Networks of Partition in Britain’s Withdrawal from India and Palestine, 1947–48

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:30 PM
Lincoln Room (New York Hilton)
Lucy Chester, University of Colorado Boulder
This paper examines real and imagined connections between partition plans for British India and for the Palestine Mandate in the years after World War II. As British power waned, Arab, British, Indian, Jewish, and other groups sought to shape the future of South Asia and the Middle East. Many of them saw connections between India and Palestine, but the lessons they drew from these cases varied widely and they deployed them to very different ends. Some argued that arguments for partition in India applied just as forcefully to Palestine. Others argued that the two cases were fundamentally different and had no meaningful connection. All observers were aware of the potential power of India-Palestine analogies and sought to use them in ways that would benefit their own political purposes.

Britain hastily partitioned India in 1947. It withdrew from Palestine in 1948 without dividing it, despite having invested nearly two decades in planning for partition there. Drawing on archival research in India, Britain, Israel/Palestine, and the United States, as well as published primary sources from Egypt, Lebanon, and Pakistan, I argue that these debates about partition in these two areas simultaneously built on and unsettled existing connections between them. In particular, they disrupted relations between Indian Muslims and Arabs. This paper is part of a larger book project that shows that events in India and Palestine were intertwined from World War I onward and that links between the two cases persisted after Britain’s withdrawal. Transcolonial networks, both imperial and anti-colonial, affected British policy in both areas and contributed to significant continuities after Britain’s withdrawal. Partition and withdrawal did not mark a sharp cutoff in either India/Pakistan or Israel/Palestine, but were processes that unfolded over time and arguably are still unfolding.

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