- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Bond Street Books; First Edition edition (Aug. 10 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385662580
- ISBN-13: 978-0385662581
- Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.3 x 24.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 794 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #583,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Hardcover – Aug 10 2010
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"A work of magisterial scholarship."
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About the Author
JONATHAN SCHNEER, a specialist in modern British history, is a professor at Georgia Tech's School of History, Technology, and Society. He is the author of five additional books, as well as numerous articles and reviews. A fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1985-86, he has also held research fellowships at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK, as well as at the Erich Remarque Center of New York University. He was a founding editor of Radical History Review and is a member of the editorial board of 20th Century British History and the London Journal.See all Product description
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I passed my copy along to a college graduate student who took interest when he saw me reading the book. Highly recommended.
As early as 1845, twelve thousand Jews lived in Palestine, a part of the Ottoman Empire since 1517. Most had traveled alone to die in the holy land. In 1881, after the assassination of Russia's Tsar Alexander II, his son Alexander III reimposed anti-Semitic policies, leading to mass Jewish emigrations to Palestine, some thirty thousand in twenty years. When their established agricultural colonies floundered, rich Jewish philanthropists of London and Paris funded, not only land purchases, but also schools, doctors, tools, etc. By 1914, 85,000 Jews made up one-ninth of the Palestinian population, and they owned 130,000 acres.
Signed treaties represent various schemes for dividing up the Middle Eastern Ottoman Empire after the Great War, of course, assuming an Allied victory. The first treaty, of November 1915, is between grand sharif, Hussein of Mecca, and Sir Henry McMahon, British high commissioner of Egypt. Sharif Hussein promises an Arab revolt against the Ottoman occupiers, thereby helping the Allied war effort. In return, he wants to head a caliphate comprising "Arabia." McMahon assumes "Arabia" means the Arabian Peninsula, at most, while Hussein envisions all Middle Eastern lands of the Ottomans, including Palestine.
This is a recurring theme in Schneer's expert documentation, where diplomats often intentionally left borders ambiguous, in order to achieve mutual acceptance of other provisions.
Also, in 1915, Sir Mark Sykes, sixth baronet of Sledmere, a dynamic British imperialist diplomat, who desires to fortify the British empire, meets with a Frenchman, Francoise Georges-Picot, first secretary of the French Embassy in London. Their Sykes-Picot Agreement divides the Levant into areas controlled by the French (northwest) and the British (southeast), plus the disputed Palestinian territory is "governed by an international condominium." In March 1916, Sykes and Picot arrive in Russia where they promise the Russians control of Constantinople while the Russians accept the division of the Middle East established in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, thus creating the new Tripartite Agreement.
Next, two powerful forces, both harboring questionable assumptions, slowly converge. In Britain, Chaim Weizmann, the charismatic leader of the World Zionist Federation, presses influential British government figures for a separate Jewish state in Palestine over the objections of Jewish "assimilationist" organizations that prefer assimilation into existing countries. On the other side, high officials of the British government accede to Weizmann's request because they erroneously believe in a powerful "World Jewry," where British Jews could help fund their ongoing war, Turkish Jews could withdraw their support of the Ottomans, and American Jews could persuade America to enter the war.
After realizing that the British plan to militarily drive the Turks from Palestine, Weisman meets with Sykes in February 1917, stating that Zionists want a British protectorate in Palestine in order to stabilize their Jewish homeland and to cope with the Arab population. Sykes appears to agree, though he had promised Palestine to others: The French and an "international condominium" in the Tripartite Agreement, and Sharif Hussein, who probably understood that "Arabia" included Palestine, in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.
By May 1917, the Zionists, the French, and the Arabs each discover that other British treaties compromise their own, except Sharif Hussein never learns of British plans for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Sir Mark Sykes, the diplomat's diplomat, embarks on a tour of the Middle East and turns what should have been a mission of apologies into one of adjusting treaty terms to resolve all wording conflicts. Sykes informs Foreign Office superiors "The main difficulty was to maneuver the delegates into asking for what we were prepared to give them, without letting them know what precise geographical agreement had been come to."
Also in 1917, British and Turkish government representatives secretly sue for a separate peace between the two countries, which Chaim Weisman and the Zionists try to defeat since any agreement would probably mean continued Middle East, including Palestine, occupation by the Ottomans. However, during final negotiations, the Turks win some battles and the Ottoman leader Enver Pasha withdraws, leaving Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, disappointed.
On November 2, 1917 the Balfour Declaration, issued by Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, states "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. . . " At this time the British army moving up from Egypt, and Arab forces from Arabia, both battle the Ottomans as they push north toward Damascus. Schneer speculates on the possibility of the Arabs reaching Damascus before the British and before November 2, thus occupying Palestine and probably preventing the issuance of the Balfour Declaration. However, this was not in the cards. While Sharif Hussein's son Feisal, the Arab leader, rests his fighters in Aqaba, British General Allenby liberates Jerusalem on December 9, thus securing the future British Protectorate and the new Jewish homeland.
Schneer covers all the main elements in an evenhanded and fair-minded way: the Zionist movement, particularly in the UK; the various players in the Arab world pressing for greater independence as the Ottoman empire went into decline; and the Great Power machinations of the British, French and Russians, in particular the British Government's willingness to promise anything to anyone, if it would help bring about a speedier victory in World War I.
My only criticism of the book is that it gets bogged down in complex detail, particularly about the secret negotiations to try to get the Ottoman empire out of the war, thus potentially preventing the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. I would have preferred instead of such a level of detail a bit more about the wider context of attitudes towards Jews and Zionism and more about the underlying context of British, French and others' war aims. Also perhaps a little more at the end about the historical legacy of the Declaration.
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