The commission, led by Sir John Woodhead, was formed in March 1938 in response to dissension within the British government over the July 1937 Peel partition plan for Palestine and the re-ignition of the Arab revolt that had followed its promulgation. The new commission was instructed to gather evidence from the various parties and to recommend boundaries for two self-sufficient states, one Arab and one Jewish, to replace the British Mandate.
The Arab and Jewish positions were irreconcilable. All Palestinian Arab factions and the surrounding Arab states were unified in their opposition to partition and demanded the creation of an independent Arab state on the entire Mandate territory. The Jewish Agency proposed an increase in the territory designated for the Jewish state by Lord Peel. On 9 November 1938 the Woodhead Commission issued its report, which stated that two independent states would be impracticable on financial and administrative grounds. It called for a conference of all relevant parties in London to work out a compromise. The parties met at the St. James Round Table Conference in February/March 1939. In order to enhance its security and improve its position with Arab states on the eve of war, the government then issued the MacDonald White Paper of 17 May 1939.