When the Balfour Declaration was made on 2 November 1917, Britain was at the height of its imperial power, locked in a deadly struggle with the upstart German Empire.
Afraid of the possible influence of a declaration of jihad against the British Empire by the Caliph, the Sultan of Turkey, General Kitchener in October 1914 guaranteed to the Governor of Makkah, Sherif Hussein that in return for help against the Ottomans, there would be no intervention in Arabia.
Letters were exchanged between Sherif Hussein and the British Government via McMahon, the High Commissioner for Egypt.
One letter on 24 October 1915 guaranteed that Palestine would be included in an independent Arab nation after the war, but Lebanon would not.
The next month, in great secrecy, discussions were commenced between the French and British allies as to the shape of the carve up of Ottoman lands after the victory. This was in direct contradiction with what had been promised to Sherif Hussein.
According to this Sykes-Picot Agreement, a land later called Iraq was to be under the British, Syria and Lebanon under the French, TransJordan under the British and Turkey was to be carved up with Czarist Russia occupying Istanbul and Turkish Armenia.
The Bolsheviks published these secret agreements after the Russian Revolution but Britain denied that such an agreement existed.
The Balfour Declaration was issued the year after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in order to rally Jewish support for the British war effort. It promised to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, provided nothing was done “to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
According to Avi Shlaim: “By helping the Zionists to take over Palestine, the British hoped to secure a dominant presence in the area and to exclude the French.” [25 August 2017 Middle East Eye]
Well aware of what this would mean for Arab support for the war effort , Lord Allenby, whose troops were fighting in Palestine, kept the declaration secret.
Balfour was no friend of the Jewish community. He was in fact anti-Semitic.
He had the 1905 Aliens Act passed to keep Eastern Jews out of Britain. In 1880 there were about 60,000 Jews in England.
Between 1881 and 1905, there was an immigration of some 100,000 Eastern Jews fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia. They could be compared to the present waves of Muslim and Christian refugees fleeing the Baath Party-muharib Daesh today.
The PM Lloyd George was the main instigator of the declaration. As Avi Shlaim comments: “In aligning Britain with the Zionist movement, he acted in the mistaken – and anti-semitic – view that the Jews were extraordinarily influential and that they made the wheels of history turn. In fact, the Jewish people were helpless, with no influence other than via the myth of clandestine power.”
Born of the most murderous conflict the world had ever witnessed, part of the betrayal and lies of imperial politics, the Balfour Declaration was and is a disgrace.
Unfortunately the British government is not ashamed of its creation. The current Prime Minister continues the policies of old.
“In a December 2016 speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel, which includes over 80 percent of Tory MPs and the entire cabinet, she hailed Israel as “a remarkable country” and “a beacon of tolerance”.
Rubbing salt in Palestinian wounds, she called the Balfour Declaration “one of the most important letters in history,” and she promised to celebrate it on the anniversary.” [Avi Shlaim, Middle East Eye. 25 August 2017]