In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The British Mandate of Palestine and International Law

  • Introduction
  • Mandate System in General
  • Mandate System in Palestine
  • Promotion of a Jewish National Home
  • Permanent Mandates Commission
  • Sovereignty: Relevance of
  • Sovereignty in the Population
  • Sovereignty Elsewhere
  • Palestine in the International Community
  • Citizenship of Palestine’s Inhabitants

International Law The British Mandate of Palestine and International Law
John Quigley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0200


The establishment of Great Britain’s mandate over Palestine generated complex issues of international law. The mandate system was devised at the Paris Peace Conference with little prior analysis that might have given a clear answer as to its meaning. Complicating any analysis was the fact that three varieties of mandate were established, as Classes A, B, and C, with differing roles for the mandatory power. The Palestine Mandate was a Class A mandate, meaning a more robust status than that provided for Class B or C territories. Even within Class A differences existed. The three Class A mandates were Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, and Palestine. Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Syria each had a local administration with the mandatory power in an advisory capacity, whereas in Palestine the administration consisted of British personnel. The mandate system was criticized at the time as a continuation of colonial rule in a new guise. Feeding this criticism was the fact that in Great Britain’s governance structure, the Palestine Administration fell under the supervision of the Secretary for the Colonies. At the same time, Great Britain was subject to oversight by the League of Nations, through its Permanent Mandates Commission, and was enjoined to work toward relinquishing its role. Great Britain’s mandate over Palestine was further complicated by the fact that it involved a further injunction, namely, to foster a “Jewish national home” there. A notion of self-determination of peoples was becoming acknowledged at this period, and it was unclear how the concept of a “Jewish national home” might impact the population of Palestine, which was overwhelmingly Arab. Among international law writers of the 1920s, the mandate system generated a veritable cottage industry of scholarship, as they strained to fit it into existing categories of territorial status. Virtually every major international law analyst of the era expressed an opinion, with a number of them writing substantial volumes on the mandate system in general, or on Great Britain’s Palestine Mandate in particular. A technical note: The name “Henri Rolin” can be a source of confusion, as two Belgian scholars by this name wrote about the mandates in the interwar period. The dates of the elder Rolin are 1874–1946. The dates of the younger Rolin are 1891–1973. In the entries, each Rolin is identified by his dates.

Mandate System in General

The fascination among international law analysts for the mandate system yielded a number of general analyses that provide a good start for anyone with a serious interest in the subject. The writers of the listed works were all seeking to ascertain how this novel legal category fit with the existing norms of international law. Potter 1922 and Smuts 1928 explain how the mandate system was conceived as the Covenant of the League of Nations was being drafted. Bentwich 1930, McNair 1928, Rappard 1946, and Stone 1944 give brief accounts of the mandate system. Anghie 2005 puts the mandate system into historical context. Administration is explained by White 1926. Stoyanovsky 1925 and Wright 1930 are major works on legal issues involved in the mandate system.

  • Anghie, Antony. Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511614262

    Includes a major chapter on the mandate system, analyzing from the policy viewpoint and viewing the system as a stage in the evolution of the management of colonial territory.

  • Bentwich, Norman. The Mandates System. London: Longmans, 1930.

    A general analysis of the mandate system. Author was the first Attorney-General in Palestine when the mandate system was instituted there, serving until 1931; hence, the work is written from the perspective of an official involved in mandate administration. Key documents are included in an appendix.

  • McNair, Arnold. “Mandates.” Cambridge Law Journal 3 (1928): 149–160.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0008197300110529

    Brief overview of the mandate system, focusing on the issue of sovereignty and saying that the existing notion of sovereignty cannot be applied to the mandate territories.

  • Potter, Pitman B. “Origin of the System of Mandates under the League of Nations.” American Political Science Review 16 (1922): 563–583.

    DOI: 10.2307/1943638

    Concise explanation of the background of the mandate provision in the Covenant of the League of Nations.

  • Rappard, William. “The Mandates and the International Trusteeship Systems.” Political Science Quarterly 61 (1946): 408–419.

    DOI: 10.2307/2144642

    A brief overview of the mandate system. Author was chair of the Permanent Mandates Commission, which oversaw the activity of the mandatory powers. Compares the mandate system to the procedures that replaced it upon formation of the United Nations.

  • Smuts, Jan. “The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion (Smuts Plan), 16 December 1918.” In The Drafting of the Covenant. Vol. 2. Edited by David Hunter Miller, 27. New York: Putnam, 1928.

    A proposal for an arrangement that would keep the victorious Allies from annexing territory taken in the Great War. Smuts’ proposal would be incorporated into the League of Nations Covenant as the mandate system.

  • Stone, Julius. Colonial Trusteeship in Transition. Sydney: Australian Institute of International Affairs, 1944.

    A short pamphlet that explains the mandate system and focuses on tension between the obligation to foster the interests of the local population and the desire of mandatory powers to extract wealth from the territory under mandate.

  • Stoyanovsky, Jacob. La théorie générale des mandats internationaux. Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France, 1925.

    A major treatise on the mandates, including the role of mandatory powers, the oversight role of the League of Nations, and the legal status of mandate territories.

  • White, Freda. Mandates. London: Jonathan Cape, 1926.

    An overview of the territories under mandate. Describes the territories under mandate with a focus on how they were administered to date of publication. For Palestine, explains Zionist view and Arab opposition to Balfour Declaration, viewing the contention as between two nationalisms.

  • Wright, Quincy. Mandates under the League of Nations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930.

    A major treatise on all major aspects of the mandate system. Sovereignty is said in some cases to be held jointly by the League and the mandated community, the exercise of sovereignty being in those cases divided between them and the mandatory in proportions which vary according to the terms of the particular mandate.

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