Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Weizmann-Feisal Agreement, January 1919: An Early Peace Agreement with the Arabs

During the First World War, Emir Faisal, son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, the Hashemite ruler of Hejaz (today Saudi Arabia) led a revolt against the Turks, made famous in the film "Lawrence of Arabia" (T.E. Lawrence). The revolt's British backers believed that Arab and Jewish nationalists could work together to build a new Middle East.
T.E. Lawrence at Aqaba, 1917
Photograph: Wikimedia
96 years ago this week, Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the World Zionist Organization, signed an agreement with Faisal for peace and co-operation between the two movements at the Paris Peace conference. Weizmann had already met Feisal in 1918, when he visited Palestine with a delegation of Zionists in the wake of the Balfour Declaration. You can see an account of their meeting by the British interpreter here.

On June 17, 1918, Weizmann wrote to his wife Vera in London about the romantic journey along the Red Sea past the "glowing mountains" of Sinai via Aqaba to the Anglo-Arab army in southeast Transjordan. Here he met Faisal: "the first real Arab nationalist I have met. He is a leader! He is quite intelligent and a very honest man, handsome as a picture. He is not interested in Palestine, but on the other hand he wants Damascus and the whole of northern Syria."

Weizmann and Feisal at their meeting in Ma'an , June 1918.
Photograph: Yad Chaim Weizmann, Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel
Faisal was afraid that the French would try to take over Syria. Weizmann noted that he was contemptuous of the Palestinians and did not regard them as Arabs. He saw Faisal as an alternative to the Palestinian leadership which was hostile to the Zionists' aspirations. Although Zionist colonization would benefit the Arab peasants, they wrongly believed that the Jews would take away their land. Weizmann did not realize the depth of Arab nationalism, which was in its early stages but would quickly gain ground.

In December 1918, Faisal and Weizmann met again in London. In the interim, Faisal had captured Damascus, which he hoped would be the capital of the Arab Kingdom promised by the British, but his regime there was fragile. In their talk on December 11, Weizmann promised help from the Zionist movement. They agreed to cooperate against the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which divided Palestine into British and French spheres of influence and gave Syria to the French. An agreement was drawn up, signed on January 3, 1919, in which Faisal expressed approval for the Balfour Declaration and Jewish settlement in Palestine. Other clauses ensured freedom of religion and Muslim control of the Holy Places sacred to Islam. In the original, held in the Central Zionist Archives, you can see the reservation in Arabic Faisal added in his own handwriting, saying: "If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of January 4, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement."

On February 6, 1919, Faisal appeared before the peace conference and demanded an Arab state, excluding Palestine from his demands. However, under pressure from Arab nationalists, he later retracted. In the summer of 1919, the first Syrian Congress proclaimed the Arabs' desire for a united independent Syria, including Palestine and Lebanon. In March 1920, Faisal was proclaimed King of Greater Syria. However, by July the French had driven him out of Damascus, and Syria became a French mandate. The British, who had just created the state of Iraq (a move leading to many current problems), compensated Faisal by making him its king. His brother Abdullah became Emir of Transjordan and later King of Jordan.

The documents and quotes shown here come from the Weizmann Archives in Rehovot and were published in the "Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann" series. In 1994, the Israel State Archives published some of them in Hebrew in its commemorative volume on Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president.

1 comment:

  1. Sovereignty of Israel with no safety and security is hollow

    The State of Israel must always keep in mind its own sovereign obligations and be careful not to risk its capacity to perform the vital task of defending itself, its people, and its interests. Israel even under the most adverse conditions, it shall not capitulate to world pressure whereby its citizen’s safety and security is compromised.

    Israel has faced over 21,980 terror attacks since September 2000, when a wave of terror started against Israeli citizens right after Arafat was offered an independent Palestinian state.

    To date Israel's concessions and appeasement to the Arabs has decreased the safety and security of Israel's population. It is time to change direction and not worry about world opinion. Do not wait for the world at large to condemn these terrorist attacks, they did not care in the past when Jewish blood was spilled and they do not care now. The security and safety of the people of Israel must be first and foremost above any other consideration. That is the duty and obligation of a responsible government. Deliberating at time of National crisis without a previous set plan borders on dereliction of duty, based on Israel's experience with terror, they should know better. Meanwhile, Israelis are being killed and injured on a daily basis throughout Israel, the people in Israel feel unsafe and the economy is suffering. Get your act together, act immediately and forcefully with no compromise, now the only way, it has to be Israel's way or the highway. Any delay in implementation will increase terror and violence and escalate the death and injury of Jewish lives in Israel. Israel must face the bold facts. The Arabs do not want peace, they never did, they only want the destruction of Israel, Israel must act accordingly with no illusion and fantasy or false promises that the Arabs are partners for peace, it is perfectly clear that they are not.
    The Arabs educate and train their children to commit terror and violence, celebrate and glorify suicide bombers, Need I say anymore. Stop bickering among yourselves, unify, and face the enemy with vigor and determination and do not stop until the enemy is totally vanquished and peace and tranquility returns to Israel.
    YJ Draiman