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Victor Kattan

This chapter explains why majority rule remained the basis for the partition of the Indian subcontinent, but was not put into effect in Palestine as the Jewish population only formed a majority in one of Palestine’s subdistricts – the Jaffa subdistrict – which was too small to establish an independent Jewish state. So majority rule was applied in British India between Muslims and non-Muslims, but denied to the Arabs of Palestine where subdistricts with overwhelming Arab majorities were allotted to the Jewish state. Drawing on archival sources, the chapter explains how the Muslim League made inquiries with the Permanent Mandates Commission in Geneva in the late 1930s as to whether, as representatives of British India, they could challenge the legality of British policy in Palestine at the Permanent Court of International Justice, which they alleged was incompatible with Britain’s obligations under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Strikingly, this inquiry bore a resemblance to the later attempt by Ethiopia and Liberia to challenge apartheid in South West Africa at the International Court of Justice that was based on the same provision of the League’s Covenant. One of the consequences of this flagrant deprivation of Palestinian democratic rights, and the perpetuation of minority rule in large parts of the colonial world, was that it paved the way for the emergence of an aggressive form of Third World nationalism that led to the development of irredentist forms of violent nationalism and anti-imperialism.

in The breakup of India and Palestine
The causes and legacies of partition
Editors: and

This book is the first study of political and legal thinking about the partitions of India and Palestine in 1947. It explains how these two formative moments collectively contributed to the disintegration of the European colonial empires and unleashed political forces whose legacies continue to shape the modern politics of the Middle East and South Asia. The chapters in the volume, authored by leading scholars of partition, draw attention to the pathways of peoples, geographic spaces, colonial policies, laws and institutions that connect them from the vantage point of those most engaged in the process: political actors, party activists, jurists, diplomats, writers and international representatives from the Middle East, South Asia and beyond. Additionally, the volume investigates some of the underlying causes of partition in both places, such as the hardening of religious fault lines, majoritarian politics and the failure to construct viable forms of government in deeply divided societies. Finally, this book analyses why, even seventy-five years after partition, the two regions have not been able to address some of the pertinent historical, political and social debates of the colonial years. It moves the debate about partition away from the imperial centre, by focusing on ground level arguments about the future of postcolonial India and Palestine and the still unfolding repercussions of those debates.

Institutions, policies, laws and people
Victor Kattan
Amit Ranjan

The introduction compares and contrasts the decisions taken by the British Government and the United Nations to partition India and Palestine in 1947 by drawing attention to their timing, which occurred within months of each other. The chapter then traces the etymology of partition to earlier imperial divisions in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, portraying partition as an imperial continuum. The similarities in British administrative policies in India and Palestine are then considered – identifying colonial subjects by their socially constructed religious identities – and attention is drawn to the provenance of both places as holy lands. The role of institutions, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, in partition, are then considered, as well as the influence of external powers such as the USA and the Soviet Union. Finally, the introduction summarises the contributions in the chapters that follow.

in The breakup of India and Palestine