Creating the modern Middle East

This document primarily contains
excerpts from David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace,
but also contains some
excerpts from Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919
discussing Woodrow Wilson’s King-Crane Commission of Inquiry.

A Peace to End All Peace

Here are some excerpts from
A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914–1922
by David Fromkin, published in 1989.
Paragraph numbers, (most) emphasis, and some comments are added.

A Peace to End All Peace


[pages 17–18]

Middle Eastern personalities, circumstances, and political culture
do not figure a great deal in the narrative,
except when I suggest the outlines and dimensions of
what European politicians were ignoring when they made their decisions.
This is a book about the decision-making process,
and in the 1914–22 period,
Europeans and Americans were the only ones seated around the table
when the decisions were made.

It was an era in which Middle Eastern countries and frontiers
were fabricated in Europe.
Iraq and what we now call Jordan, for example, were British inventions,
lines drawn on an empty map by British politicians after the First World War;
while the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq
were established by a British civil servant in 1922, and
the frontiers between Moslems and Christians were drawn
by France in Syria-Lebanon and
by Russia on the borders of Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan.

The European powers at that time believed
they could change Moslem Asia
in the very fundamentals of its political existence,

and in their attempt to do so
introduced an artificial state system into the Middle East
that has made it into a region of countries that have not become nations
even today.
The basis of political life in the Middle East—religion—
was called into question

by the Russians, who proposed communism, and
by the British, who proposed nationalism or dynastic loyalty,
in its place.
Khomeini’s Iran in the Shi’ite world and
the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the Sunni world
keep that issue alive.
The French government, which in the Middle East
did allow religion to be the basis of politics—even of its own—
championed one sect against the others;
and that, too, is an issue kept alive, notably in
the communal strife that has ravaged Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s.
[And now, of course, in post-Saddam Iraq.]

The year 1922 seems to me to have been the point of no return
in setting the various clans of the Middle East on their collision courses,
so that the especial interest and excitement
of the years with which this book is concerned, 1914 through 1922,
is that they were the creative, formative years,
in which everything seemed (and may indeed have been) possible.
It was a time
when Europeans, not implausibly, believed
Arab and Jewish nationalism to be natural allies;
when the French, not the Arabs,
were the dangerous enemies of the Zionist movement; and
when oil was not an important factor in the politics of the Middle East.

By 1922, however, the choices had narrowed and the courses had been set;
the Middle East had started along a road that was to lead to
endless wars
(between Israel and her neighbors, among others, and
between rival militias in Lebanon) and
the always-escalating acts of terrorism
(hijacking, assassination, and random massacre)
that have been a characteristic feature of international life
in the 1970s and 1980s.

Part III
Britain is Drawn into the Middle Eastern Quagmire

Chapter 16
Russia’s Grab for Turkey

Section III

[page 141]

[In November 1914 Great Britain,
as an adjunct to its larger conflict with Germany,
entered into hostilities with the Ottoman Empire
[see paragraphs 7.4.13–18].
In March 1915 His Majesty’s Government
began internal deliberations on what its postwar goals might be,
assuming the Ottoman Empire was defeated.
(It seems easier to start a war
than to think through what the consequences of the war would be.)
Key members of HMG circulated proposals.]

Underlying [these proposals] was the assumption,
shared by most members of the government,
that it was now in Britain’s interest to
  1. carve up the Ottoman Empire, and

  2. take a large piece of it.
Prime Minister Asquith was practically alone in seeing
a need to examine that assumption in a critical light.
He admitted, however, that politicians such as
First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill,
who felt that Britain ought to do as well out of the war as her allies,
spoke for practically everybody else on this issue.

The caution of Asquith
Asquith wrote:
I believe that, at the moment,
Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and I
are the only two men who doubt & distrust any such settlement.
We both think that in the real interest of our own future,
the best thing would be if, at the end of the War, we could say that ...
we have taken & gained nothing.
And that not from a merely moral & sentimental point of view ...
but from purely material considerations.
Taking on Mesopotamia, for instance ... means
  • spending millions in irrigation & development
    with no immediate or early return;

  • keeping up quite a large army ... in an unfamiliar country;

  • tackling every kind of tangled administrative question,
    worse than we have ever had in India,
    with a hornet’s nest of Arab tribes.

[For the political demise in 1916
of Asquith and his attitude of prudent caution,
see 29.2, especially 29.2.9–11,
or the brief description at Wikipedia.]

Part X
Storm Over Asia

Chapter 51
Mesopotamia (Iraq): 1920

[Note also the Wikipedia article “British Mandate of Mesopotamia.”]

[pages 449–454]

In the first heady days of Arab nationalism in Damascus after the war,
it became apparent that
one of the important regional differences between the various Arab activists
was that those from the Mesopotamian provinces—
the eastern half of the Arabic-speaking world—
were for the most part military men.
Although the Mesopotamian soldiers
claimed to act in the name of Feisal and his brothers,
most of them were former Ottoman officers
who had remained loyal to the Sultan and the Young Turks
until the very end of the war.
Battlefield professionals and dedicated opponents of Britain,
they could have been expected to constitute
a more serious potential threat to British plans
than did the politicians and orators of Damascus or Jerusalem.

At first the British administration in the Mesopotamian provinces
did not see it that way.
Tensions between the diverse populations of the area
seemed to pose greater problems
and the lawlessness of groups such as the Kurds and the Bedouin tribes
seemed to pose greater threats.
Incoherence, communal strife, and habitual disorder—
rather than organized nationalism—
were perceived as the challenge.
The talk of national self-government came mostly
(according to the local British authorities)
from ambitious intriguers of shady character
who would subside into insignificance
if only the Allied leaders would cease their unsettling Wilsonian propaganda.

At the close of the war,
the temporary administration of the provinces
was in the hands of Captain (later Colonel) Arnold Wilson of British India,
who became civil commissioner.
His famous assistant was Gertrude Bell,
at that time the best-known British writer about Arab countries.
She tended toward protectorate, he, toward direct rule,
but in 1918 they were enough in agreement for him to forward with approval
her memorandum arguing that
the talk of self-determination before and at the Peace Conference
was detrimental.
She had previously written that
“the people of Mesopotamia,
having witnessed the successful termination of the war,
had taken it for granted that the country would remain under British control
and were as a whole content to accept the decision of arms.” [Ha!]
The declarations in favor of national self-determination at the Peace Conference
by Woodrow Wilson and others
“opened up other possibilities
which were regarded almost universally with anxiety,
but gave opportunity for political intrigue
to the less stable and more fanatical elements.”

When, in line with
the American principles being adopted—or at least affected—in London,
the Cabinet instructed Arnold Wilson to ask the peoples of Mesopotamia
what states or governments they would like to see established in their area,
Wilson’s reply was that there was no way of ascertaining public opinion.

While he was prepared to administer the provinces of Basra and Baghdad,
and also the province of Mosul
(which with Clemenceau’s consent
Lloyd George had detached from the French sphere
and intended to withhold from Turkey),
he did no believe that they formed a coherent entity.
(an Arab term that the British used increasingly
to denote the Mesopotamian lands)
seemed to him too splintered for that to be possible.
Mosul’s strategic importance made it seem a necessary addition to Iraq,
and the strong probability that it contained valuable oilfields
made it a desirable one,
but it was part of what was supposed to have been Kurdistan;
and Arnold Wilson argued that
the warlike Kurds who had been brought under his administration
“numbering half a million will never accept an Arab ruler.”
[Further information here.]

A fundamental problem, as Wilson saw it, was that
the almost two million Shi’ite Moslems in Mesopotamia
would not accept domination by the minority Sunni Moslem community, yet
“no form of Government has yet been envisaged,
which does not involve Sunni domination.”
The bitterness between the two communities was highlighted
when each produced a rival Arab nationalist society.
Also to be considered was the large Jewish community,
which dominated the commercial life of Baghdad,
and the substantial Christian community that included
the Nestorian-Chaldaean refugees from Turkey
who had gathered in the area of Mosul.

Seventy-five percent of the population of Iraq was tribal,
Wilson told London,
“with no previous tradition of obedience to any government.”
Along the same lines,
Gertrude Bell wrote to her father that
“The provincial magnates are going strongly against an Arab Amir, I think,
and even against an Arab Govt.
They say they don’t want to be rid of one tyranny
in order to fall into the clutches of another.”

Unlike Arab nationalists,
who were thinking in terms of political unity on a large scale
[Nuri el-Sa’id, the Mesopotamian officer
who had served as one of the heads of Feisal’s Allied army corps during the war,
advocated the creation of a single government for Syria and Mesopotamia....],
there were those who questioned
whether even attempting to unite the Mesopotamian provinces
might not be too ambitious to be practical.
Gertrude Bell, working on her own plans for a unified Iraq,
was cautioned by an American missionary
that she was ignoring rooted historical realities in doing so.
“You are flying in the face of four millenniums of history
if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a political entity!
Assyria always looked to the west and east and north,
and Babylonia to the south.
They have never been an independent unit.
You’ve got to take time to get them integrated, it must be done gradually.
They have no conception of nationhood yet.”

A leading Arab political figure in Baghdad cautioned her along different lines.
Speaking to her on 12 June 1920,
he reproached her with the fact that,
more than three years after occupying Baghdad in the war,
Britain continued to talk about establishing an independent government
but still did nothing about it.
He contrasted this with the situation in Damascus,
where the British had set up Feisal’s independent administration
as soon as they had arrived.
Well aware that she was one of the British officials
who were making plans for his government, he reminded her that
“You said in your declaration that
you would set up a native government
drawing its authority from the initiative and free choice of the people concerned,
yet you proceed to draw up a scheme without consulting anyone.
It would have been easy for you to take one or two leading men in your councils
and this would have removed the reproach which is leveled against your scheme ...”

Gertrude Bell discounted the danger of a native uprising.
Her chief, Arnold Wilson (against whom she intrigued), did not.
He warned London that
demobilization had left his armed forces dangerously undermanned.
The military deployed only a tiny force of mobile troops
to patrol an area of 170,000 square miles.
He pointed to the danger posed by Feisal’s adherents;
although Nuri el-Sa’id and other top Mesopotamian officers
who had served in the Hejaz forces with Lawrence and the Allies
had been forbidden to return home, as suspected potential troublemakers,
a number of activists—
many of whom had served with the enemy during the war—
had slipped back into the country
after the Damascus proclamations calling for Mesopotamian independence.
There was also talk of agents sent by Kemalist Turkey.

British nerves were on edge as
vague rumors, constant unrest, and repeated killings took their toll.
In the summer of 1919 three young British captains were murdered in Kurdistan.
The Government of India
sent out an experienced official to take their place in October 1919;
a month later he, too, was killed.

At Christmas that year,
Arnold Wilson sent to London to enlist the aid of Colonel Gerald Leachman,
an officer whose feats of travel, adventure, and war in the eastern deserts
had become legendary.
Leachman arrived back in Mesopotamia, before the spring of 1920,
to find that six British officers had been killed
in the ten days before his return.
More was to come:
the next month Leachman was able to rescue a party of British officers
attacked by a raiding party in the desert but, in the early summer,
he was unable to save two of his political officers
who were abducted as hostages and later murdered.
The desert was alive with Arab raiding parties and, in Leachman’s opinion,
the only way to deal with the disaffected tribes was “wholesale slaughter.”

In June 1920 the tribes suddenly rose in full revolt
a revolt that seems to have been triggered by
the government’s efforts to levy taxes.
By 14 June the formerly complacent Gertrude Bell,
going from one extreme to another,
claimed to be living through a nationalist reign of terror.
She exaggerated, but in the Middle Euphrates,
posts were indeed overrun, British officers killed, and communications cut.
For one reason or another—
the revolts had a number of causes
and the various rebels pursued different goals—
virtually the whole area rose against Britain,
and revolt then spread to the Lower Euphrates as well.
A Holy War was proclaimed against Britain
in the Shi’ite Moslem holy city of Karbalah.
On the northwestern frontier,
Arab cavalry, initially led by one of Feisal’s ex-officers,
swept down on British outposts and massacred their defenders.

There was more bad news:
Leachman, who left Baghdad on 11 August
to attend a meeting with tribal allies at a station on the Euphrates,
was tricked into sending away his armed escort—
and then was shot in the back and killed
by order of the tribal sheikh who was his host.
Arab Treachery was the headline of the Reuters’ report of assassination;
Bad To Worse In Mesopotamia was the headline of The Times.
The news of Leachman’s killing
led to further tribal uprisings against the British along the Euphrates.

[This foreshadowed America’s experience in the 2000s
in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.]

Fresh uprisings occurred north and west of Baghdad.
By mid-August a group of insurgents felt confident enough
to declare a provisional Arab government.

In a leading article on 7 August 1920, The Times demanded to know
How much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed
in the vain endeavour to impose upon the Arab population
an elaborate and expensive administration
which they never asked for and do not want?
In a similar article on 10 August, The Times said that
“We are spending sums in Mesopotamia and in Persia
which may well reach a hundred million pounds this year”
in support of what it termed
“the foolish policy of the Government in the Middle East.”

The Government of India poured in reinforcements of men and supplies
to restore order.
The main population centers quickly were secured,
but regaining control of the countryside took time.
It was not until October that many of the cut-off Euphrates towns were relieved
and not until February of 1921 that order was restored more or less completely.
Before putting down the revolt Britain suffered nearly 2,000 casualties,
including 450 dead.

The British were confused as to the origins of the revolt.
Arnold Wilson submitted a list of thirteen contributing factors,
stressing, above all,
the involvement of Feisal’s supporters and Kemal’s Turkey,
perhaps supported, he claimed, by American Standard Oil interests.

The mysterious uprisings in Iraq
threw the normally poised British Indian administration off balance.
Sir Arnold Wilson told the Cabinet at the end of 1920 that
“there was no real desire in Mesopotamia for an Arab government,
that the Arabs would appreciate British rule.”
If that were so,
then the explosion in Mesopotamia could not be explained
as an Arab independence movement.
“What we are up against,” said Wilson, “is anarchy plus fanaticism.
There is little or no Nationalism.”
The tribesmen, he said, were “out against all government as such”
and had no notion what they were fighting for.
In mid-August he said that
the “revolutionary movement has for some time past
ceased to have any political aspect and has become entirely anarchic.”

It was not a satisfactory explanation, coming—as the Iraqi uprisings did—
on top of troubles everywhere else in the Middle East.
  • Why were the despised Turks, under Kemal’s leadership,
    successfully continuing to defy the Allies?

  • Why was Britain’s protégé, King Hussein,
    losing the struggle for mastery in Arabia?

  • Why did the Egyptians continue to refuse to negotiate—on any basis—
    for Britain’s forces to remain in their country?

  • Why were the Afghans conspiring with the Russians?

  • Why did Feisal lose out to France
    and then allow his followers to strike out at Britain?

  • Why did Arabs riot in Palestine and rebel in Iraq?

— all at a time when Britain’s economy had collapsed
and when the government’s time, energy, and resources
were needed to revive it?

In London there was no agreement about what had happened in the Middle East,
but there was a strikingly large body of opinion that held that
what had occurred was caused by outsiders, and that
the disorders through the East were somehow linked with one another.
Certain names continued to recur in the course of British speculations
as to the origins of the disorders:
Enver Pasha,
Mustapha Kemal,
the Germans,
Standard Oil,
the Jews, and
the Bolsheviks.

[Transitioning to the next chapter...]
With respect to the Bolsheviks,
British suspicions in fact proved to be well founded.
The Russians, looking for a chance to undermine the British position in Asia,
decided that, by bringing pressure to bear on Britain elsewhere,
they might enable the insurgency in Iraq to succeed.
The area of British vulnerability they chose to exploit was in Persia,
the political battlefield on which Britain and Russia had clashed so often
in the course of the Great Game.

Chapter 53
Unmasking Britain’s Enemies

[page 468]

In fact there was an outside force linked to
every one of the outbreaks of violence in the Middle East,
but it was the one force whose presence remained invisible to British officialdom.
It was Britain herself.
In a region of the globe
whose inhabitants were known especially to dislike foreigners,
and in a predominantly Moslem world
which could abide being ruled by almost anybody except non-Moslems,
a foreign Christian country ought to have expected to encounter hostility
when it attempted to impose its own rule.
The shadows that accompanied the British rulers
wherever they went in the Middle East
were in fact their own.

[O]n 27 September 1921, The Times rejected
the Arab Bureau’s old notion of
a special British mission to the Moslem world.
Discerning a common theme in
the many Moslem Middle Eastern revolts against European Christian rule,
The Times was of the opinion that
“The problem is far too big
for any one European nation to cope with alone ...”

The principal danger, as The Times pictured it,
lay in British overcommitment.

The principal challenge to the country, in its view,
was at home and was economic.
Britain needed to invest her money
in renewing herself economically and socially,
and was threatened in her very existence by
a governmental disposition to squander money instead
on Middle Eastern adventures.

[Emphasis added.]

Some comments explicitly relating
this history from the 1920s to the situation in the 2000s may not be unwelcome.
In 1921, Arnold Wilson said
“What we are up against [in Iraq] is anarchy plus fanaticism.
There is little or no Nationalism.”
In the 2000s,
Americans who wish for America to remain militarily involved in Iraq
give as one of their reasons the claim that
without American military involvement,
Iraq would descend into “chaos and extremism”.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

For what did happen after 1921, see this or this.
For connections between the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty
and proposed 2008 American-Iraqi Status of Forces agreements,
see this or this.

Part XII
The Middle Eastern Settlement of 1922

Chapter 61
The Settlement of the Middle Eastern Question

Section V

[pages 563–565]

The Middle East became what it is today both
because the European powers undertook to re-shape it and
because Britain and France failed to ensure that
the dynasties, the states, and the political system that they established
would permanently endure.
[Was the latter even possible?]
During and after the First World War,
Britain and her Allies destroyed the old order in the region irrevocably;
they smashed Turkish rule of the Arabic–speaking Middle East beyond repair.
To take its place, they
  • created countries,

  • nominated rulers,

  • delineated frontiers, and

  • introduced a state system of the sort that exists everywhere else;
they did not quell all significant local opposition to those decisions.

As a result the events of 1914–22,
while bringing to an end Europe’s Middle Eastern Question,
gave birth to a Middle Eastern Question in the Middle East itself.
The settlement of 1922
(as it is called here,
even though some of the arrangements were arrived at
a bit earlier or a bit later)
resolved, as far as Europeans were concerned,
the question of what—as well as who—should replace the Ottoman Empire;
yet even today
there are powerful local forces within the Middle East
that remain unreconciled to these arrangements

and may well overthrow them.

Some of the disputes, like those elsewhere in the world,
are about rulers or frontiers,
but what is typical of the Middle East is that
more fundamental claims are also advanced,
drawing into question
not merely the dimensions and boundaries,
but the right to exist,
of countries that immediately or eventually emerged
from the British and French decisions of the early 1920s:
Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon.
So at this point [1989],
the Middle East is the region of the world in which
wars of national survival are still being fought with some frequency.

The disputes go deeper still:
beneath such apparently insoluble, but specific, issues as
the political future of the Kurds or
the political destiny of the Palestinian Arabs,
lies the more general question of
whether the transplanted modern system of politics invented in Europe—characterized, among other things,
by the division of the earth into independent secular states
based on national citizenship—
will survive in the foreign soil of the Middle East.

In the rest of the world
European political assumptions are so taken for granted
that nobody thinks about them anymore;
but at least one of these assumptions,
the modern belief in secular civil government,
is an alien creed in a region most of whose inhabitants,
for more than a thousand years,
have avowed faith in
a Holy Law that governs all of life,
including government and politics.

European statesmen of the First World War era did—to some extent—
recognize the problem and its significance.
As soon as they began to plan their annexation of the Middle East,
Allied leaders recognized that Islam’s hold on the region
was the main feature of the political landscape
with which they would have to contend.
Lord Kitchener, it will be remembered, initiated in 1914
a policy designed to bring the Moslem faith under Britain’s sway.
When it looked as though that might not work—
for the Sherif Hussein’s call to the Faithful in 1916 fell on deaf ears—
Kitchener’s associates proposed instead to sponsor other loyalties
(to a federation of Arabic-speaking peoples, or
to the family of King Hussein, or
to about-to-be-created countries such as Iraq)
as a rival to pan-Islam.
Indeed they framed the postwar Middle East settlement
with that object (among others) in view.

However European officials at the time had little understanding of Islam.
They were too easily persuaded that
Moslem opposition to the politics of modernization—of Euopeanization—
was vanishing.
Had they been able to look ahead to the last half of the twentieth century,
they would have been astonished by
Continuing local opposition, whether on religious grounds or others,
to the settlement of 1922 or
to the fundamental assumptions upon which it was based,
explains the characteristic feature of the region’s politics:
in the Middle East there is
no sense of legitimacy—no agreement on rules of the game—and
no belief, universally shared in the region, that
within whatever boundaries,
the entities that call themselves countries or the men who claim to be rulers
are entitled to recognition as such.

In that sense,
successors to the Ottoman sultans have not yet been permanently installed,
even though—between 1919 and 1922—installing them
was what the Allies believed themselves to be doing.

It may be that one day the challenges to the 1922 settlement—
to the existence of Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and Lebanon, for example, or
to the institution of secular national governments in the Middle East—
will be withdrawn.
But if they continue in full force, then
the twentieth-century Middle East will eventually be seen to be
in a situation similar to Europe’s in the fifth century AD,
when the collapse of the Roman Empire’s authority in the West
threw its subjects into a crisis of civilization
that obliged them to work out a political system of their own.
The European experience suggests
what the dimensions of such a radical crisis of political civilization
might be.

It took Europe a millennium and a half
to resolve its post-Roman crisis of social and political identity:
nearly a thousand years
to settle on the nation-state form of political organization, and
nearly five hundred years more
to determine which nations were entitled to be states.
  • civilization would survive the raids and conflicts of rival warrior bands;

  • church or state, pope or emperor, would rule;

  • Catholic or Protestant would prevail in Christendom;

  • dynastic empire, national state, or city-state would command fealty; and

  • for example, a townsman of Dijon belonged
    to the Burgundian or to the French nation
were issues painfully worked out through ages of searching and strife,
during which the losers—
the Albigensians of southern France, for example—
were often annihilated.
It was only at the end of the nineteenth century,
with the creation of Germany and Italy,
that an accepted map of western Europe finally emerged,
some 1,500 years after the old Roman map started to become obsolete.

The continuing crisis in the Middle East in out time
may prove to be nowhere so profound or so long-lasting.
[We wish!]
But its issue is the same:
how diverse peoples are to regroup
to create new political identities for themselves

after the collapse of an ages-old imperial order
to which they had grown accustomed.
The Allies proposed a post-Ottoman design for the region in the early 1920s.
The continuing question is whether the peoples of the region will accept it.

The settlement of 1922, therefore,
does not belong entirely or even mostly to the past;
it is at the very heart
of current wars, conflicts, and politics in the Middle East,
for the questions that Kitchener, Lloyd George, and Churchill opened up
are even now being contested by force of arms, year after year,
in the ruined streets of Beirut,
along the banks of the slow-moving Tigris-Euphrates, and
by the waters of the Biblical Jordan.

The King-Crane Commission

Here are some excerpts from
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
by Margaret MacMillan, published in 2001,
that deal with the King-Crane commission of inquiry and some related material.

MacMillan’s discussion, spread across two chapters, covers three topics:
The establishment of the commission,
its conclusions vis-à-vis Syria, and
those vis-à-vis Palestine.

Section titles, paragraph numbers, emphasis, and some comments
are added.

Chapter 27
Arab Independence

The establishment of the commission

On March 20, 1919 ...
French Foreign Minister Stéphen Pichon and
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George
went over the whole history
[of the question of the disposition of Syria].
Sykes-Picot, said U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in disgust afterward,
sounded like a type of tea:
“a fine example of the old diplomacy.”
British General Sir Edmund Allenby,
who had been summoned to Paris from Damascus,
warned that the Arabs would violently oppose a French occupation.
Wilson tried to find a compromise.
After all, as he pointed out, his only interest was in peace.
Why not send a fact-finding inquiry
to ask the Arabs themselves what they wanted?

The Peace Conference, he said, using a favorite formula, would find
“the most scientific basis possible for a settlement.”
To annoy the British,
French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau slyly suggested that
the commission look at Mesopotamia and Palestine as well.

Lloyd George agreed to the commission,
but privately thought it a dreadful idea,
and so, on second thought, did Clemenceau.
The two stalled when it came to naming their representatives,
with the result that Wilson, in exasperation,
finally decided in May to go ahead unilaterally
and send his commissioners out to the Middle East.

The Commission’s conclusions vis-à-vis Syria

In September 1919, Lloyd George ... decided that
Britain would pull its troops out of Syria and let the French move in.
After difficult conversations,
Lloyd George and Clemenceau agreed on the handover of power.
(There was still to be trouble over the border between Syria and Palestine,
which was not finally settled until 1922.)
The Americans protested weakly and talked of self-determination,
but they were no longer a serious factor.
By the end of 1919
the other outstanding issues between Britain and France had been settled:
Mosul’s oil was to be shared, more or less [as they had earlier agreed].

At the San Remo Conference in April 1920,
where the terms of the treaty with the Ottoman empire were approved,
the British and French, their differences temporarily forgotten,
awarded themselves mandates,
the British for Palestine and Mesopotamia,
the French for Syria.
In theory these were not valid
until they were confirmed by the League of Nations.
Not surprisingly, a League dominated by Britain and France did this in 1922.

The Arabs were consulted, but only by the Americans.
Wilson’s Commission of Inquiry [¶ 27.2.19],
which Clemenceau and Lloyd George had declined to support,
had duly gone ahead.
Henry King, the president of Oberlin, and Charles Crane ...
doggedly spent the summer of 1919 traveling through Palestine and Syria.
They found that

an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants
wanted Syria to encompass both Palestine and Lebanon;
a similar majority also wanted independence.

“Dangers,” they concluded,
“may readily arise from
unwise and unfaithful dealings with this people,
there is great hope of peace and progress
if they be handled frankly and loyally.”

Their report was not published until 1922,
long after the damage had been done.

[The final paragraph of Chapter 27, “Arab Independence”:]

Britain and France paid a price
for their role in the peace settlements in the Middle East.
The French never completely pacified Syria, and it never paid for itself.
The British pulled back in Iraq and Jordan as quickly as they could,
but they found they were stuck with Palestine
and an increasingly poisonous atmosphere between Arabs and Jews.

The Arab world as a whole never forgot its betrayal
and Arab hostility came to focus on
the example of Western perfidy nearest at hand,
the Zionist presence in Palestine.

Arabs also remembered the brief hope of Arab unity
at the end of the [1914–18] war.
After 1945, those resentments and that hope
continued to shape the Middle East.

Chapter 28

The Commission’s conclusions vis-à-vis Palestine

The fate of Palestine rested, as it had done for centuries,
with outside powers and in 1919 that meant mainly Britain and France....

The United States, in contrast to what happened after the Second World War,
played a minor role.
The American government had quietly approved the Balfour Declaration
and Wilson himself was sympathetic to Zionism.
“To think,” he told a leading New York rabbi,
“that I the son of the manse
should be able to help restore the Holy Land to its people.”
It would do the Jews good, he thought, to enjoy their own nationality.
He even contemplated, although only briefly,
an American mandate for Palestine.

But then there was the sacred tenet of self-determination.
Why should the wishes of a minority of Jews prevail
over those of a much larger number of Arabs?

Balfour and Louis Brandeis,
a Supreme Court justice and the leading American Zionist,
came up with an ingenious solution.
It was wrong to use mere “numerical self-determination”:
a great many potential inhabitants of the Jewish home in Palestine
still lived outside its borders.

[Obviously, those who advanced that argument were not thinking very far ahead.
If it was right to consider the views of all the world’s Jews
as to how their ancestral homeland should be governed,
it is of course equally right to consider the views of all the world’s Muslims
as to how the third-most-holy city to their religion (after Mecca and Medina)
should be governed,
and the fate of its surrounding historically Muslim-ruled province of Palestine.
(How typical of the Zionists though, to consider the views of Jews
but not of Muslims.)
This clearly marked the start of what has become
the prime current example of Huntington’s “War of Civilizations”.]

“And Zionism,” said Balfour,
“be it right or wrong, good or bad,
is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes
of far profounder import than
the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs
who now inhabit that ancient land.”
[Note: To Balfour,
the Jews have “traditions, needs and hopes”,
the Arabs have “desires and prejudices.”]

In any case he pointed out, reverting to the language of the old diplomacy,
the Great Powers were behind Zionism.
Wilson nevertheless insisted that his Commission of Inquiry into the Middle East include Palestine.
The two American commissioners, Charles Crane and Henry King,
the businessman and the professor,
reported back at the end of the summer of 1919 that

the Arabs in Palestine were “emphatically against
the entire Zionist program”

and recommended that
the Peace Conference limit Jewish immigration
and give up the idea of making Palestine a Jewish homeland.

Nobody paid the slightest attention.

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