• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Britain is shamed by crisis in the Middle East

Sadly the First World War and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East are linked in a way that shames the British state.

The current suffering of the Palestinian people can be directly traced to the cynical and botched Balfour Declaration of 1917.

In January 1917 British troops fighting the Turks - allies of Germany - in the Middle East started their conquest of Palestine. This led to the idea of the creation of a Palestinian national home for the Jewish people, and that was the basic concept of the Balfour Declaration.

Superficially, it was a noble idea, but it did not take into account the needs, interests and aspirations of the Palestinians. In 1917 there were around 90,000 Jews living in Palestine - and more than 500,000 Arabs.

But then, and for many years afterwards, the Arabs lacked effective leadership, despite the romantic posturing of T E Lawrence. They could not present a coherent riposte to the Declaration. In the context of the First World War the British saw the Arabs as useful, because they were fighting the Turks. But the idea of an embryonic Jewish state in Palestine seemed a snub to the Arabs, to put it gently.

Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George, the British architects of the Declaration, were distinguished statesmen and their intentions were decent. They believed they were extracting something benign from the mayhem and carnage of the most hideous war in history. Lloyd George apparently thought that the Balfour Declaration was the most positive single legacy of that war.

But the problems in implementing the Declaration were huge, and barely understood by the tired imperial power that was Britain. Many of the consequences were not foreseen as they should have been. The current, continuing mess is a direct result of this bungling and interference by far-away imperialists, including Winston Churchill.

Even in the early years of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Zionists within Germany thought that both Nazis and Zionists could manage to work together peacefully to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine. In retrospect it can almost look as if the project to create a Jewish homeland in the Middle East was to solve a supposed European "problem" rather than to help the Jews.

As for the Arabs, no-one seemed to care very much about them. The Arab interest was undoubtedly a secondary consideration as the project to create a new Jewish state developed.

The slaughter of six million Jews in Nazi Germany was the worst crime in human history and it can be offensive to look for any good coming from it, but it did give momentum to the idea of creating a Jewish state.

Even after the Second World War officially ended in 1945, the Palestine project continued to be botched. Britain had tried to hold the peace in what was to become Israel but it did not have the resources or the will to sort a problem it had created, so the British troops withdrew.

This led some to ask if the British had any concern for the interests, even the basic safety, of the Palestinian people. Arabs were not granted their due rights and safeguards as the new Jewish national home rightly and justly developed into a fully fledged state.

Denied effective representation, the Arabs were displaced. By the 1950s, supposedly a decade of much-needed peace, the seeds of intense and continuing conflict had been well and deeply sown.

Yet the Arabs in Palestine still lacked coherent leadership.

The emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and an effective leader in Yasser Arafat, changed everything. Few western statesmen trusted Arafat and even among his own he was regarded with widespread suspicion, but he sustained the Palestinian cause.

The PLO was based in Jordan, and was eventually expelled, but the Palestinian cause now had a focus and an authentic commander. Unfortunately he increasingly saw terrorism as the best way forward.

While it is wrong to blame the British for every twist and turn in this sorry saga, Britain's culpability is nonetheless real and current.

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

252412