T.E. Lawrence and Zionism
Extracts from Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography by Jeremy Wilson (London, Heinemann, 1989; New York, Atheneum, 1990) and other sources.
In quoting these extracts in isolation, I have assumed that readers have a general knowledge of the diplomatic background, the history of undertakings given by Britain to the Arabs, and the progress of the war in the Middle East.
Meetings between Lawrence and Aaron Aaronsohn, a radical Zionist, Jerusalem, 1917
[Aaronsohn] had met Lawrence as early as February 1917, and had noted in his diary, ‘. . . A new appearance in the Arab Bureau – 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence, archaeologist, very versed in Palestinian topics. Overbearing.’
On 12 August 1917, according to the diary, they met again. ‘This morning I had a conversation with Capt. Lawrence. An interview without any evidence of friendliness. Lawrence had too much success at too early an age. Has a very high estimation of his own self. He is lecturing me on our colonies, on the spirit of the people, on the feelings of the Arabs, and we would do well in being assimilated by them, by the sons of Arab etc. While listening to him I imagined to be present at the lecture of a Prussian scientific anti-Semite expressing himself in English. I am afraid that many of the archaeologists and reverends have been imbued by ‘l’esprit boche‘. He is openly against us. He is basically of missionary stock’
Harsh words indeed; in contradiction of the words used by Weizmann. As far as we know Aaronsohn did not change his mind. He continued to see in T. E. Lawrence the close associate of Feisal, the ‘Bedouins’ and the ‘Arabs’ of whom he had the lowest opinion.
Source: Amram Scheyer, ‘The Lawrence – Aaronsohn Relationship’ JTELS, Vol. V, No. 1, Autumn 1995.
T. E. Lawrence’s letter to Sir Mark Sykes, 9 September 1917
(Wilson pp. 442-3)
[Sir Mark] Sykes’s letter to [Gilbert] Clayton [of 22 July 1917*] also contained a passing reference to the Zionist question. It was well known that he was interested in this subject, and the British staff in Egypt also knew that some kind of discussions on the matter were taking place in London. Jewish ambitions in Palestine were common knowledge in Cairo, where Aaron Aaronson, a prominent figure in the movement, was hoping to set up a Zionist office. Lawrence had good reason to be interested in a question that so obviously affected the aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs.
On September 7th, he wrote to Sykes at length, asking both about Zionist aims and about the future of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. He sent this letter to Clayton, with the comment: ‘Some of it is really thirst for information, and other is only a wish to stick pins into him . . . One must have the Jewish section cleared up: and I fancy we may (if we win) clear up the French section ourselves.’15
Lawrence wrote to Sykes: ‘General Clayton showed me a letter from you which contained a message to myself – and this has prompted me to ask you a few queries about Near East affairs. I hope you will be able to give me an idea of how matters stand in reference to them, since part of the responsibility of action is inevitably thrown on to me, and unless I know more or less what is wanted there might be trouble.
‘About the Jews in Palestine, Feisal has agreed not to operate or agitate west of the [Wadi] Araba-Dead Sea-Jordan line, or south of the Haifa-Beisan line . . .
‘You know of course the root differences between the Palestine Jew and the colonist Jew: to Feisal the important point is that the former speak Arabic, and the latter German Yiddish. He is in touch with the Arab Jews (their H.Q. at Safed and Tiberias is in his sphere) and they are ready to help him, on conditions. They show a strong antipathy to the colonist Jews, and have even suggested repressive measures against them. Feisal has ignored this point hitherto, and will continue to do so. His attempts to get into touch with the colonial Jews have not been very fortunate. They say they have made their arrangements with the Great Powers, and wish no contact with the Arab Party. They will not help the Turks or the Arabs.
‘Now Feisal wants to know (information had better come to me for him since I usually like to make up my mind before he does) what is the arrangement standing between the colonist Jews (called Zionists sometimes) and the Allies . . . What have you promised the Zionists, and what is their programme?
‘I saw Aaronson in Cairo, and he said at once the Jews intended to acquire the land-rights of all Palestine from Gaza to Haifa, and have practical autonomy therein. Is this acquisition to be by fair purchase or by forced sale and expropriation? The present half-crop peasantry were the old freeholders and under Moslem landlords may be ground down but have fixity of tenure. Arabs are usually not employed by Jewish colonies. Do the Jews propose the complete expulsion of the Arab peasantry, or their reduction to a day-labourer class?
‘You know how the Arabs cling even to bad land and will realise that while Arab feelings didn’t matter under Turkish rule . . . the condition will be vastly different if there is a new, independent, and rather cock-a-hoop Arab state north and east and south of the Jewish state.
I can see a situation arising in which the Jewish influence in European finance might not be sufficient to deter the Arab peasants from refusing to quit – or worse!
* Sir T. B. M. Sykes to G. F. Clayton 22.7.1917. Sykes Papers, St. Antony’s College, Oxford.
Note 15. T. E. Lawrence to G. F. Clayton 7.9.1917. Clayton Pape5rs 693/11/9-12, Durham (photocopy of original).
Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration published (Wilson pp. 467-9)
Lawrence’s visit to Cairo [in December1917] also enabled him to catch up on Intelligence about recent political developments. Among the most serious questions to be faced were those which had been raised by the Bolshevik Revolution of early November. The new Russian regime was vehemently opposed to the war and had taken immediate steps to reach an armistice with the Central Powers. This meant that Turkey would soon be able to transfer troops from the Caucasus Front to Palestine and Mesopotamia.
The Revolution had another disconcerting consequence. Within days of seizing control, the Bolsheviks had published secret Allied treaties including the Sykes-Picot Agreement. During the following weeks, these texts had appeared in newspapers throughout the world. The Sykes-Picot terms were a gift to Turkish propaganda, and British officials had waited anxiously for Arab reaction.
This had not been slow in coming. On November 26th, Wilson reported that Hussein had ‘hinted that H. M. Government possibly had some secret understanding with France and that Zeid and Feisal were being delayed by us from advancing north on this account . . . the King expressed his distrust of French policy and . . . stated that Syria was his . . . His honour was concerned . . . as he had promised the Syrians he would give them help and never desert them.’11
It was feared that Arab support might disappear completely unless the Allies took some step to counteract the damage done by the Sykes-Picot revelation. The situation was made still more fraught by the release, at much the same time, of the Balfour Declaration, which provided for a Jewish ‘national home’ in Palestine. Reviewing the situation, Clayton wrote to Sykes: ‘The lack of any definite pronouncement against annexation, especially in Syria, is causing distrust and uneasiness . . . The general principles of the Anglo-French Agreement are known, but there is still no certain knowledge of Entente intentions for the future. As regards Syria, there is an impression that we may be only marking time until our military successes place us in a position to hand [it] over to France with as few pledges as possible. This suspicion is ever present in the mind of the Sherif of Mecca . . .
‘The recent announcement of His Majesty’s Government on the Jewish question has made a profound impression on both Christians and Moslems who view with little short of dismay the prospect of seeing Palestine and even eventually Syria in the hands of the Jews, whose superior intelligence and commercial abilities are feared . . .
‘All the above facts tend to prepare the ground for German-inspired . . . propaganda and pave the way for an attractive proposal [to the Arabs] for independence under nominal Turkish suzerainty . . .’12
11. C. E. Wilson to Arab Bureau for Sir F. R, Wingate, telegram W1966, 16.11.1917. FO 141/654/356.
12. G. F. Clayton to Sir T. B. M. Sykes, transmitted in Sir F. R. Wingate to Foreign Office, London, telegram 1281, 28.11.1917. Sykes Papers, St. Antony’s College, Oxford.
The situation in May 1918
(Wilson pp. 502-3)
Lawrence realised that the delay in Palestine [because Allenby was obliged to return troops to Europe] would be a severe blow to the Arabs. In the first place, he had been counting on Allenby’s forward movement to resolve the dangerous stalemate at Maan. Now, however, the Turks would be free to concentrate their attention on Jaafar Pasha’s army. They were already building up their forces near Amman, and an attack seemed imminent. If they were allowed to move south, the Arabs might soon be driven back off the Maan plateau.
In the longer term, the delay could have even more serious consequences. Lawrence later wrote: ‘We on the Arab front had been exciting Eastern Syria, since 1916, for a revolt near Damascus, and our material was now ready and afoot. To hold it still in that excited readiness during another year risked our over-passing the crisis ineffectually.’1
The risk of declining morale among Feisal’s present forces was no less worrying: ‘This was now 1918, and stalemate across its harvest would have marked the ebb of Feisal’s movement. His fellows were living on their nerves (rebellion is harder than war) and their nerves were wearing thin. Also the big war was not looking too well.’2
These difficulties had to be seen in the context of a much wider anxiety. Since the autumn of 1917, the Anglo-Arab alliance had been under great strain. The cause was Arab knowledge of the Sykes-Picot terms (greatly exploited by Turkish propaganda) and of the Balfour Declaration. These agreements affected Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia and Palestine. If they were implemented, only the Arabian Peninsula would be autonomous. In other words, the richest and most fertile of the Arab provinces had been reserved for the Allies, and political independence was to be denied to the overwhelming majority of Turkey’s subject peoples. Arab leaders felt cheated of much that they had been fighting for, and bitterly angry that they had not been consulted about these agreements.
Their principal reason for continuing the alliance with Britain was a belief that the Allies would win the war. During the spring of 1918, however, even this seemed open to doubt. The EEF advance to Jerusalem and Jericho had been impressive, but there it had stopped, to be followed only by two disastrous raids across the Jordan which had done immeasurable damage to British prestige. Arab suspicions that the Allies might be weakening had been reinforced by news of the successful German offensive in Europe.3
1. T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars, 1922 text, Chapter 110.
2. T. E. Lawrence, comment on the typescript draft of ‘T.E. Lawrence’ in Arabia and After by B. H. Liddell Hart. B:LH pp 113-4.
3. German forces had launched a major offensive on the Western Front on 21 March 1918 and, within four months, recovered all the territory that the Allies had gained since 1915.
Weizmann’s meeting with Emir Feisal, 4 June 1918
(Wilson pp. 512-14)
There had been another important diplomatic contact while Lawrence was away in the north. This was a visit to Feisal’s camp by Dr Chaim Weizmann, a leading British Zionist. Some weeks earlier, Weizmann had arrived in Palestine at the head of a Zionist Commission authorised by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet. The Commission’s objects, according to a telegram to Wingate from the Foreign Office, were ‘to carry out, subject to General Allenby’s authority, any steps required to give effect to the Government declaration in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people . . . Among the important functions of the Commission will be the establishment of good relations with the Arabs and other non-Jewish communities in Palestine . . . It is most important that everything should be done to . . . allay Arab suspicions regarding the true aims of Zionism’.29
Clayton, who was closely involved in the administration of Palestine, hoped that the mission would help to reduce hostility between Jews and Arabs. He had written to Sykes on February 4th: ‘I have urged Lawrence to impress on Faisal the necessity of an entente with the Jews. [Feisal] is inclined the other way, and there are people in Cairo who lose no chance of putting him against them. I have explained that it is his only chance of doing really big things and bringing the Arab movement to fruition.’30 Subsequently, Lawrence had told Clayton: ‘[As] for the Jews, when I see Feisul next I’ll talk to him, and the Arab attitude shall be sympathetic, for the duration of the war at least. Only please remember that he is under the old man, and cannot involve the Arab kingdom by himself.’ He would advise Feisal to visit Jerusalem when the demands of the campaign permitted, and ‘all the Jews there will report him friendly. That will probably do all you need, without public commitment, which is rather beyond my province.’31
In late May, a message had been sent to Akaba proposing a meeting between Feisal and Weizmann, who would be accompanied by a liaison officer: ‘The interview would take place at Arab Headquarters, to which they would motor. Wire if this is convenient to Sherif Feisal and Lawrence. It is important the latter should be present at the interview.’32 In the event, however, Lawrence had left to join Nasir before the date of Weizmann’s journey to Akaba was telegraphed from Cairo. He was therefore absent when the meeting took place on June 4th.
His place was taken by Joyce, who afterwards reported that the discussions lasted about forty-five minutes: ‘Sherif Feisal expressed his opinion of the necessity for co-operation between Jews and Arabs . . . As regards definite political arrangements, [he] was unwilling to express an opinion, pointing out that in questions of politics he was acting merely as his father’s agent and was not in a position to discuss them . . . Dr. Weizmann pointed out that the Jews do not propose setting up a Jewish government, but would like to work under British protection with a view to colonizing and developing the country without in any way encroaching on anybody’s legitimate interests . . . Feisal declared that as an Arab he could not discuss the future of Palestine, either as a Jewish colony or a country under British Protection. These questions were already the subject of much German and Turkish propaganda, and would undoubtedly be misinterpreted by the Bedouin if openly discussed. Later on when Arab affairs were more consolidated these questions could be brought up.
‘Sherif Feisal personally accepted the possibility of future Jewish claims to territory in Palestine . . . but he could not discuss them publicly’.33
It was only during a subsequent visit to Allenby’s headquarters that Lawrence had an opportunity for significant discussions with Weizmann. Not long afterwards, when he was questioned on the topic by a member of Wingate’s staff, he said: ‘The real imminence of the Palestine problem is patent only to Feisal of the Sherifians. He believes that we intend to keep it ourselves, under the excuse of holding the balance between conflicting religions, and regards it as a cheap price to pay for the British help he has had and hopes still to have . . .
‘Dr. Weizmann hopes for a completely Jewish Palestine in fifty years, and a Jewish Palestine, under a British faade, for the moment. He is fighting for his own lead among the British and American Jews: if he can offer these the spectacle of British help, and Arab willingness to allow Jewish enterprise free scope in all their provinces in Syria, he will then secure the financial backing which will make the new Judaea a reality . . . Weizmann is not yet in a position, as regards Jewry, to make good any promise he makes. In negotiating with him the Arabs would have to bear in mind that they are worth nothing to him till they have beaten the Turks, and that he is worth nothing to them unless he can make good amongst the Jews . . .
‘Until the military adventure of the Arabs under Feisal has succeeded or failed, he does not require Jewish help, and it would be unwise on our part to permit it to be offered.’34
However, Lawrence thought that in the more distant future Feisal might have something to gain from co-operation with the Zionists. As soon as the Turks had been defeated, vociferous factions in Syria would turn against the Sherifians. Much of the upper-class intelligentsia would prefer autonomy, while the Maronite Christians and other pro-French elements would side with Paris in calling for the introduction of French advisers and capital. At this point Feisal might, with advantage, turn to the Zionists: ‘If the British and American Jews, securely established under British colours in Palestine, chose this moment to offer to the Arab state in Syria help (1) against the Syrian autonomous elements, [and] (2) against the foreign railways, ports, roads, waterworks and power companies, Sherif Feisal would be compelled to accept the help, and with Anglo-Jewish advisers could dispense with the effendim and buy out the foreigners. This would give time for a development of an Arab spirit in Syria from below’.35
In June 1918, however, Lawrence was faced with more urgent questions
than the future relationship between Arabs and Zionists. The plans for an offensive were complete, and he was shortly to go to Egypt to make arrangements with GHQ and to seek Wingate’s support for requesting the transfer of regulars from the Hejaz.
29. Foreign Office London to Sir F. R. Wingate, c.9.1.1918. CAB27/23.
30. G. F. Clayton to Sir T. B. M. Sykes, 4.2.1918. FO 371/3398 fo.620.
31. T. E. Lawrence to G. F. Clayton, 12.2.1918. FO882/7 fo. 268.
32. GHQ to Commandant Akaba, dispatch 2300, 24.5.1918. WO95/4370.
33. P. C. Joyce, ‘Interview between Dr. Weizmann and Sherif Feisal’ 5.6.1918. FO 882/14 fos. 364-5. Lawrence’s absence from this meeting is confirmed by Arab Bulletin No. 93, 18.6.1918, p. 208. Weizmann later implied that Lawrence had been present (see Trial and Error, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1949 p. 292, and also a confused account in Friends, pp. 219-20. In both places Weizmann claims to have met Lawrence in June at or near Akaba.)
34. T. E. Lawrence, quoted in G. S. Symes, Tour of Duty (London, Collins, 1946) pp. 31-2. These notes were dictated by Lawrence, at Symes’s request, while he was waiting for an aeroplane at Aboukir areodrome. Symes does not give a date, but it cannot be earlier than mid-June 1918, when Lawrence seems to have had his first serious talks with Weizmann. Clayton wrote on June 18th: ‘Weizmann . . . has done very well with Faisal and at least has established excellent personal relations. He has also had long discussions with Lawrence, and they seem quite agreed on main principles’ (G. F. Clayton to G. A. Lloyd 18.6.1918. Lloyd Papers GLLD 9/3. Churchill College, Cambridge). Lawrence’s pocket diaries show that the date must be either June 15th or July 9th 1918.
35.Ibid. p. 32
Lawrence at the Eastern Committee of the British Cabinet, 29 October 1918
(Wilson pp. 376-7)
As regards French advisers [in Syria], ‘Feisal took the view that he was free to choose whatever advisers he liked. He was anxious to obtain the assistance of British or American Zionist Jews for this purpose. The Ziuonists would be acceptable to the Arabs, on terms.’25
25. Minutes of the 37th meeting of the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, 29.10.1918. CAB 27/24 fo.150.
Gilbert Clayton’s views, November 1918
(Wilson pp. 582-3)
[On 1918 November 1918], a long telegram was received from Clayton. This began by setting out the attitudes of the local populations, area by area, and then discussed the implications of the Sykes-Picot Agreement: ‘The arrangement for a division of the independent Arab area into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ sphere, the one controlled by France and the other by Great Britain, presents almost insuperable practical difficulties from an administrative point of view. If an Arab Government is to function with any degree of efficiency, it must have a system of administration applying equally to all areas under its control and operating from one central [point], which in this case must be Damascus.
‘It is impracticable to divide the territories into two parts (one of which contains the capital) and to lay down that advice and assistance must come from France in the one half and from Great Britain in the other.
‘For many years to come, advice and assistance to the newly formed Arab State must entail a considerable measure of actual administration. French and British methods of administration are widely different, and confusion and inefficiency must result. Worst of all, such an arrangement contains the seeds of future friction between France and Great Britain in a region where the policies of the two countries have been in opposition for many years.’39
In order to avoid such a clash, Clayton proposed that Britain should be the trustee of Palestine, and adviser to the independent Arab state based on Damascus (this should include the port of Tripoli and a coastal strip). France should be the trustee of an autonomous Lebanon including the Bekaa and Beirut, and also trustee and adviser to an autonomous Armenia (including the port of Alexandretta). Arrangements could easily be made to safeguard French economic interests in Syria, and any further concession to French imperial ambitions should be made elsewhere.
Clayton now had to deal with the practical consequences of the Balfour Declaration, and he added: ‘a sound administration established at Damascus would permit . . . the development of the arable country to the east of the Jordan and the construction of communications to enable its produce to be exported with profit. The districts east of the Jordan are thinly populated and their development would allow . . . considerable emigration from Palestine thereby making room for Jewish expansion.
‘It should be noted that it is essential to impress on the Zionists that the complete fulfilment of [their] aspirations cannot be looked for at once and that undue haste in pushing their programme will only react against their own interests.’40
There was thus unanimity among those who had dealt with the Arab question from Egypt during the preceding years. However, a long note from Monsieur Pichon, the French Foreign Minister, dispelled any illusion that his Government’s policy had softened as a result of Feisal’s contribution to the Allied victory. France now demanded that the Sykes-Picot terms, as agreed between Britain and France, should be fulfilled to the letter: ‘on no point, whether at Damascus, Aleppo, or at Mosul, is [France] prepared to relinquish in any way the rights which she holds through the 1916 Agreement, whatever the provisional administrative arrangements called for by a passing military situation.’41
39. G. F. Clayton to Foreign Office, London, telegram 190, 18.11.1918. FO371/3385 fos 174-5.
40. Ibid. fos 176-6
41. Note [to the Foreign Office] communicated by P. Cambon 18.11.1918. FO371/3385 fo. 163.
Meeting between Feisal and Weizmann, December 1918
(Wilson pp. 592-3)
On [11 December 1918], there was a meeting between Feisal and Chaim Weizmann, during which Lawrence acted as interpreter. Both leaders were now in a position to help one another politically: the Zionists needed Arab acquiescence to their programme in Palestine, while Feisal knew that Jewish support during the Peace Conference might help to swing American opinion behind his cause. Lawrence had already impressed upon Feisal the potential value of Jewish capital and skills.
According to his own contemporary account, Weizmann assured Feisal that the Zionists in Palestine ‘should . . . be able to carry out public works of a far-reaching character, and . . . the country could be so improved that it would have room for four or five million Jews, without encroaching on the ownership rights of Arab peasantry.’61
Feisal replied that ‘it was curious there should be friction between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. There was no friction in any other country where Jews lived together with Arabs . . . He did not think for a moment that there was any scarcity of land in Palestine. The population would always have enough, especially if the country were developed. Besides, there was plenty of land in his district.’62
61. C. Weizmann: ‘Dr. Weizmann’s interview with Emir Faisal at the Carlton Hotel, December 11th 1918. Colonel Lawrence acting as interpreter.’ FO371/3420.
62. Ibid. There were further contacts between Feisal and Weizmann in London, and on 3 January 1919 they signed an ‘Agreement between the King of thre Hedjaz and the Zionists’. The text is reprinted in D. Hunter Miller, My Diaries of the Conference of Paris (New York, Appeal Printing, 1924), Vol. 3, p.p. 188-9.
The Arab Case, December 1918
(Wilson pp. 595-6)
During the last days of December, Lawrence and Feisal worked on a memorandum setting out the Arab case. This document would be Feisal’s principal submission to the Peace Conference, and its tone was no less important than its content. His only remaining hope of success lay with the Americans, and the memorandum was therefore addressed directly to the idealism that was thought to inspire President Wilson’s policy. A heavily amended draft, in Lawrence’s handwriting, survives, but the memorandum was to be signed by Feisal. In its final form, it read: ‘ . . . In Palestine the enormous majority of the people are Arabs. The Jews are very close to the Arabs in blood, and there is no conflict of character between the two races. In principles we are absolutely at one. Nevertheless, the Arabs cannot risk assuming the responsibility of holding level the scales in the clash of races and religions that have, in this one province, so often involved the world in difficulties. They would wish for the effective super-position of a great trustee, so long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country. . . .’70
70. ‘Memorandum by the Emir Feisal’. FO 608/80 fo. 122. Lawrence’s surviving manuscript (a slightly earlier draft) is Houghton MS Eng 1252 (341).
Clayton’s views, March 1919
(Wilson pp. 601-3)
Another important figure was Clayton, whose opinions would doubtless have carried more weight if he had been free to leave his duties in the Middle East and attend the Paris Conference. As Allenby’s chief political adviser, he had to deal personally with the situation that was developing in Syria and Palestine. He foresaw the consequences of an unsatisfactory settlement and, in a memorandum of March 11th, set out the British dilemma and its likely results. He wrote: ‘We are committed to three distinct policies in Syria and Palestine:-
A. We are bound by the principles of the Anglo-French Agreement of 1916 [Sykes-Picot], wherein we renounced any claim to predominant influence in Syria.
B. Our agreements with King Hussein . . . have pledged us to support the establishment of an Arab state, or confederation of states, from which we cannot exclude the purely Arab portions of Syria and Palestine.
C. We have definitely given our support to the principle of a Jewish home in Palestine and, although the initial outlines of the Zionist programme have been greatly exceeded by the proposals now laid before the Peace Congress, we are still committed to a large measure of support to Zionism.
‘The experience of the last few months has made it clear that these three policies are incompatible . . . and that no compromise is possible which will be satisfactory to all three parties:-
a. French domination in Syria is repudiated by the Arabs of Syria, except by the Maronite Christians and a small minority amongst other sections of the population.
b. The formation of a homogeneous Arab State is impracticable under the dual control of two Powers whose system and methods of administration are so widely different as those of France and England.
c. Zionism is increasingly unpopular both in Syria and Palestine where the somewhat exaggerated programme put forward recently by the Zionist leaders has seriously alarmed all sections of the non-Jewish majority. The difficulty of carrying out a Zionist policy in Palestine will be enhanced if Syria is handed over to France and Arab confidence in Great Britain undermined thereby.
‘It is impossible to discharge all our liabilities, and we are forced, therefore, to break, or modify, at least one of our agreements.’7
Clayton foresaw serious consequences if Britain handed Syria to France, and then sought to impose Zionism in Palestine: ‘The French will certainly meet with great obstruction, and possibly armed resistance from the Arabs who will doubtless be supported by the Arabs of the Hedjaz sphere. Great Britain, as the controlling Power in Palestine, will be pressed by France to enforce the neutrality of beduins in the Palestine hinterland and to close the lines of communication between Hedjaz and Damascus. Our influence with the Arabs will have been greatly impaired, firstly by the fact that we shall be held to have sold Syria to the French, and secondly by our support of the unpopular Zionist programme.’8
In this situation, Clayton argued, Britain would have to maintain a costly army of occupation in Palestine and, ‘by definitely alienating Arab sentiment,’9 would also incur very unfavourable consequences for British interests and influence in the Arabian Peninsula and even Mesopotamia.
This led to a conclusion which few British politicians at that time would have found palatable: if Britain did not take both Palestine and Syria, she should take neither of them: ‘If France must have Syria it would be preferable that America, or some Power other than Great Britain or France, be given the Mandate for Palestine.’ Clayton continued: ‘The alternative is to offer to France such inducement as will lead her to renounce her claims in Syria, and to give to some other Power the mandate for both Syria and Palestine. It is only thus that a compromise might be arrived at, between Arab aspirations for a united and autonomous Syria and Zionist demands for a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine . . . In these circumstances the Power entrusted with the Mandate can only be America or Great Britain.’10
As the weeks passed, it became increasingly clear that Clayton was right. Both the British and American Delegations could foresee the additional difficulties which would face the Zionist programme in Palestine if the Arabs were alienated in Syria. Yet there was one immovable factor which prevented a satisfactory solution: namely the attitude of France.
7. G. F. Clayton, memorandum, 11.3.1919. Lloyd George papers F/205/3/9. House of Lords.
At the Peace Conference, 1919
(Wilson pp. 606-7)
The Zionist lobby was powerful in America as in Britain, and the Great Powers continued to ignore this conflict of principle, discouraging those who drew attention to it. Stephen Bonsal, one of the aides in the American Delegation, was embarrassed when Lawrence brought to him a draft memorandum in which Feisal expressed mounting anxiety on the matter. In outline, according to Bonsal’s memoirs, the memorandum ran: ‘If the views of the radical Zionists, as presented to the [Peace Conference], should prevail, the result will be a ferment, chronic unrest, and sooner or later civil war in Palestine. But I hope I will not be misunderstood. I assert that we Arabs have none of the racial or religious animosity against the Jews which unfortunately prevail in many other regions of the world. I assert that with the Jews who have been seated for some generations in Palestine our relations are excellent. But the new arrivals exhibit very different qualities from those “old settlers” as we call them, with whom we have been able to live and even co-operate on friendly terms. For want of a better word I must say that new colonists almost without exception have come in an imperialistic spirit. They say that too long we have been in control of their homeland taken from them by brute force in the dark ages, but that now under the new world order we must clear out; and if we are wise we should do so peaceably without making any resistance to what is the fiat of the civilised world.’23
23. S. Bonsal, Suitors and Suppliants, The Little Nations at Versailles (New York, Prentice Hall, 1946) p. 56.
From ‘The Changing East’ [by T.E. Lawrence, unsigned], Round Table, September 1920
Two new elements of some interest have just set foot in Asia, coming rather as adventurers by sea – the Greeks in Smyrna, and the Jews in Palestine. Of the two efforts the Greek is frankly an armed occupation – a desire to hold a tit-bit of Asiatic Turkey, for reasons of trade and population, and from it to influence affairs in the interior. It appears to have no constructive possibilities so far as the New Asia is concerned. The Jewish experiment is in another class. It is a conscious effort, on the part of the least European people in Europe, to make head against the drift of the ages, and return once more to the Orient from which they came. The colonists will take back with them to the land which they occupied for some centuries before the Christian era samples of all the knowledge and technique of Europe. They propose to settle down amongst the existing Arabic-speaking population of the country, a people of kindred origin, but far different social condition. They hope to adjust their mode of life to the climate of Palestine, and by the exercise of their skill and capital to make it as highly organised as a European state. The success of their scheme will involve inevitably the raising of the present Arab population to their own material level, only a little after themselves in point of time, and the consequences might be of the highest importance for the future of the Arab world. It might well prove a source of technical supply rendering them independent of industrial Europe, and in that case the new confederation might become a formidable element of world power. However, such a contingency will not be for the first or even for the second generation, but it must be borne in mind in any laying out of foundations of empire in Western Asia. These to a very large extent must stand or fall by the course of the Zionist effort, and by the course of events in Russia.