WILSON - PART 2;
THE BRITISH MANDATE OVER PALESTINE
The Balfour Declaration was useless to Zionists without British control of Palestine. Obtaining a mandate from the proposed League of Nations seemed the best way to gain this. Britain, together with British and U.S. Zionists, were the primary agents in this project. America itself, by what it did and did not do, also played a decisive role. This chapter shows that President Wilson repeatedly supported the Balfour Declaration for the remaining three and a half years of his presidency. He did this despite his repeated pronouncements of principles supporting Palestinians' right to self determination. Thus through repeated inconsistencies he turned what might have been an isolated action done under Zionist pressure - his original support of Balfour in the fall of 1917 - into presidential policy. The moral issues during this period when the mandate was being engineered were very similar to those in the earlier Balfour phase of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict.
I. British and French Promises to Arabs, 1918.
In January 1918, when Britain still needed Arab military
help, it sent what is called the Hogarth Message to Sherif Hussein. It
stated that "Jewish settlement in Palestine would only be allowed in so
far as would be consistent with the political and economic freedom of the
Arab population." This statement went further than did the Balfour
Declaration in supporting the political rights of the indigenous people,
for it spoke of their "political and economic freedom" and not just of
their "civil and religious rights." Arabs argued from this that "political...freedom
of the Arab population" meant independence. On February 8 Britain issued
the Bassett Letter, which stated:
His Majesty's Government and their allies remain steadfast to the policy of helping any movement which aims at setting free those nations where are oppressed....The Government... repeats its previous promise in respect of the freedom and the emancipation of the Arab peoples.
On June 16 Britain's Declaration to the Seven (seven Syrian leaders) stated, "the policy of His Majesty's Government towards the inhabitants...is that the future government...should be based upon the principle of the consent of the governed. This policy will always be that of His Majesty's Government." During all of this time Arabs continued their efforts to overthrow Turkish rule.
On November 7, eight days after the Allied armistice with Turkey, and four days before the armistice with Germany ended the war, Britain and France released The Anglo-French Joint Declaration. It stated that France and Great Britain's goal
is the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks, and the establishment of National Governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations.
...France and Great Britain are at one in encouraging and assisting the establishment of indigenous Governments and administrations in Syria [which included Palestine] and Mesopotamia [Iraq]....Far from wishing to impose on the populations of those regions any particular institutions, they are only concerned to secure...the regular working of Governments and administrations freely chosen by the populations themselves.
This Anglo-French Declaration was perhaps sincere about Saudi Arabia and Yemen; it seems completely insincere about Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan and Palestine because France and Britain already intended to take these. If enacted it would have canceled out Balfour. The Anglo-French Declaration was distributed by Britain in Jerusalem and led Palestinian Arabs to hope they would be allowed to choose their own future. Through Britain's numerous promises to Arabs during the war she took away from Balfour as much as she had promised Jews in it. Despite these promises, after the war Britain did much more to fulfill Balfour's pro-Zionist part than to honor British promises to Arabs.
II. Wilson's Pro-democracy Statements, 1918.
The U.S. government, though much less involved with Palestine
than was Britain, did not fully ignore the discussions concerning it. On
January 8, 1918, Wilson proclaimed his Fourteen Peace Points. In Point
Five he called for an "adjustment of colonial claims with concern for the
wishes and interests of the inhabitants as well as for the titles of rival
claimants." In Point Twelve, devoted to the Ottoman Empire, Wilson
urged that its non-Turkish nationalities "should be assured...an absolutely
unmolested opportunity of autonomous development." The people in
Palestine were obviously part of these non-Turkish nationalities. On February
11, concerning future peace agreements, he stated: "Peoples are not to
be handed about from one sovereignty to another by an international conference
or an understanding between rivals and antagonists." On July 4 he
The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship, [should be] upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people concerned and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.
A Wilson theme was that "the world must be made safe for democracy." In each of these statements Wilson set forth principles which seem to be diametrically opposed to both the Balfour Declaration's goal and Britain's efforts to get a mandate over Palestine. Yet Wilson did not withdraw his own approval of Balfour nor did he specifically oppose Britain's obtaining the mandate. Instead, in an August 31, 1918, letter he wrote:
I welcome an opportunity to express the satisfaction I have felt in the progress of the Zionist movement in the United States and in the allied countries since the declaration of Mr. Balfour, on behalf of the British Government, of Great Britain's approval of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and his promise that the British Government would use its best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, with the understanding that nothing would be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish people in Palestine....
British-Arab forces occupied all of Palestine by October 1918. British military ruled it until July 1920. In 1918 Jews owned 253 square miles of urban and farm land - some 2.5 percent of Palestine; this included fifty-one Jewish settlements.
III. American Involvement, 1919.
As the Paris Peace Conference approached, lobbying increased
both for and against incorporating Balfour into the accords. At first Zionists
demanded that the yishuv be given majority rights in Palestine even though
they were definitely only a small minority of the population. Eventually
they toned down this demand. Some Palestinian Arabs wanted Palestine
to be part of a greater Syria, which Feisal, its king-designate, already
ruled in a subordinate way. Palestinian Arabs already held important positions
with-in his new administration. An Arab delegation was formed to go to
Paris to propose this. Britain, however, kept it from travelling because
its proposal would thwart London's own desire to control Palestine.
Thus Britain physically prevented these Palestinians from attending the
very conference that was to decide their future. Feisal and Zionists were
allowed to go to Paris, although they did not have a delegation within
the conference itself.
Protestant missionary groups running Mideast churches and schools opposed Balfour and its U.S. support. Dr. Howard Bliss, president of Beirut's Syrian Protestant College, went to Paris, where he urged forming a commission to determine what the native people of the Mideast wanted for themselves. This suggestion was embraced by the U.S. diplomatic staff in Paris. They hoped that Wilson, especially in light of the principles he had enunciated, would also accept it. Princeton's Professor Philip Brown, in Cairo for the YMCA, provided requested reports to the U.S. State Department on his assessment of Zionism's impact on Palestine. In several reports he asserted that Zionism would be a disaster for both Arabs and Jews. He also went to Paris to lobby against Zionist goals and U.S. efforts to support them.
Wilson sent to the American Jewish community New Year's Day (1919) greetings endorsing the Zionist program, including Balfour. Brandeis responded by declaring that opposition to Zionism could henceforth be considered disloyalty to America.
During the Paris Peace Conference, held primarily in early 1919, the U.S. delegation wrote an Outline of Recommendations regarding Palestine. It followed most of the Zionist goals, including the Balfour points and large boundaries for Palestine. The Outline also minimized Arab claims to the area. However, William Westermann, director of the State Department's Western Asia Division, made a study of the Zionist program in the light of American interests and Wilsonian principles. He concluded that America "could not afford to support" Balfour. The most valid argument against it, he wrote, "is that it impinges upon the rights and desires of most of the Arab population of Palestine," who constitute 80 percent of its people, and "who do not want their country to be made into a 'homeland' for the Jews." Westermann and others thought Arab claims were much more in accord with Wilson's own principles than was the Balfour Declaration. They circulated Arab material.
Ignoring Arab rights and sensibilities was not limited
to govern-ments of the Allies. Melvin Urofsky, an historian of Zionism
and very sympathetic to it, wrote in 1974:
most Zionists did not take the more than half million Arabs who lived there seriously. The Americans were as guilty of this as anyone else, and in the general celebrating over the Balfour Declaration, made only passing reference to the non-Jews in Palestine, glibly predicting future cooperation between Arab and Jew.
Urofsky added that Felix Frankfurter, who was at the peace conference, recognized the potential danger and sought out Feisal "to stress to him the American tradition opposing colonialism." Frankfurter was then a prominent Harvard law professor, a Zionist leader, and a future U.S. Supreme Court justice. "The last thing the Jews wanted," he told Feisal, "was to triumph at the expense of the Arab people and Arab civilization." Statements and actions around that time by other Zionists make one question how many of them shared the sentiments toward Arabs that he expressed. Moreover, "the American tradition opposing colonialism" must have surprised Feisal if he knew much about U.S. expansionism during the 130 years previous to his meeting with Frankfurter.
IV. The American King-Crane Commission, 1919.
In March 1919, during the peace conference, the four major
Al-lies - Britain, France, Italy and America - agreed to form an Inter-Allied
Commission to learn the wishes of those who had been under Ottoman rule.
However, the commission was not formed. Wilson therefore sent an American
team, the King-Crane Commission. It spent six weeks in June and July 1919
touring what would become Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Trans-Jordan and south-central
Turkey to learn people's wishes firsthand. In Palestine it met with both
Jews and Arabs. The Commission reported that 1,350 petitions, comprising
72 percent of the 1,863 received from the whole of Syria were "against
Zionist claims and purposes." (The Allies then treated Lebanon and
Palestine as temporarily part of Syria, from which they had been ruled
by the Ottomans.) The commission said mandatory powers should follow these
1. "The well-being and development" of the people involved form "a sacred trust." "Securities for the performance of this trust shall be embodied in the constitution of the League of Nations."
2. The peoples so long oppressed by the Turks should become completely and definitively free.
3. The national governments and administrations to be established should derive their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native populations.
For Palestine the King-Crane Commission recommended "serious modification of the extreme Zionist Program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, [which looked]...finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish state." The commission stated that its members "began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians have driven them to the recommendation here made."
The Commissioners pointed out that the Balfour Declaration "favoring the establishment in Palestine of 'a national home for the Jewish people,' is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish state." They added that the erection of such a state could be accomplished only with "the gravest trespass upon the 'civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.'" The commissioners asserted that in their meetings with Jewish representatives it "came out repeatedly...that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase." The commission said that its surveys showed that there was no one thing upon which the Palestinian Arabs were more agreed upon than their opposition to the Zionist program. "To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle [stated by Wilson on July 4, 1918] and of the peoples' rights, though it be kept within the forms of law."
The King-Crane Commission added: "There is a further consid-eration that cannot justly be ignored, if the world is to look forward to Palestine becoming a definitely Jewish state....That consideration grows out of the fact that Palestine is 'the Holy Land' for Jews, Christians and Moslems alike."
One effect of urging "the extreme Zionist program" would be an intensification of "anti-Jewish feeling both in Palestine and in all other portions of the world which look to Palestine as 'the Holy Land." The commission recommended that "Jewish immigration should be definitely limited and...the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up...(Palestine should be) included in a united Syrian state, just as other portions of the country."
Thus the King-Krane Commission clearly maintained that for the vast majority of Palestine's people, Balfour did not reflect Wilson's Fourteen Points. The team therefore urged that postwar colonial adjustments be made with concern for the wishes and interests of the inhabitants as well as for the titles of rival claimants. The team's report foresaw that the adjustments, instead of being made in the light of the Fourteen Points, would be made at gun point. The team noted that "no British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms." Most officers thought that Britain would need 50,000 soldiers to start it.
The King-Crane Commission Report went to the White House in the fall of 1919. By this time Wilson had met several major defeats in his efforts for a just peace. He was very ill. The U.S. government kept the commission's recommendations secret until 1922. Historian Urofsky notes: "Both the British and American leaders had gone too far in their support of Zionist aspirations to back down. With the burial of the King-Crane report, a major obstacle in the Zionist path disappeared." The report's burial exemplified the type of maneuvering that surrounded the early history of the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour himself observed, "so far as Palestine is concerned, the powers [the major Allies] have made no statement of fact that is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate."
V. Palestine's Change to a British Mandate, 1920-22.
After the Paris conference temporarily adjourned in the
spring of 1919, Wilson and the U.S. government became much less in-volved
in the peace talks. There were several reasons: Wilson's defeats in Paris,
his bad health, his failure to get the Republican Congress to vote for
U.S. entry into the League of Nations, and the strong isolationism sweeping
America. Because of U.S. reclu-siveness, primarily Britain and secondarily
France dominated the Allied Supreme Council even more than they had.
Weizmann, working closely with the British government, draft-ed a document by which initially the Allied Supreme Council and subsequently the League of Nations would grant Palestine as a mandated territory to Britain. The Balfour Declaration was to be part of this mandate document. However, some members of Brit-ain's cabinet opposed putting the Balfour Declaration in the docu-ment. When Lord Curzon, who followed Lord Balfour as foreign secretary, saw a draft of the mandate in March 1920, he stated:
I think the entire conception wrong. Here is a country with 580,000 Arabs and 30,000 or is it 60,000 Jews (by no means all Zionists). Acting upon the noble principles of self-determination and ending with a splendid appeal to the League of Nations, we then proceed to draw up a document which reeks of Judaism in every paragraph and is an avowed constitution for a Jewish State. Even the poor Arabs are only allowed to look through the keyhole as a non-Jewish community.
It is quite clear that this mandate has been drawn up by someone reeling under the fumes of Zionism. If we are all to submit to that intoxicant, this draft is all right. Perhaps there is no alternative. But I...should like to see something worded differently.
One draft of the mandate document included the words, "Recognizing...the historical connection of the Jews with Palestine, and the claim which this gives them to reconstitute it as their national home." Curzon later wrote: "I do not myself recognize that the connection of the Jews with Palestine, which terminated 1200 years ago (sic), gives them any claim whatsoever. On this principle we have a stronger claim to parts of France." Curzon was able to get the wording slightly changed, but not to his satisfaction. However, as foreign secretary he then helped im-plement the mandate. Britain's military in Palestine warned Lon-don that enacting Balfour would lead to a Palestinian revolt and endanger Britain's position throughout the area. The army dis-suaded London from promulgating the declaration in Palestine until after the San Remo Conference in April 1920.
Meanwhile, Zionists worked with Allies' diplomats and politicians so that they would give Palestine the largest borders possible. Zionists especially wanted its northern border to be the Litani River in present-day southern Lebanon. This would have given the Jewish national home access to its water and maximized the home's northern area. U.S. Zionists began telegraphing the Allied leaders about the borders. Brandeis wrote to Wilson "suggesting that a denial of viable borders would be a betrayal of Christian promises....[He asked Wilson] 'to move the statesmen of Christian nations to keep their solemn promise to Israel.'" Brandeis added that Wilson's word to Prime Minister Lloyd George and to French premier Alexandre Millerand "may be decisive." Wilson therefore told Secretary of State Robert Lansing to instruct the U.S. representative in Paris to support Zionists' border wishes. However, State was reluctant to do this because America had virtually pulled out of the peace negotiations. To intrude at that point seemed inappropriate. Lansing toned down Wilson's letter and had it delivered orally and informally.
The Allied Supreme Council met in San Remo, Italy in April
1920 to finish peace treaty items unresolved at Paris. America was represented
by its ambassador to Rome, who sat in only as an ob-server. Urofsky
notes that during this period "the Zionists kept up their pressure on different
governments." Palestine's final borders did not include the Litani
River but generally met Zionist demands. Both the Council and the new League
of Nations, also dominated by London, agreed to Britain gaining the mandate
over Palestine. The League included the Balfour Declaration in the mandate's
preamble and gave final confirmation of the mandate in July 1922. (Technically,
the Treaty of Lausanne, which legalized the status of Palestine as a League
of Nations mandate, did not come into force until August 1924. But the
mandate took effect de facto in July 1920, after San Remo.) The Zionists'
Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel stated, "The Balfour Declaration helped
lay the foundations for the future State of Israel."
The League recognized Saudi Arabia and Yemen as independent. Thus, regarding their promises of independence, France and Britain partly kept their word to some of the Arabs in that they allowed certain leaders to become their monarchs. (No Arab country carved from the Ottoman Empire became a democracy at that time.) The League mandated Syria, including Lebanon, to France; Iraq and Trans-Jordan, along with Palestine, were mandated to Britain. Thus Paris and London did not keep their promises to the Arabs in these areas.
VI. Palestinian Arab Reaction, 1920.
In early 1920 Jerusalem Arabs, led by the Muslim-Christian
Association, protested against Zionism to the British governor of Jerusalem.
They warned him that Palestinian Arabs would fight for their rights. Rioting
erupted on February 27 and again a few days later. The most serious rioting
lasted four days, April 4-8, and was directed against the Jewish Quarter
in Jerusalem's Old City. Arab police, who helped rioters, were withdrawn
and dis-armed by British troops. The latter, however, did not stop the
riot-ing and did not allow Jews to organize their own defense. Of the nine
people killed, five were Jews; of the 244 wounded, 211 were Jews. Most
were old men, women and children. Britain's mili-tary command in
Palestine recommended that the area be put un-der the new King Feisal of
Syria and that the Balfour Declaration be revoked. Jews were furious
with the British army, comparing it to czarist police during the pogroms.
London did not share the views of its soldiers in Palestine. As soon as
Britain's legal title to Palestine was secure, London replaced its military
government there with a civilian administration. Sir Herbert Samuel became
the first Lord High Commissioner of Palestine (1920-25). He was, author
O'Brien writes, "a convinced (though gradualist) Zionist." It was
Samuel who had so effectively coached Weizmann during the Balfour negotiations.
After he became high commissioner, Jewish immigration greatly increased,
and with it Palestinian Arab objections, including unrest again in 1921.
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), a Russian immigrant, became a hero to Jews because of his defense of Jerusalem Jews during the 1920 riots, for which Britain jailed him. He told the Zionist Actions Committee in 1921 that it is impossible "to bridge this contradiction between us and the Arabs with words, gifts or bribery." Instead he called for an "iron wall" of armed force to make Arabs understand that "here stands an iron wall; the Jews are coming and will keep on coming; we are unable to prevent this; we cannot kill them."
Urofsky, reflecting on Zionists' attitudes in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wrote in 1974:
the Zionists failed to take into account the hope that arose among Arab groups with the breakup of the Turkish Empire, or that Palestinian Arabs would harbor as much love and devotion to the Holy Land as the Jews did. Most Zionists dismissed Arab claims to Palestine, since...many peoples had possessed the land; the Arabs were but the last in line. Centuries of Jewish rule in Biblical times, as well as God's promise of redemption, seemed to count for more than a few hundred years of recent occupation, especially one that had done nothing to reclaim the land.
If Urofsky's reflection on Zionists' thinking is accurate, (a) they failed to distinguish between who ruled Palestine and who lived there; (b) they failed to realize that although the natives live ac-cording to Arab culture, their ancestral roots, at least in part, go back within Palestine for as many millennia as do Jewish roots; and (c) Zionists therefore mistakenly equated Palestinian Arabs' culture and language with being "but the last in line." When com-paring a Chicago Zionist thinking of moving to the Holy Land and a Palestinian whose family has lived there for as long as it can remember, one can well ask who is really "but the last in line."
Regarding the implication which Urofsky relates, that Zionists had a greater claim to the land because Palestinian Arabs "had done nothing to reclaim" it: What neglect there may have been came partly from Ottoman neglect, over which Palestinians had little say. However, the Zionist charge itself is questionable. After a trip through Palestine in 1891 Ahad Ha'am wrote that it was difficult to find any uncultivated land there. In 1883 a traveler found that "almost every acre of the plain of Esdraelon is at this moment in the highest state of cultivation." This was again reported to be the case in 1914. Arabs around Jaffa grew oranges "the exceptional size of which attracted attention as early as the eighteenth century."
Moreover, to measure the right to statehood by the ability and desire to reclaim land (which involved draining scarce Mideast wetlands) is to say that political rights are based on economic and technological standards. Land development and use probably are factors which may help determine one's moral right to own land. But it is a major leap from arguing the moral right to own a particular piece of undeveloped land to establishing the moral right to statehood over the entire region. In the 1990s Israel decided that some of its previous wetland destruction was doing more harm than good; some farmland is being returned to wetland.
Wilson's eight-year presidency ended in March 1921. In Chapter Four we discussed the moral right to self-determination. The assumption there was that, within limits created by other people's rights, self-determination is a moral right, that is, it is inherent in a group of people and is not dependent on human legislation for its existence. To violate that moral right is thus morally wrong. It robs persons of the exercise of their right. To claim that withholding the exercise of the right would not violate the right would require that the conflicting rights of (a) the British to a mandate and (b) of Zionists to turn Palestine either wholly or partly into a Jewish state outweighed the rights of the indigenous people to self-determination. To respond to that in the light of the Golden Rule: How would - should - Americans react if their right to self-determination were withheld in order that America could become the mandated territory of some second nation so that it might become the national home of a third group of people? Would Americans consider that morally just?