From pre-Balfour Declaration to the Zionist Occupation of Palestine
Before World War One, British imperial strategists took account of the implications of potential scenarios within the Middle East. Addressing the 1907 Imperial Conference in London, Britain’s Prime Minister Henry Campbell Bannerman expressed these fears and called for a commission to look at the question of how to prevent the fall of their empire. The report recommended:
1) To promote disintegration, division and separation in the region.
2) To establish artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries.
3) To fight any kind of unity – whether intellectual, religious or historical – and taking practical measures to divide the region’s inhabitants.
4) To achieve this, it was proposed that a “buffer state” be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence which would be hostile to its neighbors and friendly to European countries and their interests.
Retrospectively, this would appear to have become British Imperial policy from this time – prior to World War One – for several decades thereafter.
Within this context, Arthur Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild in 1917, expressing Britain’s support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, becomes easy to understand.
There has been much debate over the years as to what extent the British government of the time really meant this expression of support.
Writing many years later, Sir Anthony Nutting believed that Balfour and others were complicit with the Zionist agenda to evict the Palestinian Arabs from the region – fitting very much with the pre-war policy recommendation to Bannerman to establish the ‘buffer state… populated by a strong, foreign presence’.
But other historians like Jonathan Schneer have viewed the promise to the Zionists as one of a complex series of bargaining moves that sought to variously ‘play’ Zionist Jews and the leaders of the Arab revolt, all in order to maintain British control over Palestine.
Schneer recognizes overlapping interests in that the Zionist movement wanted the Ottomans out of Palestine, whilst the British government wanted the Ottomans out of the whole Middle East – whilst conceding as little influence as possible to France.
His argument is that part of this bargaining process was that Balfour’s promise would tantalize American Jewry into lobbying for the United States to enter the war on Britain’s side against the Ottomans. Yet simultaneously, Britain was secretly negotiating a peace with the Ottomans, ready to ditch Balfour’s promise, in case they did not get support from the United States.
So in effect, at some stage or other between 1916 and 1918, Britain had offered Palestine to different interested parties at different times. As well as offering it to the Zionist lobby there was a dialogue to hand it to the Ottomans had Britain decided to settle for peace prior to American entry in the war. There had been a verbal promise to Sharif Hussein that it would be part of his territory, as well as having agreed to share with the French under the original terms of the Sykes Picot agreement.
According to historian James Barr the trust between the ‘allies’ of Britain, France and the Zionists was so poor – because of the feeling they had been made too many broken promises – that by 1945 the French were financing Zionist terrorists to attack British troops in Palestine (whilst British soldiers were helping to liberate France from the Nazis).
However, the client Arab regimes accepted humiliation and broken promises with servitude – and showed no real interest in defending or liberating Palestine. From the very first until today they have been the first line of support and defence for ‘Israel’.
One prime example was illustrated in Chaim Weizmann’s diary, where it is recorded that St John Philby, a former British intelligence officer and advisor to Ibn Saud, made a proposal that Ibn Saud should be offered a financial incentive of £20,000,000 in return for his support for a Zionist state. It seems the only reason this didn’t happen was because Weizmann didn’t want to proceed.
So much of the politics of today’s Middle East can be understood from the political intrigues surrounding World War One.
It is imperative that Muslims know the history of that disastrous era and learn real lessons from it in order to understand the neo-colonial games that are played today – that continue to wreak havoc over large parts of the world.
Similarly, it is essential that all people in Britain actually learn from their history so that their views on today’s current affairs are not clouded by lies and deceit from the political heirs of Balfour and Lloyd-George.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Barr, J – A Line in the Sand – 2011
Schneer, J – The Balfour Declaration – 2010
Clifford, B – Islam and its Discontents – 2009
Al-Rashid, M – A History of Saudi Arabia – 2010
Nutting, Anthony – Balfour and Palestine – A legacy of deceit – 1975
Weizmann, Chaim – The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann – Vol II
Rotberg, Robert – Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict: History’s Double Helix