By Eric Vandenbroeck

While this month is again marked by a centennial of the Balfour declaration the Gaza border, this month, in particular, was marred by violent clashes.

As highlighted by an upcoming book Partitioning Palestine: British Policymaking at the End of Empire the edited version of the 2008 dissertation by Penny Sinanoglou the partitions of British India and the failure of partition plan in Mandatory Palestine are striking events of contemporary history. The reverberations caused by the repercussions of these events can be felt to this day. Israel, Palestine conflict has shaped and continues to shape international politics. The Arab world and Israel have fought multiple wars to end the quagmire left by the failure of the partition plan of Mandatory Palestine. Now, it seems, with each of the Arab countries busy at dealing with their own problems, Palestinians have to fight their long and unending fight for self-determination on their own. A small fallacy in the British partition plan of India has led India and Pakistan to multiple full-scale confrontations over the fate of Kashmir. Pakistan, India's frontline is one of the few most militarized zones on earth, ready to explode at the slightest of political miscalculations on the part of any of the two nuclear-armed stakeholders. Meanwhile, the fate of the Kashmiris lies on a balance, maintained by India and Pakistan so far. The tip of the balance does not seem to favor either of the countries, it is a deadlock.

In Palestine, the Arabs refused to take part in the first legislative elections the British authorities planned to organize after gaining the mandate. If they had accepted the plan, leaders apt in diplomacy and statecraft would come out from the ranks of the participants in the political processes. And the argument has been that those leaders could have led the Palestinian Arabs in negotiations with the British Authority, UN officials and Jewish leadership and come out with an acceptable settlement for the Palestinian Arab populace.

Important to the profound effects of the British Empire's actions in the Arab world during the First World War as we will among others see in the following case studies originated among others with the uprising sparked by the Husayn-McMahon correspondence and led by "Lawrence of Arabia;" the Sykes-Picot agreement which undermined that rebellion; and memoranda such as the Balfour Declaration, all have shaped the Middle East into forms which would have been unrecognizable to the diplomats of the 19th century.

And whereby it is true that British politicians where concerned about the acquisition by Germany, through her control of Turkey, of political and military control in Palestine and Mesopotamia which could imperil communications  through the Suez Canal, and would directly threaten the security of Egypt and India”, not to mention the importance of the British Petroleum pipeline which moved through Palestine. The following links also address the myth that British policy was driven primarily by individual politicians’ biases and can rather be seen a the result of working its way through stressful domestic situations rather than acting principally on ideology, prejudice or one could argue even any long term planning.

What the early developments concerned few British officials furthermore recognized the inherent contradiction in their promises to Zionists and Arabs between 1917 and 1919. Including that the understanding of Arab politics was limited by a few channels of information, and the biases of some officers.

Also, Edward Grey and his Foreign Office officials were not very much alive to the significance of what they were doing because for them Middle Eastern affairs were simply not that important. This meant that as long as Grey and his civil servants perceived the advice of various experts not to be inconsistent with the essence of the Foreign Office’s policy – to uphold the Entente with France – they were prepared to follow it.

This is why they acted without much ado upon recommendations by Lord Hardinge, Lord Kitchener, Sir Reginald Wingate, McMahon and Sir Mark Sykes, even when these contradicted one another. This tendency was especially prominent during the first months of the war when Cairo was alternately instructed to encourage the Arab movement in every way possible and to refrain from giving any encouragement.

The sudden change in the summer of 1915, from a policy of restraint concerning the Middle East to an active, pro-Arab policy, may also be explained in this manner. Perhaps Wingate and McMahon were able to outstrip the India Office and the Government of India as the Foreign Office’s premier advisors on the Arab question because they were, after all, in the service of the Foreign Office, perhaps because Austen Chamberlain had succeeded Lord Crewe as secretary of state for India, but the main point is that Sir Edward and his officials need not have had ‘good’ reasons for thinking that Wingate and McMahon were in a better position to judge how to react to Hussein’s opening bid. Wingate’s letters and memoranda played a role in the Foreign Office’s conversion to a more active, pro-Arab policy, but it is highly improbable that Grey and his officials would have been receptive to Sir Reginald’s arguments if they had invested heavily in the policy of restraint advocated by the Indian authorities.

The negotiations that led to the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement presented to the Foreign Office more a technical problem than a politically sensitive one. Once it was realized that the conflicting claims of Arabs and French regarding Syria were amendable to a settlement, as Wingate, Sir John Maxwell, McMahon, Aubrey Herbert and Sykes, one after the other, had emphasized the Arab question became something of a routine affair, something that was covered by the rule that nothing should be done that might arouse France’s Syrian susceptibilities. The negotiations with the Emir of Mecca could only be brought to a close after those with the French had successfully been concluded. Even though the authorities in Cairo, and Sykes, urged the vital importance of a quick reply to Hussein’s overtures, the negotiations with the French, as these entailed consultations with the relevant departments as well as with Russia, simply had to run their course. This also implied that once these negotiations were underway it was very difficult to stop them. Neither the information that the Arabs were in no position to rise against the Turks (which seemed to have knocked the bottom out from under the raison d’être of the negotiations) nor that Hussein was not the spokesman of the Arabs (which appeared to imply that, perhaps as far as the Arab side was concerned, there was nobody to negotiate with) halted their progress. Regarding the relative importance of the Arab question, it is naturally also very telling that, after the Anglo-French agreement had been signed in the middle of May 1916, nobody in the Foreign Office observed that the way was now clear to finalize the negotiations with the Emir of Mecca, or noticed, at the beginning of June, that he had started his revolt before the negotiations with him had been completed.

Middle East: 1918: Who controlled where

 

British Policymaking at the End of Empire and the Creation of Israel

During the First World War, British strategy for the Middle East was aimed at protecting India, which meant keeping India’s numerous Muslim subjects tranquil. Initially, this gained Whitehall’s support, as it feared foreign troops in the Muslim Holy Land would make the followers of Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, Emir of the Hejaz and potential British ally, oppose him: The ‘Arab revolt’, Britain, and the Collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.

British negotiator Mark Sykes returned to England where, almost immediately, he was thrust into negotiations with M. Charles François Georges-Picot, French counselor in London and former French consul general in Beirut, to try to harmonize Anglo-French interests in 'Turkey-in-Asia’. Picot, on the other hand, had ‘expressed complete incredulity as to the projected Arab kingdom, said that the Sheikh had no big Arab chiefs with him, that the Arabs were incapable of combining, and that the whole scheme was visionary.' The Arab question and the ‘shocking document’ that shaped the Middle East.

The rebellion sparked by the Hussein-McMahon correspondence; the Sykes-Picot agreement; and memoranda such as the Balfour Declaration (to be dealt with in detail) all have shaped the Middle East into forms which would have been unrecognizable to the diplomats of the 19th century. The Menace of Jihad and How to Deal with It.

French rivalry in the Hijaz; the British attempt to get the French government to recognize Britain’s predominance on the Arabian Peninsula; the conflict between King Hussein and Ibn Sa’ud, the Sultan of Najd; the British handling of the French desire to take part in the administration of Palestine; as well as the ways in which the British authorities, in London and on the spot, tried to manage French, Syrian, Zionist and Hashemite ambitions regarding Syria and Palestine. The ‘Arab’ and the ‘Jewish’ question.

The British authorities in Cairo, Baghdad, and London steadily lost their grip on the continuing and deepening rivalry between Hussein and Ibn Sa’ud, in particular regarding the possession of the desert town of Khurma. British warnings of dire consequences if the protagonists did not hold back and settle their differences peacefully had little or no effect. All the while the British wanted to abolish the Sykes-Picot agreement. The Syrian question.

This is the most important and longest part. Following, a gripping account of the swashbuckling during the Paris Peace Conference deliberations including the Arab/Syrian, the King-Crane Commission, impasses and some breakthrough at the end. The Paris Peace Conference deliberations.

Although the later establishment of a British Mandate in Palestine often leads commentators to assume that Sykes and Picot allotted the entire area to Britain, as seen above their agreement actually shared Ottoman Palestine between several authorities. A brown area on the map prepared during the negotiations indicated that most of Palestine west of the River Jordan would be under international administration, and this was dependent upon consultation with Britain and France’s mutual ally Russia, as well as with the sharif. Within the blue area allotted to France, Britain reserved the ports of Haifa and Acre with the right to build a railway linking them to Baghdad in its own red area. The northern tip of Palestine above Lake Tiberius was to be part of France’s annexed Syrian territory, whereas Palestine’s regions west of the River Jordan and south of Gaza were part of the Arab state under British protection, leaving the now Israeli city of Beersheba, for example, as unequivocally Arab-owned. The spirit if not the letter of this Sykes-Picot Agreement did come to fruition during post-war talks and was partly due to Britain’s third promise, made to the Zionist movement. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.1.

Challenging the traditional historiography of the Palestine Mandate reveals how intrigues and political maneuvering in Westminster inadvertently forged Britain's formative relationship with Zionism. Given what has been described in the above article links and continued in the following, one could argue that Britain's role in creating the Jewish National Home can furthermore be seen as the result of muddling through stressful Middle Eastern and domestic situations, rather than acting principally on ideology, prejudice or even any long term planning. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.2.

Apart from the strategic consideration that they needed Palestine becouse of the oil pipe that ran through it including the imperial defense of India, the declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations in November 1917, not only combined the romantic notion of the Jews returning to their ancient lands after 1,800 years of exile and anti- Antisemitism (world Jewry was a force that could vitally influence the outcome of the war) the importance of the Declaration foremost came from the fact that it was endorsed by all major Allied powers. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.3.

In the end, the idea was to use President Wilson’s recognition of the Balkan nations’ right to self-determination – namely, freedom from Ottoman rule – to overcome his opposition to the implementation of this same policy in the Middle East. By supporting Zionist aspirations in Palestine, the Lloyd George Government thus strove to compel Wilson to expand his policy regarding the 'small nations' from the European regions of the Ottoman Empire to its Asian territories. The true history of the Balfour Declaration and its implementations P.4.

 

 

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