This was the deal: The Jews could have an unrestricted Zionist state in Palestine. The British could have Iraq and its fabulous albeit still undrilled oil. The Arabs only wanted Syria and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.
During the first days of the League of Nation’s Paris Peace Conference, Faisal, accompanied by T.E. Lawrence, widely dubbed Lawrence of Arabia, met in Paris with Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann. Following up on meetings the two leaders had held the previous June in Aqaba, Faisal signed an enlightened and tolerant nine-point agreement endorsing the Balfour Declaration and inviting the Zionists to coexist in Palestine.
“Article II: Immediately following the completion of the deliberations of the Peace Conference, the definite boundaries between the Arab State and Palestine shall be determined by a Commission to be agreed upon by the parties. Article III: All such measures shall be adopted as will afford the fullest guarantees for carrying into effect the British Government’s [Balfour] Declaration of the 2nd of November 1917. Article IV: All necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil. In taking such measures, the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.”
The entire agreement was typed in English. But at the bottom, Faisal hand-penned in Arabic this stern warning: “Provided the Arabs obtain their independence as demanded in my [forthcoming] Memorandum dated the 4th of January, 1919, to the Foreign Office of the Government of Great Britain, I shall concur in the above articles. But if the slightest modification or departure were to be made [regarding our demands], I shall not be then bound by a single word of the present Agreement which shall be deemed void and of no account or validity, and I shall not be answerable in any way whatsoever.” Directly beneath that inscription the signatures of Weizmann and Faisal were duly affixed.What happened and why?
Arab nationalism began in earnest as an early-20th century surge of Arab intellectuals who envied Christian Europe’s international movement to achieve self-determination, autonomy, and national independence for its ethnic and religious groups. Damascus had long been the intellectual epicenter of the Arab national movement, and was for centuries a keystone for the Islamic world. In addition, Faisal and the Hashemites were direct descendents of the Prophet Muhammad, and the custodians of Mecca and Medina, precious to all Moslems.
But barren Palestine was considered a mere backwater, and Iraq a neglected Ottoman province rich in something the Arabs did not need, but the West craved—oil.
The Arabs were assured a seat at the victors’ table because they fought alongside the British and Lawrence against the Ottomans. Faisal became the face of Arab nationalism to the Peace Conference. On January 1, 1919, he submitted a formal memorandum to the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference outlining his vision for Arab nationalism throughout the Mideast. It was not monolithic or pan-Arab.
“The various provinces of Arab Asia—Syria, Iraq, Jezireh, Hijaz, Nejd, Yemen—are very different economically and socially,” asserted Faisal’s petition, “and it is impossible to constrain them into one frame of government… [But] Syria… thickly peopled with sedentary [settled] classes, is sufficiently advanced politically to manage her own internal affairs.”
As for Iraq, Faisal declared, “The world wishes to exploit Mesopotamia [Iraq] rapidly, and we therefore believe that the system of government there will have to be buttressed by the men and material resources of a great foreign Power.” He stipulated a British mandate.
Faisal’s petition also stated that, “In Palestine, the enormous majority of the people are Arabs. The Jews are very close to the Arabs in blood, and there is no conflict of character between the races. In principles, we are absolutely at one.” That said, he acknowledged that Palestine was important to many faiths and therefore the Arab national movement “would wish for the effective super-position of a great trustee, so long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country.” Again, a British mandate was stipulated.
But at the Paris sessions, the French snubbed Faisal. Regardless of prior representations by the British, the French were uninterested in relinquishing their designs on greater Syria, especially since the Lebanon region was overwhelmingly Maronite Christian. Many French officials simply considered the Arabs a threat. Typical was a memo from the Quai D’Orsay that stated, “Damascus is a Moslem center which is very hostile to France, to tell the truth, the most hostile in all Islam…. It is there where all the plots against our authority in the Moslem countries are hatched, and it is there where the agitators come and preach rebellion… Damascus [must] be placed under our control.”
Other Commentaries by Edwin Black
Guest Commentary: I B M ’s Role In The Holocaust, What The New Documents Reveal
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How France Sunk The Original Mideast Peace, Part 2
Funding Hate Part 1
Funding Hate Part 2
Nazis Rode To War On Gm Wheels
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