Memorandum by Mr. Balfour (Paris) Respecting Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia, 1919 (1)
In 1915 we promised the Arabs independence; and the promise was unqualified, except in respect of certain territorial reservations. In 1918 the promise was by implication repeated; for no other interpretation can, I think, be placed by any unbiased reader on the phrases in the declaration about a ‘National Government’ and ‘an Administration deriving its authority from the initiative and free choice of the native population’.
“Now where the covenant of 1919 is in contradiction with the Agreement of 1916 [Sykes-Picot] it is presumably the Covenant which must be held to represent our policy. We are seemingly committed, therefore, to the view that the whole area we are considering already consists of an independent nation or nations; and that all we have to do, after having got rid of the Turk, is to supply every independent nation with one, but not more than one, suitable mandatory.
Without further considering whether the political picture drawn by the Covenant correponds with anything to be found in the realms of fact, let us ask on what principle these mandatories are to be selected by the Allied and Associated Powers.
On this point the Covenant speaks as follows:
“The wishes of these communities (i.e. the independent nations) must be a principal consideration in the selection of a mandatory.”
The sentiment is unimpeachable; but how it is to be carried into effect ? To simplify the argument, let us assume that two of the ‘independent nations’ for which mandatories have to be provided are Syria and Palestine ? Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants ? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories – England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected ? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all.
The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-lng traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.
In my opinion that is right.
If Zionism is to influence the Jewish problem throughout the world Palestine must be made available for the largest number of Jewish immigrants. It is therefore eminently desirable that it should obtain the command of the water-power which naturally belongs to it, whether by extending its borders to the north, or by treaty with the mandatory of Syria, to whom the southward flowing waters of Hamon could not in any event be of much value.
For the same reasons Palestine should extend into the lands lying east of the Jordan. It should not, however, be allowed to include the Hedjaz Railway, which is too distinctly bound up with exclusively Arab interests…
1 Reprinted in Walid Khalidi, “From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948”, The Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington 1987, pp. 201-211