 55–56.

19 Stoyanovsky, J, The Mandate for Palestine (Longmans, Green and Co 1928) 4142

20 Treaty of Peace with Turkey, 24 July 1923, Cmd 1929 (Treaty of Lausanne), art 16: ‘Turkey hereby renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognised by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned’.

21 Stoyanovsky (n 19) 24–27.

22 (1923) League of Nations Official Journal 1355. cf also Grief, Howard, The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law (Mazo 2008) 121.

23 Norman Bentwich, ‘Mandated Territories: Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq)’ [1921–22] British Yearbook of International law 48, 51; Spiegel, Manka, Das Völkerrechtliche Mandat und seine Anwendung auf Palästina (Verlag Der Universitäts – Buchhandlung Leuscher & Lubensky 1928) 74.

24 Stoyanovsky (n 19) 41–42.

25 French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (1923) 17 American Journal of International Law, Supplement: Official Documents, 177.

26 ‘Palestine: Correspondence with the Palestine Arab Delegation and the Zionist Organisation’, Cmd 1700, June 1922.

27 Stoyanovsky (n 19) 41–42.

28 UNSCOP, Report to the General Assembly, 3 September 1947, Vol 1, UN Doc A/364, 3, para 76 (UNSCOP Report, September 1947) (based on the 1936 Peel Commission Report).

29 Quoted by Morris, Benny, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press 2008) 10.

30 See the Foreword of Lord Balfour in Sokolow, Nahum, History of Zionism (2 vols, London 1919) xxxiii, as quoted by Stoyanovski (n 19) 70.

31 Gilbert, Martin, Churchill and the Jews (Pocket Books 2007) 71.

32 ibid.

33 Quoted by Gilbert, Martin, Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish Statehood (Steimatzky's Agency Ltd 1978) 127.

34 cf Feinberg, Nathan, ‘The Recognition of the Jewish People in International Law’ in Moore, John Norton (ed), The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Vol I (Princeton University Press 1974) 59, 69.

35 Quoted by Nathan Feinberg, ‘The Arab-Israel Conflict in International Law’ in Norton Moore, ibid 386, 431.

36 Minutes of the Palestine Meeting of the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers, held in San Remo at Villa Devachan, 24 April 1920, Office for Israeli Constitutional Law (2015),

37 Kattan (n 10) 61. cf also Natasha Wheatley, ‘Mandatory Interpretation: Legal Hermeneutics and the New International Order in Arab and Jewish Petitions to the League of Nations’ (2015) 227 Past and Present 205, 207, who observes that the text of the Mandate denied the Arabs all political rights.

38 Laqueur (n 16) 455.

40 cf also Grief (n 22) 116–35.

41 French Mandate (n 25) 177.

42 Palestine Correspondence (n 26) letter dated 21 February 1922.

43 ibid, letter dated 1 March 1922.

44 cf also Kattan (n 10) 78–98.

45 Spiegel (n 23) 74.

46 British White Paper, 3 June 1922, Yale Law School, Avalon Project, ‘Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy’, 2008, (Churchill White Paper).

47 Later from post-exilic times, in general, called Jews.

48 Stoyanovski (n 19) 66.

49 Grief (n 22) 25.

50 Herzl, Theodor, Der Judenstaat (Leipzig und Wien 1896); cf also Avineri, Shlomo, Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, trans Watzman, Haim 2013).

51 From the Hebrew word for ‘ascent’, meaning in this connection the return to Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel, The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (n 15) 71–74.

52 The text can be found in Cohen, Israel (ed), Speeches on Zionism by the Right Hon. The Earl of Balfour (Arrowsmith 1928) 4073 . cf also Laqueur (n 16) 203.

53 Cohen, ibid 60.

54 ibid 60.

55 ibid 61–62.

56 ibid 62.

57 My translation from the original: ‘durch die Gewährung dieser Heimstätte soll einer seit zwei Jahrtausenden verfolgten und entrechten Nation Gerechtigkeit widerfahren und den Antisemitismus, jenem Erzübel, das Zusammenleben und die Zusammenarbeit der Völker mit den Juden bisher vergiftet hat, die Spitze abgebrochen werden: Spiegel (n 23) 76. Manka Spiegel was a lawyer from Graz (Austria).

58 Churchill White Paper (n 46).

59 Sheffer, Gabriel, ‘Intentions and Results of British Policy in Palestine: Passfield's White Paper’ (1973) 9 Middle Eastern Studies 43, 44.

60 Prime Minister's Statement, HC Deb 3 April 1930, vol 237, cc 1466–7, 1466.

61 ibid 1466 (emphasis added).

62 ‘Palestine: Statement of Policy by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom’, HMSO, October 1930 (Passfield White Paper).

63 ibid para 28 (quotation marks in the original).

64 Beckerman-Boys, Carly, ‘The Reversal of the Passfield White Paper, 1930 – I: A Reassessment’ (2015) 51 Journal of Contemporary History 1, 2.

65 Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews (n 31) 93–94.

66 Beckerman-Boys (n 64) 1–2.

67 Miller, Rory, ‘Introduction’ in Miller, Rory (ed), Britain, Palestine and Empire (Ashgate 2010) 9.

68 ‘Palestine Royal Commission Report, Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty’, HMSO, July 1939.

69 Fraser, TG, ‘A Crisis of Leadership: Weizmann and the Zionist Reactions to the Peel Commission's Proposals, 1937–8’ (1988) 23 Journal of Contemporary History, 657, 670–71.

70 Churchill White Paper (n 46).

71 League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes (n 1).

72 HC Deb 22 May 1939, vol 347, cc 1937–2056, col 1951; on the Hogarth message cf also Kattan (n 10) 47.

73 League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes (n 1) Fourteenth Meeting.

74 ibid.

75 Grief (n 22) 208.

76 Gilbert (n 33) 230.

77 Quoted in UNSCOP, Report to the General Assembly, ‘Continuation of the Discussion of the Question of Palestine’, 29 November 1947, Vol. 1, UN Doc A/PV.128, 42, para 79.

78 Jewish Agency for Palestine, ‘The Jewish Case Against the Palestine White Paper, Documents Submitted to the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations’, 1939, 5.

79 ibid 8.

80 ibid 26–27.

81 UNSCOP Report, September 1947 (n 28) para 146.

82 ibid para 172.

83 UNGA Res 181(II) (29 November 1947), ‘Future Government of Palestine’, UN Doc A/RES/181(II).

84 UN Charter (n 5) art 80(1) (emphasis added).

85 Grief (n 22) 257.

86 cf Rosenne, Shabtai, ‘Israel and the United Nations: Changed Perspectives, 1945–1976’ (1978) 78 American Jewish Year Book, 3, 45 ; Eugene Rostow, The Future of Palestine, National Defense University, McNair Paper 24, November 1993, 10 and n 15; Grief (n 22) 255–57; Jerold Auerbach, ‘How Benzion Netanyahu Helped Put in the UN Charter a Clause that Could yet Save the Jewish State’, The Sun (New York), 2 May 2012,

87 Grief (n 22) 257.

88 International Status of South-West Africa Case, Advisory Opinion [1950] ICJ Rep 128, 133.

89 Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), Advisory Opinion [1971] ICJ Rep 16, [55].

90 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (n 7). For a critical appraisal of this Opinion cf Matthijs de Blois, ‘Bad Law and a Hard Case? The Impact of the Wall advisory opinion of the ICJ’ in Cedric Ryngaert, Erik Molenaar and Sarah Nouwen, What's Wrong with International Law? Liber Amicorum Alfred HA Soons (Brill/Nijhoff 2015) 94–113.

91 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (n 7) [88].

92 ibid [118].

93 This was more explicit in the Separate Opinion of Judge Elaraby, who, basing himself primarily on Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, also makes no mention of the specific obligation in Article 2 of the Mandate: ibid, separate opinion of Judge Elaraby 246, [2.1].

94 de Waart, Paul, ‘International Court of Justice Firmly Walled in the Law of Power in the Israeli–Palestinian Peace Process’ (2005) 18 Leiden Journal of International Law 467, 484.

95 ibid 478, referring to Genesis 12:7.

96 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (n 7) [129].

97 cf inter alia Quigley (n 9) 429–40.

98 Quigley, John, ‘The Oslo Accords: More than Israel Deserves’ (1997) 12 American University International Law Review 285. His view of the history of Palestinian Arabs is not only uncommon, but also incorrect; cf inter alia Peters, Joan, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine (Harper and Row 1984).

99 Quigley, John, ‘Competing Claims to the Territory of Historical Palestine’ (2002) 59 Guild Practitioner 76, 79.

100 Boyle, Francis, Palestine, Palestinians and International Law (Clarity Press 2003). cf also Boyle (n 6) 301.

101 Boyle, ibid 38.

102 Kattan (n 10) 78–98.

103 ibid 117–45.

104 Dugard (n 11); Dugard, John, ‘A Tale of Two Sacred Trusts: Namibia and Palestine’ in Maluwa, Tiyanjana (ed), Law, Politics and Rights: Essays in Memory of Kader Asmal (Martinus Nijhoff 2014) 287.

105 ‘Findings of the Final Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine’, Brussels, 16–17 March 2013,

106 Oren Ben-Dor, ‘CfP: International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’, University of Southampton, 17–19 April 2015, Critical Legal Thinking 10 April 2014, (emphasis in the original).

107 Oren Ben-Dor, ‘Why Israel Has No “Right to Exist” as a Jewish State’, Counterpunch, 20 November 2007,

108 cf also Rostow, Eugene V, ‘Notes and Comments’ (1990) 84 American Journal of International Law 717.

109 Palestine Correspondence (n 26)

110 cf Cattan, Henry, Palestine and International Law (Longman 1973); Division of Palestinian Rights, The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem: 1917–1988 (United Nations 1990).

111 The Palestinian National Charter: Resolutions of the Palestine National Council, 1–17 July 1968, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, 2008,

112 cf, eg, Bar-Yaacov, Nissim, ‘The Applicability of the Laws of War to Judea and Samaria (The West Bank) and to the Gaza Strip’ (1990) 24 Israel Law Review 485.



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