This book is an extremely interesting overview of events in Palestine
and the wider Middle East during World War I and the resulting peace
settlement. It charts the conflict and competition between the rival
European empires over the territory of the Ottoman Empire, which was
both victim and participant. Though Palestine was of lesser account in
the outcome of WWI, events there had dire repercussions for the future.
British interests in Palestine arose out of the UK's perceived strategic
need to defend the Suez Canal and our lines of communication with India
and other British territories in Asia. British power based in Egypt was
initially defensive (chapter 5) but the general effort to exert maximum
pressure on the Central Powers on all fronts (pi 09) required a more
forward policy, leading to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917.
The resulting enormous demands on the local economy (the ration
strength of British and Indian forces was nearly half a million men,
combatants and non-combatants, by the end of the war), led the British to
take responsibility for the civil population in coping with famine and
disease endemic in the region.
Fears for the loyalty of their moslem subjects and soldiers and the need
to win support from local Arab leaders led the British to promise a postwar
future in which the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire would be
ruled by the Arabs themselves. At the same time the need to win the
loyalty of the Jewish population of the region helped to produce the
Balfour Declaration (November 1917) in favour of a national home for the
Jews in Palestine. These "flagrantly conflicting lines of policy" (pi 53)
were in part responsible for continuing violence in the post-war period.
The author gives a convincing account (in chapter 7) of how the UK's
initial anti-annexationist stance and support for self-determination,
reflected in its wartime agreements with Arab leaders, were overtaken by
power politics and Anglo/French rivalry.
The author gives a good account of US policy (pp162-4), which favoured
self-determination in the Middle East, as in Europe. But the decline of
US influence due to President Wilson's ill health and growing isolationism
in the US meant that the Paris peace conference never applied the
principle in the Middle East, so the League of Nations granted the
Mandate over Palestine to Britain. The British now had to face on the
ground the complexities born of its wartime diplomacy.
From the earliest days of the Mandate, Arab distrust of Britain following
the Balfour Declaration resulted in Arab riots in Jerusalem and Jaffa as
early as 1920 and 1921. It is nevertheless possible to believe that
Arab/Jewish tensions in the interwar period could have been resolved by
agreement had it not been for the Holocaust. This led to an enormous
increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine and to international sympathy
for European Jewish survivors. With the 1948 war and successive
conflicts in Palestine, the right of self-determination was forgotten and the
legitimacy of possession by right of conquest reaffirmed.