Great Britain, faced with the prospect of war in Europe, wanted to remain on good terms with the Arab countries to ascertain its military position in the Middle East. In order to avoid the Arab countries aligning with Germany and Italy, the Palestinian Arabs had to be appeased. According to historian Christopher Sykes
…the concern of the Arabic-speaking world was […] a real fact and an extremely dangerous one. It tended to make the Arab world friendly disposed to Nazi-Germany, and a large part of the oil resources of Britain were situated in the Arab world. To have opened a major quarrel with Arab States when Europe was moving towards war would have been an act of folly without precedent.During the years before the war, the Arab Middle East had been very receptive to elements of the ideology of Nazism. This success of Nazi propaganda was not only a result of the strong desire to be freed from Britain and France, but also because of the National Socialist appeal to authoritarian and nationalist emotions alike. To many it seemed a model for the swift development of a society towards an economically developed, politically united and military strong state under a charismatic leader. Beside that, the anti-Semitic ideology and policy of Nazism seemed ideologically close to Arab resistance against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in Palestine.
On 9 November 1938, The British government published an invitation for ‘representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and of the neighbouring States on the one hand and of the Jewish Agency on the other, to confer with them as soon as possible in London regarding future policy, including the question of immigration into Palestine.’ The same document stated that if the London discussions should not produce agreement within a reasonable period of time, the Government would take its own decisions.
Even before Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain opened the London Conference on 7 February 1939, most Zionists understood the aim of the conference. They expected it to restrict, if not to halt, immigration and land purchase. After much discussion they decided to participate because Jewish attendance might succeed in softening the restrictions the British intended to propose. The urgency for European Jewry to be able to immigrate into Palestine was strongly felt. Moreover, non-participation would give the British even more justification for imposing their policy, since then there would not be any chance for a voluntary agreement, for which they could blame the Jews.
To Chaim Weizmann was allotted the task of making the Zionist position clear to the British. On 8 February he spoke on the right of the Jews to be in sole control of immigration and of being guaranteed against becoming a minority or leading a minority life in Palestine. The situation in Germany made this very urgent. Weizmann expressed his concern for good relations between Jews and Arabs. The Jews had sought to find peace with them, but the fault lay with the Arabs. Weizmann argued that
…it is not that they are frightened of our domination; it is their desire to dominate which is the true root of the trouble. […] A road to an understanding - perhaps a narrow path and not a royal road – may be found in the principle of mutual non-domination. We do not want to dominate the Arabs but we do not wish to be – we cannot be – dominated by them. […] Once that fundamental principle has been inculcated into the Arab mind, as a result of a considerable educational process, I am not without hope that some day we shall find a way to each other.Weizmann closed his address with recommending a far-sighted program for the economic development of Palestine. This program, serving Jews and Arabs equally, would be a bridge towards peace. Another task of Britain would be to solve the constitutional problems. In Weizmann’s words, Britain had ‘… to create in and for Palestine a political structure guaranteeing political equality to both sides and removing Arab fears. […] I believe then Palestine could be opened to large immigration.’
Weizmann expected of Britain assistance to facilitate large-scale Jewish immigration and its absorption. He asked for the placing at Jewish disposal of all substantial areas of land in Palestine that were classed by the Government as uncultivable. He also wanted a permanent and adequate Jewish Defense Force to be created in Palestine, for self-defense and for lightening the burden of the British Forces and for any possible emergency.
The Arabs presented their case the following day, on 9 February. They did so in a separate meeting with the British, as they refused to recognize the Jewish Agency and to sit at one table with the Zionists. The Arab demands were summarized by Jamal al-Husayni from Palestine. It was obvious they had not come to London to compromise with the Jews. They wanted complete independence of Palestine as a sovereign Arab state and immediate cessation of all Jewish immigration and of land sales to Jews. They were prepared, however, to protect all legitimate rights of the Jews and other minorities in Palestine.
The following day, 10 February, Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald replied to Weizmann’s statements, stressing that Britain had obligations both to Jews and Arabs. It was indeed true that the Jews had special rights in Palestine, but these rights were limited by the physical smallness of the country and by the political rights of the Arabs. To this Ben Gurion replied that
Great Britain undertook obligations to the whole world by recognizing the prior rights of the Jews in Palestine. As against these rights those of the Arab population of Palestine were secondary.MacDonald made very clear what kind of agreement he hoped to achieve. On 15 February he proposed that the Jews should appease the Palestinian Arabs by removing their fear of Jewish domination. This he wanted to attain by continuing Jewish immigration for a certain period of years, provided that within that period the yearly quotas would not lead to a Jewish majority after that period. At the end of this period Jewish immigration would only be allowed with Arab consent, thereby removing the genuine Arab fear of Jewish domination.
Ben Gurion’s comment at that moment was that the Jews were in fact asked to renounce their title to be in Palestine as of right, and not on sufferance, and to accept a permanent minority status in a foreign state. MacDonald said he understood their fear of becoming a minority in a foreign state. This fear was not necessary either if the mandate system would remain in force or if the independent Palestinian state would have a constitution on the basis of parity, the Jews being equal partners in power, irrespective of their number in Palestine. He said he did not view parity as a possible way out of the deadlock, because the Arabs would not agree to it. He therefore suggested Palestine to remain a Mandate of Britain and to have constitutional organs created on the basis of parity as between Jews and Arabs. He also suggested the authorities to restrict land sales from Arabs to Jews.
The following day MacDonald was assured by Jamal al-Husayni that the Arabs of Palestine would never accept the humiliation of being placed on an equal basis with a Jewish minority. They did not accept the principle of constitutional parity. Jamal said that if the Palestinian Arab leaders could tell their people that their demands would be met, they could put an immediate end to their revolt. Otherwise they would not be able to pacify the people of Palestine after all their sacrifices.
On behalf of the Jewish delegation, on 17 February a minority position for Jews in Palestine and restrictions on land purchases by Jews were rejected. They did not believe that constitutional parity would be an effective safeguard. The day before, the Jewish Agency Executive had decided to be willing to make an agreement with the Arabs on the basis of give and take, provided that their basic rights were ensured and that no arrangement would be made to curtail immigration. If the Arabs refused to compromise and stuck to their demands, the Zionists would insist on the granting of their demands to the full.
The Zionists, understanding what kind of compromise Britain would propose, as it was clear they would do so unilaterally, took the initiative themselves and proposed their own solutions. In a letter of 10 March, Weizmann stressed again the obligations Great Britain as Mandatory had, in securing the continuation and growth of the Jewish national home. Britain was especially expected to facilitate immigration and land settlement. Only if these obligations were accepted, the Jewish delegation would be willing to accept as a basis for further discussions, the idea that self-governing institutions should be developed under the mandate on a basis of parity as between Jews and Arabs, to ensure the non-domination of either race by the other. No restriction on land settlement was acceptable. If the mandate would terminate, discussion would be possible on either establishing a Jewish state in a substantial part of Palestine or a federal unitary Palestinian state with full Jewish control over immigration and with federal institutions based on parity.
The British, however, believed the federal alternative to be workable only after a transitional period, after restrictions on immigration and land sale had been imposed. They did not take the Jewish proposal seriously. As could be expected, no agreement could be reached between the Zionists and the Arabs. Therefore MacDonald presented the final British proposals to the Jewish delegation on 15 March. Palestine eventually had to become an independent state, possibly of a federal nature, but not a Jewish or an Arab State. This could only mean Palestine had to become a Bi-national state, in which Arabs and Jews should share in government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each nation were safeguarded.
The proposal of MacDonald also described the policy Britain had to follow during the transitional period in order to prepare Palestine for independence. During this period government would not be based on parity but on proportional representation. Hope was expressed that this period would last no longer than ten years, depending upon the situation in Palestine and upon the success of the constitutional changes during the transitional period, and the likelihood of effective cooperation in government by the people of Palestine.
In the next five years 75,000 Jewish immigrants were permitted entry, if the economy could absorb them. This would bring the Jewish population up to about one-third of the total population. After five years, further Jewish immigration would only be possible if the Arabs agreed. Finally, the High Commissioner of Palestine would be given general powers to regulate land transfers. He would also have to allocate areas in which transfer of land was to be free, regulated, or prohibited.
 Esco, Palestine, Vol.II, p. 674 recorded the net immigration of Jews into Palestine (1930-1939):
1930 3,265 1935 61,458
1931 3,409 1936 28,954
1932 9,553 1937 9,647
1933 30,327 1938 11,773
1934 42,359 1939 15,386
 J.C. Hurewitz, The Struggle for Palestine (New York 1976), p. 68.
 Haim, Abandonment, p. 132; David Ben Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders (Jerusalem, 1972), pp. 230-1; George Kirk, Survey of International Affairs, 1939-1946, The Middle East in the War (London, 1952), p. 11. The defense of the British policy by Kirk is interesting. He writes that the British ‘were convinced that this […] was essential for the political stability of the Middle East theatre of war, the pivot-theatre through which alone the Western Allies could make it possible in 1942-3 for the Soviet armies to continue to resist the present arch-enemy both of Jewry and of world civilization, until the allied forces were jointly equipped for the final convergence on Berlin.’ Arguing that London took a decision in 1938 because of the need to send supplies to the Soviet armies in 1942-3 is stretching it.
 Christopher Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel (London, 1965), pp. 238-9.
 Stefan Wild, ‘National Socialism in the Arab Near East Between 1933 and 1939’, in Die Welt des Islams Band 25 (Leiden, 1985), p. 170.
 This invitation was part of the British Statement of Policy of 1938, November 9, in which the British Government rejected the partition-proposal of the Royal Peel Commission of 1937, after the Woodhead Technical Commission had proved in 1938 that partitioning of Palestine would create an unworkable situation. Cited in Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin (eds.), The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (Harmondsworth, 1984), pp. 62-3.
 Haim, Abandonment, p. 138.
 Weizmann (1874-1952) was the President of the Jewish Agency (until 1935) and of the World Zionist Organization. He had always been the most important negotiator with the British, on behalf of the Zionist movement, propagating gradualism and a close relation with Britain, as he assumed the Zionist ideal could only be reached with British help.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, pp. 203-6.
 Ibid., p. 212; Susan Lee Hattis, The Bi-national Idea in Palestine During Mandatory Times (Haifa, 1970), p. 202.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, p. 213.
 Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 892.
 These Arabs represented Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Transjordan
 Some speak of two separate conferences, one of the British with the Jews, the other with the Arabs. Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 891.
 Jamal al-Husayni was the cousin of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the main nationalist leader of the revolt of 1936-1939. The Mufti was not allowed to attend the Conference, but in order to placate the Palestinian Arabs with the Mufti being banned, his cousin who was imprisoned on The Seychelles, was released.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, pp. 216-7.
 Ibid., pp. 220-3; A reference to the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
 Ben Gurion was President of the Jewish Agency Executive after 1935, and the foremost leader in the largest Jewish political party in Palestine, MAPAI. That was a left-of-the-center labor party.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, p. 221. Ben Gurion alludes here to the Balfour Declaration.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, p. 242.
 Ibid., pp. 242-3; the words ‘as of right and not on sufferance’ are a quote from the Churchill White Paper of 1922. Cited in Laqeur, Reader, p. 47.
 Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 203.
 Ben Gurion, Talks, pp. 244-6.
 Ibid., pp. 252-4.
 The Executive with its offices in Jerusalem had to implement the policy of the Jewish Agency. The Executive functioned as the government of the Jews in Palestine
 Ben Gurion, Talks, pp. 247, 255-6.
 Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 204-5
 Haim, Abandonment, p. 142
 The High Commissioner was the highest British official in Palestine
 Ben Gurion, Talks, pp. 263-5