The Balfour Declaration, The Founding Of Israel & The Major Figures Who Carved Out The Arab Israeli Conflict

The current problems dominating the Middle East make it virtually impossible for anyone born after the 1970’s to understand the factors that contributed to the making of Israel.  I know of only two authors who have driven a neat, historically balanced view of the very subject:  Shmuel Katz, a Jewish author and historian of the highest order and Dennis Ross, the director for Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State.  Both have written what is arguably the finest, authoritative texts on the history of the Arab Israeli Conflict.  Now I can add Jonathan Schneer who has just released ‘The Balfour Declaration & The Origins Of The Arab Israeli Conflict’ released by Random House.

Their remain so many significant and hidden players throughout the ‘crisis’ that became the founding of Israel the vast majority of historians just simply become partisan ranks and fail to grasp the political agendas motivating and shaping the events that became the State of Israel under Truman.  None of it could have happened without the Balfour Declaration.  Schneer is a ultra fine historian to kindly reveal that “The Balfour Declaration was not the source of trouble in a land that previously had been more or less at peace, but nor was it a mere signpost on a road heading undivertibly toward a cliff. No one can say what the course of events in Palestine might have been without it. What did come was the product of forces and factors entirely unforeseen.”  This is a fair approach to understanding the origin of today’s conflict.  Without understanding the BD (Balfour Declaration) one simply cannot wade through the political jungle that ensnares so many decent authors.  Schneer seems to know how to weigh persons, documents, motivations, agenda and outcomes of a toxic brew of events that can overwhelm any good historian.  For anyone who wishes to grasp the significance that is today’s defining conflict, begin with Jonathan Schneer.

Theodore Herzl wrote ‘The Jewish State’ a full twenty years before BD.  Up till such time, Dowing Street was forever managing, engaging in ‘The Great Game’ of Central Asia in pursuing and checking France, Turkey, Russian, India, Arabia and exiled Jews.  Only those who know Empire can understand how to manage or carve through such entities. Nevertheless, the beginning flashpoint is when Turkey entered into World War I on the side of Germany.  The Zionist cause throughout Great Britain was given far more coverage.  Engaging the subject were Herzl, Balfour, Chaim Weizmann and hosts of other nonpublic yet powerful figures that moved an engrossing domestic agenda through Downing Street.  One such person is Sokolow, a richly cultivated Polish journalist who managed to enlist the support of French and Italian governments on behalf of exiled Jews throughout Europe.

The British War Cabinet in search of both support and wartime allies along with keeping with Britain’s prewar affinity for a Zionist homeland agreed to consider a draft document from the London Zionist Political Committee.  The draft proposed that England would support a reconstructed Palestine and that Great Britain would use its best endeavors to secure this achievement.  On November 17 the British War Cabinet issued the BD and stated that “British would view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Balfour’s conservative government originally offered the ‘White Highlands’ of British East Africa to Jewish resident exiles throughout England.  Theodore Herzl readily accepted only to be cut down by Chaim Weizmann and his stubborn plans for Israel in Palestine.

Only Edwin Montagu and Lord Curzon feared both imminent anti-semitic rages throughout the world in expelling Jews who were natural citizens of native born countries, and concern about imposing a Jewish homeland in an Arab majority region.  Montagu remained the only Jew in the British Cabinet who advised against issuing either the guarantee of British East Africa or BD.  Curzon, in typical fashion comfortably advised caution in carving up regions.

Nevertheless, Britain fervently believed that in confronting the Ottoman Empire throughout the Near East it was liberating Arabs.  Eventually, London accepted control over Palestine in 1920 from a mandate originating in the League of Nations.

Jonathan Schneer’s text grounds the titanic geopolitical struggle of the creation of Israel through both the dominating personalities and their nationalist movements to chronicle events from a British perspective.  In such an appeal, we gain valuable insight into the ordeals of Chaim Weizmann who is very often portrayed as a lackey to Downing Street.

Weizmann had created the process to manufacture acetone through bacterial fermentation.  Acetone was the crucial ingredient in cordite for ammunition. Germany had the largest access to calcium acetate.  It was in London’s interest to maintain a favorable relation with Weizmann.

The constellation of geopolitical imperatives, nationalist passion and grinding momentum give Schneer’s book the weight of authority in presenting the relation of London to the creation of Israel by Truman beginning with Balfour.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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