Palestine: A Twice Promised Land?
The British, the Arabs & Zionism 1915-1920 , Vol. 1
by Isaiah Friedman
New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2000. pp. 376. $49.95.
Reviewed by Jonathan Schanzer
Middle East Quarterly
Did London promise Palestine to both the Arabs and the Jews during World War I? The documents involved—including the Husayn-McMahon correspondence (1915), the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916), the Balfour Declaration (1917), the Anglo-French Declaration (1918), the Weizmann-Feisal agreement (1919), and the King-Crane Commission report (1922) – have generated a whole cottage industry of historical research. But Friedman argues that these texts are of little use in of themselves. Only when seen in the context of a full, panoramic view of history, and with a critical eye toward the personal interactions of the main actors, can they help decipher Anglo-Arab-Zionist relations.
Friedman proceeds to debunk the myth that the Arabs of the Middle East were staunch allies of the British during World War I—a British precondition for granting Arab independence after the war. Rather, he argues that the Arabs were at best too disorganized to launch an effective attack. At worst, many sympathized with or aided the enemy. Friedman shows how the Syrians and Palestinian Arabs aided the Germans and Turks during the war and shows that the famous "Arab revolt" led by T.E. Lawrence was an exaggeration of Arab power, for tribal rivalries prevented it from effectively attacking Ottoman forces. The Arabs, in other words, didn't live up to their end of the bargain.
Friedman also notes that while the sharif of Mecca posed as the spokesman of the "Arab nation" in an effort to bolster his power after the war, British documents repeatedly point to the fact that "no such entity existed." Again, the Arabs fell short of their promises. Finally, his close look at the Husayn-McMahon correspondence shows that the land of Palestine was never promised to any Arab leader. Therefore, he concludes, the whole sequence of diplomatic documents amounted not to English perfidy but Arab disappointment. In sum, the author thoroughly destroys virtually all historical Arab claims to modern Israel based on this body of literature.
Related Topics: History, Jews and Judaism, Palestinians | Jonathan Schanzer | Winter 2002 MEQ
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