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Partitioning Palestine

British Policymaking at the End of Empire

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

Partitioning Palestine is the first history of the ideological and political forces that led to the idea of partition—that is, a division of territory and sovereignty—in British mandate Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. Inverting the spate of narratives that focus on how the idea contributed to, or hindered, the development of future Israeli and Palestinian states, Penny Sinanoglou asks instead what drove and constrained British policymaking around partition, and why partition was simultaneously so appealing to British policymakers yet ultimately proved so difficult for them to enact. Taking a broad view not only of local and regional factors, but also of Palestine’s place in the British empire and its status as a League of Nations mandate, Sinanoglou deftly recasts the story of partition in Palestine as a struggle to maintain imperial control. After all, British partition plans imagined space both for a Zionist state indebted to Britain and for continued British control over key geostrategic assets, depending in large part on the forced movement of Arab populations. With her detailed look at the development of the idea of partition from its origins in the 1920s, Sinanoglou makes a bold contribution to our understanding of the complex interplay between internationalism and imperialism at the end of the British empire and reveals the legacies of British partitionist thinking in the broader history of decolonization in the modern Middle East.

256 pages | 14 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Geography: Social and Political Geography

History: British and Irish History, Middle Eastern History

Middle Eastern Studies


"Sinanoglou has found an important way to intervene in the literature. This book will appeal not only to historians of Palestine, but also to scholars working more broadly on partition, decolonization, and the end of the British Empire."

Arab Studies Quarterly

"Penny Sinanoglou takes us back to the genesis of the partition concept in her new book, which is the most significant study to date of British policy on partition under the Palestine Mandate. . . . The account offered in Partitioning Palestine is illuminating and draws worthy attention to the haphazard qualities of Britain’s overall management of Palestine."

International Journal of Middle East Studies

"At its core, Penny Sinanoglou’s Partitioning Palestine: British Policymaking at the End of Empire is a study of partition as it relates to the Palestine Mandate. Sinanoglou traces the history of British partition planning from informal conversations among policymakers in the 1920s and 1930s through its public emergence in the form of the 1937 Peel Report and the various plans that followed, culminating in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. . . . Partitioning Palestine easily finds its niche in the vast scholarship pertaining to the territorial division of Israel and Palestine. . . . Sinanoglou produces a valuable work with relevance beyond the geographic constraints of Palestine. . . . Partitioning Palestine would well serve any student looking to delve into history of the Palestine Mandate beyond the treatment typical of a standard survey while also providing enough nuance that experienced scholars will find its content relevant to more advanced research endeavors. . . . The end result is a book with relevance to a wide range of scholars, particularly those concerned with the modern Middle East or questions of empire in the twentieth century at large."

The Middle Ground Journal

“An even-handed and meticulous study of the British role in the making and unmaking of Palestine during the interwar years. It is as much a book about the processes of decolonization and the end of empire as it is about the failed attempt to divide the Palestine mandate into two distinct nations under the influence of the British empire. By exploring the failures of partition, Sinanoglou convincingly argues that it is impossible to understand the politics of nationalism in the Middle East without considering imperial and internationalist concerns, which often overlapped in sometimes surprising ways.”

Michelle Tusan, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“This important study retraces the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict, reframing it in the contexts of the interwar international order and British imperial policy. By showing that plans to partition Palestine were part of a wider late-imperial strategy to manage ethnic conflict, Sinanoglou provides essential insights into the origins of one of the modern world’s most intractable problems.”

Dane Kennedy, author of The Imperial History Wars: Debating the British Empire

“Sinanoglou has written a clear and compelling account of the events of the 1930s that led to a British ‘conceptual blueprint’ for Palestine’s partition. Her book is an indispensable case study of the complexity of national self-determination in the Middle East.”

Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

“Meticulously researched and elegantly presented, Partitioning Palestine offers a bold intervention in the field, revealing partition’s exceptional and nonlinear historical voyage. A must-read for students of the modern Middle East and twentieth-century empire and decolonization, Partitioning Palestine offers not only much-needed historical context but also serves as a cautionary tale for future policymakers.”

Arie M. Dubnov, George Washington University

“While there is a vast literature about the 1948 partition of Palestine, Sinanoglou has added a dimension seldom, if at all, explored by others. . . . An important contribution to understanding the events of that period.”

P. Clawson | Choice

Table of Contents



One / Partition’s Pathways: Imperial and International Contexts
Two / Before Peel: Territorial Solutions to the Palestine Problem, 1929–1936
Three / The Peel Commission in Palestine, 1936–1937
Four / Negotiating Partition, 1936–1937
Five / The Demise of Partition, 1937–1939

Conclusion: Partition Redux, 1939–1948
Appendix I: Mandate for Palestine
Appendix II: Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations
List of Abbreviations


Phi Alpha Theta International Honor Society in History: Best First Book Award

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