- The Legacy of the Middle East
The Balfour Declaration
Commentary by Rick Francona
The British entered into a series of three secret – and conflicting – agreements
concerning the eventual disposition of the Ottoman Empire during the fighting
of World War I, assuming that they would be victorious over the Turks.
The first of these agreements was between Great Britain and Sharif Husayn
bin ‘Ali of Mecca, leader of the Hashimites, then the rulers of the Hijaz.
The second, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was made between Great Britain and
France (and for a short time Russia).
By 1917, the British began to rethink their obligation to jointly administer the region with the French. As a method of gaining French acquiescence, the British sought French approval of the nascent Zionist movement, hoping that French support for a Jewish homeland would replace its designs to share power in the area with the British. The French responded in June 1917 to the British overtures by stating its support for the “renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many years ago.”
After securing French support for the Zionist cause, the British sought further support from other countries with sizeable Jewish and Zionist populations, particularly the United States and Russia. This support was detailed in what is now known as the Balfour Declaration.
The Balfour Declaration
There was an exchange of drafts for the British declaration between the Anglo-Jewish community, under the leadership of Lord Rothschild, and the British government, represented by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. The differences between the first Zionist draft and the final declaration are subtle but significant.
First Zionist proposal:
1. His Majesty's Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.
November 2nd, 1917
To this day, Arabs cite the Balfour Declaration with contempt. At the time, the British press widely publicized the declaration and American President Woodrow Wilson’s statements in support of it. However, news of the declaration was censored in those newly liberated parts of Palestine under the control of British forces led by General Sir Edmund Allenby.
Following the end of the
war, the British were now faced with living up to their agreements with
the Hashimite Arabs, the Saudi Arabs, the French, and the Jewish groups.
Needless to say, they could not honor all of them. The resulting partitions
of the former Ottoman territories into Palestine (what is now Israel and
the areas under the Palestinian Authority), Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar
and parts of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon created the political instability
that remains today.