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Book Notes: The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Jonathan Schneer

Cecil Bloom

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Jonathan Schneer (Bloomsbury Publishing 2010) isbn 978-0-7475-9948-7, pp.432, ?25.00. It is generally accepted that the British Government issued the Declaration associated with the name of Arthur James Balfour principally as a means of getting world Jewry, primarily American and Russian, to support it in its war against Germany. Many learned papers have been written on aspects of the Balfour Declaration and it has been referred to, sometimes in detail, in most works on Zionist history. In 1968 Jon Kimche's slim volume The Unromantics looked at the Declaration again, following the emergence of offi? cial documents that then became available. Ronald Sanders's bulky The High Walls of Jerusalem (1983) dealt primarily with events from November 1914 to December 1917, but Leonard Stein's The Balfour Declaration, published exactly fifty years ago, has been recognized as the principal work on the subject, at least until this valuable successor appeared. Professor Sir Charles Webster, the distinguished historian, once wrote that the Balfour Declaration was 'the greatest act of diplomatic statesman? ship of the first World War'. The Declaration was celebrated in earnest at 234</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes the time, but almost a century later and long after the appearance of Stein's book, many not sympathetic to the establishment of the State of Israel resent those events of 1917 and the years leading up to it and disagree with Webster's words. Professor Jonathan Schneer, an American historian, in a well-researched book has endeavoured to bring the whole story up to date, and tries to show how the Declaration has led to an Arab-Israeli conflict that has plagued the world since 1948. Many issues that are peripheral to the major story are included, several at some length, but they make it more understandable. Stein devoted only a short section to pre-1914 events, but Schneer reviews in detail the political situation in the Ottoman Empire. British Muslims were in the forefront of attempts to avoid conflict between Britain and Turkey and he shows how, once hostilities began, the Zionists opposed peace because they understood that a Turkish defeat could result in a break-up of the Ottoman Empire, leading to a change of political control in Palestine. There is an excellent account of the intrigues entered into by political figures on all sides, in particular Sharif Hussein and his sons, especially Abdullah and Feisal. Schneer considers the 'Damascus Protocol', to which Stein paid little attention, gave rise to subsequent problems between the British and the Arabs through misunderstandings about its intent. Hussein and his sons believed this document envisaged a federation of Arab countries containing Palestine under his rule to be backed by Britain. The Protocol was an impor? tant factor in getting Arabs to revolt against their Ottoman masters, but it subsequently floundered because of the dispute on its meaning to both parties, mainly through translation failures. Over time, Arab sympathizers have condemned 'perfidious Albion', but Zionist scholars support what Britain meant by the Protocol in that, at no point, was Palestine intended to be included in the Arab kingdom. Given all these factors, it is a wonder that the British succeeded in getting Arabs to revolt. One chapter in the book provides a good summary of how the British really became involved in Zionism, leading to the Declaration. Few histori? ans credit Sir Mark Sykes with a critical and positive pro-Zionist role in the events as they unfolded, but in this book he is shown to be far from a minor figure, who was vital in leading Chaim Weizmann and his associates towards their objective. Sykes is depicted as a man who played an important role in many of the negotiations, with great influence in Government circles, believ? ing that there was a future for major Jewish settlement in Palestine. The con? tribution too of James Malcolm, the London-based Armenian neglected by many historians, is recognized. Malcolm introduced Weizmann to Sykes and played an intermediary role between the Zionists and the British. There is an excellent account of the questionable but never implemented Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Much emphasis is placed on the Agreement, that dorn 235</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes inated thinking both in Britain and in France for some time. Sykes's contact with the Zionist leaders post Sykes-Picot Agreement was a significant moment in the prehistory of the Balfour Declaration, since he then became a strong supporter of Weizmann and all that he stood for. The seminal meeting that Weizmann and his colleagues held with Sykes on 7 February 1917, and subsequent ones on the two following days with Sykes and Picot, are given in some detail. Sokolow is also given much credit for the success of Zionism in 1917 prior to the Declaration. He triumphed at these latter two meetings, showing brilliance in his handling of the issues, and clearly helped to get Britain involved in supporting Zionist aims for a national home in Palestine. His negotiations with Picot are fully described and he successfully urged the French Government to recognize Jewish nationality and to under? stand that the Zionists were the most effective representatives of Jewish power. Schneer is at fault, however, in underestimating the value of Weizmann's first meeting in Manchester with Balfour during the 1906 elec? tion campaign. Balfour never forgot Weizmann's passion about the need for Jewish settlement in Palestine, and Weizmann was able to convince him that, if a home were to be found for the Jewish people, it was vain to seek it in Uganda. This was a key factor in Balfour's espousal of Zionism when war arrived. It is incorrect also to state that Weizmann asked ca mutual friend' to arrange a further meeting with Balfour soon after the start of the war. It was Lloyd George who suggested it. Weizmann first met Lloyd George in December 1914, two years before the latter became Prime Minister, when he was invited to one of Lloyd George's celebrated breakfast parties. It was there that Lloyd George told Weizmann that he should speak to Balfour. This author clearly has a high regard for Weizmann, believing that he towered over all his colleagues. Schneer underestimates the strength of Zionism in Britain at that time. It may be that only a small number of Jews belonged to a Zionist organization then, but many Jews had become committed to supporting the Zionist leaders' aims. There are some useful pen-portraits of leading Zionists such as Haham Moses Gaster, Nahum Sokolow, Harry Sacher, Israel Sieff, Ahad Ha'am and Herbert Samuel, and the non-Jews such as the Manchester Guardian editor C. P. Scott and his colleague Herbert Sidebotham, as well as Jewish anti-Zionists such as Edwin Montagu and Lucien Wolf. A good account is given of the conflict within British Jewry between the assimila tionists of the Anglo-Jewish Association and Board of Deputies (whose members formed the Conjoint Foreign Committee) and the Zionists as they struggled against each other to gain the ear of the British Government. Wolfs efforts against the Zionists and the activities of the Conjoint Committee are dealt with in some detail. Nine months before the declara? tion was issued, Wolf attempted to win over Balfour to his cause, but was 236</page><page sequence="4">Book Notes out-manoevered by the resourceful Weizmann; Schneer describes how the statement Wolf published in The Times in May 1917 backfired on him igno miniously. Montagu's role was quite different from that of Wolf. He believed there to be no Jewish race. Arab aims, as they were trying to gain access to control Palestine for them? selves, are not ignored. The Arab position, in particular with reference to T. E. Lawrence's role in the Revolt and the diplomacy that followed, is detailed in some depth, as are the steps the Zionists took in their negotiations with the Government in the three months leading to the Declaration, but much attention is given to explaining British efforts to achieve a separate peace with Turkey. Unlike Stein, who seems to have ignored them completely, Schneer refers to a number of non-Jews who were involved in efforts to end the war between Britain and Turkey, and these included some curious people - Marmaduke Pickthall, J. R. Pilling, a rich but undischarged bankrupt, a Mrs Evans (who appeared to be a friend of Lloyd George), Basil Zaharoff and Aubrey Herbert (Buchan modelled his hero in Greenmantle on Herbert). None of these are mentioned in Weizmann's autobiography. Schneer claims that Lloyd George used these people when he was contemplating the possi? bility of signing a separate peace with Turkey. The concluding chapters are crucial to the book because they discuss what appears to be hitherto somewhat obscure information that could have affected the future of Palestine postwar. Schneer draws attention to how Lloyd George's attempts to get the Turks out of the war would have impacted on what both the Zionists and Arabs were expecting from the con? flict. Starting in June 1917, with Sir Vincent Caillard (a Director of the Vickers Armaments Company) as intermediary, Lloyd George used the notorious arms dealer Basil Zaharoff as his emissary to the Young Turk leader Enver Pasha, offering him and his associates a bribe of $10,000,000 to cease hostilities. (Papers released in 2005 from the National Archives indicate the figure to have been ?10,000,000.) Zaharoff was empowered by the Prime Minister to discuss a separate peace with the Turks and to suggest to them the possibility of retaining nominal suzerainty in some form over Palestine. Lloyd George saw no difficulty in allowing the Turkish flag to continue to fly in Palestine if this meant that the Turks would sue for peace, and he repeated this view in mid-January even though Allenby had entered Jerusalem a month earlier. Had Weizmann and his colleagues known of this possibility, they would have felt grossly betrayed. Balfour was aware of the efforts to have the Turks sue for peace, but was not in favour of allowing Turkey to retain Palestine. Yet what was Lloyd George's intention on who should rule Palestine? Leopold Amery has written that at a secret session of the House of Commons in May 1917 Lloyd George was emphatic that Palestine and Mesopotamia would not be retained by Turkey after hostilities ceased. 237</page><page sequence="5">Book Notes It is strange that, to this day, most historians of the period, especially those writing about Zionist history, seem to have ignored the possibility that Turkey might have been able to retain its empire and that there would not have been a British Protectorate for Palestine. Schneer is to be congratulated for bringing forth some key data that most, although not all, previous writers of this period have overlooked. Lloyd George himself made no reference to his use of Zaharoff in his War Memoirs, or to the accusation that he was pre? pared to leave Palestine and other territories in Turkish hands. Furthermore, as far as can be determined, neither does any biography of Lloyd George refer to this. It is an intriguing issue that is worth researching further. Perhaps this will form the basis of Professor Schneer's next book. Schneer concludes by writing that the British and their Allies slew the Ottoman dragon in the Middle East, but that their policies sowed dragon's teeth, resulting in armed men rising up from the ground - who are still rising. He ends on a depressing note, but his book does show the strength and courage of the Zionist movement ninety-odd years ago. Let us hope these attributes will help Israel's leaders to succeed as their predecessors did then. Cecil Bloom</page></plain_text>