No other declaration of political intent in the modern world has been more controversial or fiercely debated than the Balfour declaration in November 1917.The long term unintended consequences of these few paragraphs and the magnitude of their impact on the world could have never been envisioned by its proponents.It has certainly led to the most intractable and protracted political problem of our time.How did it come about? What were the motives and political rationale of those who formulated it? What sort of assumptions, perceptions or delusions informed their intentions?
In a tightly argued and well researched book the author sheds light on the mindset or Weltanschauung of the British political elite during the early part of the 20th C.It fed their mistaken conceptions of the connection between ethnicity and Nationalism as well as the extent of the Jewish minority power particularly in the US.Many of these false perceptions were paradoxically anti-Semitic.One of the main reasons for issuing the Declaration during the Great War was the urgent need to placate and appeal favourably to the World Jewish opinion to support the Entente powers. It was wrongly assumed that not only the majority of the Jews were pro-Zionist (it was only a minority creed) but they also exercised considerable occult power.It was believed they were largely pro-German as well as leading the pacifist and Bolshevik movements.It is extraordinary that such a crucial political commitment could have been constructed on so many mistaken assumptions.In addition it is amazing how the Imperialist mindset cloaked its real ambitions of dominating Palestine under the guise of the Zionist dream. It is a pity that such an important scholarly study of the origins of the creation of Israel will have limited reach as it has been grossly overpriced at £ 60. Let's hope the publishers will be encouraged by the great accolades this work has received to issue a cheaper paperback edition.
This academic study of the Balfour declaration, the document that the State of Israel is basically built upon, is fascinating. I have a deep interest in the history of the Middle east and in particular Israel and this book is a welcome and useful addition to my library in particular and to the debate surrounding the Balfour declartion and the history of this troubled region in general.
I would recommend this to any serious student of Middle East politics and or anyone interested in the Middle East. This book goes a long way in understanding the background and the context of Israel.
The writer of this tedious book recently said that Britain owed an apology to arabs for the Balfour declaration, I suppose because it led to the UN Mandate For Palestine. The Mandate demanded 'close settlement' of jews in their ancient homelands in an almost empty space of the Holy Land. Despite Britain soon afterwards regretting the promise and hacking off 80% of the lands promised (given to Syria and the new state of Transjordan as it was then known) eventually the State of Israel, the middle east's only democracy was established, the only country now where jews, christians and indeed muslim arabs are safe in the middle east!
Despite the author's regretting the Balfour declaration, syrian rebels are now queuing up on Israel's borders to be treated in Israel's hospitals!
The Balfour Declaration was a one time recognition by Britain of the jewish right to the Land of Israel The love of the Land is in jewish prayers and the Bible and they needed no prompting to begin organising themselves for statehood, usually in the teeth of British opposition. Jews started from a very low base in reestablishing their nation after the depredations of war, of famine and above all the Ottoman turks who undertook the ethnic cleansing of jews and the destruction of their farms during WWI.
That Britain went back on its promise under the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate,later trying to scuttle any possibility of jewish statehood did not work as jews in Israel were determined to bring about the reestablishment of their nation. This happened in the teeth of british obstructionism, through the inciting of arabs.
Indeed until the British Empire appeared on the scene arabs showed little animosity towards jewish national aspirations. As we see now in Syria, nationalism has a lower priority than the concept of the muslim nation, the 'umma', of family and tribe and of justice.
When all else had failed, the British administration as it left the country destroyed hospitals and equipment, withdrew the currency, stopped all administration whilst arming arab armies for their invasion. The plan whilst it caused difficulties for the Jews, it was also counterproductive. Whereas arab leaders had already left for Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan, jews had a parallel administration already functioning.
The British Empire tried to foster a pliable arab nationalism, and we see the lack of results ever since 1914. The arab world's countries are presently propped up at the point of Russian and western training, arms and bayonets with a little help from islamists of Iran and Turkey. Were these powers to give up on arabs, their countries would fall apart overnight.
If the author wishes to apologise it can be to Israel for Britain's having locked the gates of the Land of Israel during WWII, preventing jewish refugees from the Holocaust from escaping, whilst at the same time turning a blind eye to a wave of arab immigration into LoI.
This book offers nothing new to those familiar with Leonard Stein's seminal work on the Balfour Declaration. Jonathan Schneer's book is a better bet for those interested in the subject of the Balfour Declaration.