Notes on the Treaty of Versailles and the Middle East
Some of the struggles that help to define the 20th century erupt post 1919 and they can be partially traced to the failures of the Treaty of Versailles, which ends WWI. Specifically, the struggle between the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East is one of the most notable. As noted Historian, Margaret MacMillan Explains, “Some of the most intractable problems of the modern world have roots in decisions made right after the end of the Great War. Among them one could list...the endless struggle between Arabs and Jews over land that each thought had been promised them.”
*If you use information from sources other than the text, such as the internet then you need to cite those.
In a paper, include specifics and connect logically:
1. Agreements made between Arabs and British in WWI (in exchange for Arab military support). What did each party (British and Arabs) want? How is this related to self-determination?
2. Sykes-Picot agreement: concluded May 1916, began 1915: pages 547, 590
3. The Balfour Declaration: November 1917: pages 590-591
4.The mandate system in the Middle East instituted by the Treaty of Versailles: page 547
*How does this relate to the unequal application of self-determination by the major powers in the Treaty of Versailles?
5. Lasting impact on Arab-Israeli/Jewish and/or Arab-Western relations.
The Balfour Declaration
The british Government hoping to win over the support of the jews created the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration supported the idea of having a national home for the jews in Palestine. It also added that the goal did not forget about the rights of the non-Jewish people living in Palestine already.
Definition of self determination
the process by which a country determines its own statehood and forms its own allegiances and government.
– Northern Anatolia was promised to Russia.
– France was to obtain outright possession of the Syrian
coastal strip north of Tyre, the Ottoman province of
Adana and a large part of Cicilia.
– Syria and northern Iraq, including Mosul’s oil fields,
would become an independent Arab zone under French
– Iraq, from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf, and the city of
Acre, with a surrounding enclave in Palestine, would
become British spheres.
– An autonomous “Arab zone” under British “protection”
would be established between the cities of Kirkuk in
Iraq and Aqaba in Southern Palestine, extending from
the Mediterranean all the way to the Persian Gulf.
– Alexandretta (Iskanderun) on the Levant coast was to
be proclaimed a free port.
– Russia insisted on the internationalization of Palestine
west of the Jordan River between the cities of Gaza
and Tyre (excluding the British enclave around Acre),
because of its many Orthodox religious establishments.
• With the 1917 Russian Revolution, Russia had
dropped out of the war and, since many of its
leaders were Jewish, it was feared that their
coreligionists would support the revolutionary
cause rather than the anti-Semitic Czarist regime
whom the Allies backed.
• It was also known by the British that there were
many influential American Jewish leaders who
were also pro-Zionist, and it was hoped that their
backing would be an important asset.
While McMahon negotiated with Husayn, London
held private talks with Chaim Weizmann and the
Zionists over land in Palestine.
• At this time, Britain urgently needed every
possible support and Weizmann promised Prime
Minister Lloyd George and Foreign Minister
Lord Balfour, that he would see what he could do
to make this happened.
Weizmann hinted that Germany (Turkey’s ally)
was becoming interested in the idea of
supporting the Zionists in Palestine.
• Weizmann also told British leaders that in
return for British support of Zionist aspirations
in Palestine, he believed he could get U.S.
support for the struggling war effort.
• He did this knowing he had support for this
idea in America.
• There, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis – the first Jewish Justice on the
U.S. Supreme Court, an early Zionist and
close friend of American President
Woodrow Wilson – had offered to make a
personal appeal to the president.
At a second meeting with the Zionists in February
1917, Sir Mark Sykes forged a friendship and
bond with Zionist Executive Committee member
Nahum Sokolow and other Zionist leaders.
• After receiving Sykes’ positive report, Balfour
suggested to Weizmann, now leader of the
English Zionist Federation, that the Zionists
submit an agreement for consideration by the
At Weizmann’s request, Sokolow wrote up the
agreement - with Sykes’ active collaboration.
• It was then turned over by Sykes to Balfour, its
terminology was then “tweaked” by Balfour’s
assistant, Lord Milner (i.e., “Jewish state”
changed to “Jewish homeland”).
• During the summer of 1917, when the declaration
was being discussed by the War Cabinet a member
of the regular Cabinet, Secretary of State for India
Edwin Montagu asked to address the Cabinet.
Montagu, an assimilated Jew, was representative
of a vast majority of British Jews at the time, who
were against both the declaration and the Zionists.
– They feared repercussions against Jews who wanted to
remain in their adopted country, feeling no need for any
• Despite personal passionate pleas (and tears) with
the War Cabinet not to associate itself with either
the Zionists or the declaration and a Memorandum
on the subject to the Prime Minister, Montagu’s
words fell on deaf ears.
• In late October, the declaration was
approved by the War Cabinet and put into a
letter from Balfour to Lord Rothschild.
• On November 2, 1917, in a meeting staged
for the occasion in his office at the Foreign
Office, Balfour gave Rothschild the letter
with a flourish.
November 2, 1917.
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government,
the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been
submitted to, and approved by the Cabinet.
"His Majesty's Government 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
I would be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the
Arthur James Balfour
• Two days later, Lord Balfour publicly declared the
“Balfour Declaration” to a cheering Zionist crowd.
• Hearing this in Makkah, an already suspicious
Sharif Husayn was upset.
• However, a few days later Russian Bolshevik
revolutionaries discovered the secret Sykes-Picot
Agreement in a Russian Foreign Office safe and
• Now, Sharif Husayn was furious and realized he’d
been doubly “had” by the British.
• To mollify his concern over the statement and
Agreement, Commander D.G. Hogarth was sent
from Cairo to see Sharif Husayn.
– He told Husayn that Britain’s promise to the Zionists
would be implemented only in so far as it did not
conflict with the freedom of the population of Palestine.
– He also told the Sharif that the Sykes-Picot Agreement
merely contained agreements which he had been made
aware of in the past
• Over the next several months, Chaim Weizmann
also met with Husayn to give further assurances of
Zionism’s benign intentions in Palestine and to
promise full Zionist cooperation with the Arabs.
• A stream of other visitors followed also promising
British support of the Arab “cause,” including Sir
Mark Sykes and T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of
Arabia”) among them.
• If Husayn had any doubts about what he had been
told, these were confirmed after the war at the
Paris Peace Conference and reinforced thereafter.