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Study On Palestine After World War I

World War I dramatically altered the conditions of Middle East. The war led to disintegration and balkanization of Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Empire lost the war and also lost control over the Palestinian territories to the Allied Powers. World War I also had a devastating effect on the Jewish population of European countries, even prior to World War I, discriminating laws and rising anti-Jewish feelings among Europeans made Jewish people life miserable. On the end of World War I, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire raised hope among Arab nationalists and Jewish Zionists. The Zionists were in a better situation, Zionists anticipated gaining support from Allied Powers for increased Jewish immigration and eventual homeland in Palestine, whereas Arab nationalists sought independence and sovereignty for the lands under the Ottoman Empire. Zionists from beginning had an established organization; several pro-Zionists also belonged to ruling class and aristocrats in the British Empire and other European countries. They were well aware, especially in comparison of the Arab nationalists, that the future map of the Middle East would be determined less by the desires of its inhabitants than by the Great Power rivalries, European strategic thinking, and domestic British politics. British Middle East policy, however, espoused conflicting objectives, and as a result Britain became involved in contradictory negotiations concerning the fate of the region, and making promises to both the Arabs and to the Jews; such promises led to Arab-Israeli conflicts that are still alive in the heart of Middle East.

After the end of World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, it had become clear that the Empire could no longer survive on its own that led to balkanization of the Ottoman Empire. Under the agreement, “The mandate territories were Syria and Lebanon, awarded to France; Iraq, awarded to Britain; and a new entity called Palestine, which was also placed under British control” (Goldschmidt, 44). The end of World War I saw the Ottoman territories in the Middle East occupied by foreign nations, under mandate from the League of Nations. Great Britain was given mandate over most of the territory, with France receiving mandate over Syria and Lebanon. The British portion of the mandate was divided into a number of parts.

The Balfour Commission of 1917 suggested a solution in the form of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine land with dutifully protecting, and “supporting civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” especially the native Arabs who were mostly Muslims (Goldschmidt, 41). The League of Nations Council incorporated the Balfour Commission into the Sevres Treaty (Sevres Treaty was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied Powers after WWI) and approved the Balfour Declaration on July 24, 1922 and designated British Mandate in Palestine.

Like the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate also recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine. Goldschmidt writes, “The Mandate suggested formation of an appropriate Jewish agency for the purpose of cooperation in the establishment of a Jewish nation” (44). Accordingly, World Zionist Organization, a worldwide comprehensive Jewish organization, formally established the Jewish Agency in 1929. The Jewish agency facilitated Jewish immigration in Palestine area while safeguarding the rights of Arab Muslims and other minorities.

Historian Arthur Goldschmidt explicates, “In January 1919, Feisal made a provisional agreement with Weizmann in which they alluded to the common ancestry of the two groups and the hope that they could work together in the Near East” (42). Zionists and Arab representatives pleaded their cases and met each other at the Paris Peace conference. The Zionists presented a map of the area they wanted for the Jewish national home. Chaim Weizmann, leader of the Worldwide Zionist Movement, and Emir Faisal, son of the Sharif of Mecca, reached an agreement regarding Arab support for Jewish and Arab state. However, Emir Faisal conditioned his support on satisfaction of Arab aspirations in Syria. But Syria was given to the French as a League of Nations mandate, this decision made Emir Faisal angry, he not only withdrew his support from the Zionist project, but he also denied any agreement between him and the Zionist leaders. As required by the mandate, the British hoped to establish self-governing institutions in Palestine. This revelation angered Jews since such institutions would have an Arab majority. Arabs also did not accept this proposal, therefore, no institutions were created. Arabs wanted total independence and as little as possible of Jewish participation. Arab leaders were worried as many Arabs were selling lands to Jews settlers; they were afraid that rapid immigration of Jews in Palestine might make them minority in their homeland. Waves of Jewish people migration, though some of these migration were results of prejudice, discrimination, and hostility against Jewish people, led to revolts against British Mandate and migrants by Arabs. Arabs were angered at Britain; the aura of distrust among Arabs was growing as Britain backtracked on their promises. The British repressed the revolts by force, but the anger and hostility for Jews and Britain never ended.

With the British mandate of Palestine, the League of Nations required Britain to manage and create political, economic, and administrative conditions in Palestine as well as the creation of future Jewish homeland. Then Colonel Secretary Winston Churchill denounced this idea (Balfour Declaration) and restricted Jewish immigration. This restriction led to more violence, murder and looting of Jews. In this context, Britain failed to manage conflicts between Arabs and Jews.

With the impending war with Germany, Britain introduced another White Paper in 1939. “The 1939 White Paper declared that Palestine would become an independent state allied to the British Empire within ten years” (Goldschmidt, 56). The White Paper declared Britain’s intention to withdraw in 10 years with certain limitations, such as Jewish immigration was made limited to certain numbers and sale of land to immigrants were prohibited under the new terms.

On capturing Baghdad, Britain intended to return Iraq control of its own affairs. For this purpose, as Britain already had alliance with the Sharif of Mecca against the Ottoman, Emir Faisal was endorsed by Britain for rulership of Iraq. At his arrival in Paris in 1919 for peace conference, much to his disappointment, Britain was less enthusiastic about the Arab independence.

On the other side, Russia had come to agreement (Sykes-Picot agreement) with the Allies to “control eastern Anatolia from Trebizond to the Caucasus,” the basis had been laid for the establishment of protectorates and colonies in the Middle East when the Ottoman Empire fell (Goldschmidt, 40). The secret agreement between Russia and the Allies was not revealed until the Russian Revolution. With Russian Communist government in control, they refused to cooperate with the Allies and published all secret and classified documents resulting in distrust among Arabs against British as Arabs felt betrayed and were not getting what was promised to them. Further complications were caused by the Balfour Declaration; the Allied Powers were very clear with their own interests. It was not only the Allied Powers who had interests in this region; International Zionism represented by a prominent British Jew Lord Rothschild also sought a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.

Under his authority as a British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour announced in a letter dated the 2nd November 1917 that British government would strive to establish a Jewish home in Palestine, with the provision that the civil and political status of Arabs already settled there would not be affected, and that Jews domiciled in other countries would retain full rights of citizenship in those countries. In short, the Jews of Europe would have their homeland in Palestine if they chose to go, but they should not be forced to leave their own countries to do so. And the rights of the indigenous Arabs would have to be assured. In the event, once the British had their post-war mandate in Palestine, the violent objections of the indigenous Arab population caused the British to fail to implement the terms of the Declaration. In 1939 its aims were officially abandoned until the whole question was resurrected after the Second World War; to the considerable embarrassment and discomfort of the British Administration.

The secret terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the more open statement of the Balfour Declaration did nothing to resolve the many problems of the Middle East in the early part of the 20th Century and created many anomalies and ambiguities. The agreements made among British, Jews, and the Arabs did not serve the core issues; such agreements worked as a catalyst to invoke racism, incitement, and more hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. The Arab population always resented Britain as interference in their affairs and many of the problems that the international community faces today have their genesis in these documents.


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