Faisal–Weizmann Agreement – When the Arabs asked the Jews to return to Israel

Feisal-Frankfurter Correspondence (March 1919)

Letter from Emir Feisal (Son of Hussein Bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca | Great grandson of the prophet Muhammad) to Felix Frankfurter, associate of Dr. Chaim Weizmann:

DELEGATION HEDJAZIENNE

Paris Peace Conference

March 3, 1919

Dear Mr. Frankfurter:

I want to take this opportunity of my first contact with American Zionists to tell you what I have often been able to say to Dr. Weizmann in Arabia and Europe.

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together.

The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.

With the chiefs of your movement, especially with Dr. Weizmann, we have had and continue to have the closest relations. He has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is national and not imperialist. Our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.

People less informed and less responsible than our leaders and yours, ignoring the need for cooperation of the Arabs and Zionists, have been trying to exploit the local difficulties that must necessarily arise in Palestine in the early stages of our movements. Some of them have, I am afraid, misrepresented your aims to the Arab peasantry, and our aims to the Jewish peasantry, with the result that interested parties have been able to make capital out of what they call our differences.

I wish to give you my firm conviction that these differences are not on questions of principle, but on matters of detail such as must inevitably occur in every contact of neighbouring peoples, and as are easily adjusted by mutual good will. Indeed nearly all of them will disappear with fuller knowledge.

I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of civilised peoples of the world.

Believe me,

Yours sincerely,

(Sgd.) Feisal

Letter of reply from Felix Frankfurter to Emir Feisal:

Paris Peace Conference

March 5, 1919

Royal Highness,

Allow me, on behalf of the Zionist Organisation, to acknowledge your recent letter with deep appreciation.

Those of us who come from the United States have already been gratified by the friendly relations and the active cooperation maintained between you and the Zionist leaders, particularly Dr. Weizmann. We knew it could not be otherwise; we knew that the aspirations of the Arab and the Jewish peoples were parallel, that each aspired to re-establish its nationality in its own homeland, each making its own distinctive contribution to civilisation, each seeking its own peaceful mode of life.

The Zionist leaders and the Jewish people for whom they speak have watched with satisfaction the spiritual vigour of the Arab movement. Themselves seeking justice, they are anxious that the just national aims of the Arab people be confirmed and safeguarded by the Peace Conference.

We knew from your acts and your past utterances that the Zionist movement — in other words the national aim of the Jewish people — had your support and the support of the Arab people for whom you speak. These aims are now before the Peace Conference as definite proposals by the Zionist Organisation. We are happy indeed that you consider these proposals “moderate and proper,” and that we have in you a staunch supporter for their realisation.

For both the Arab and the Jewish peoples there are difficulties ahead — difficulties that challenge the united statesmanship of Arab and Jewish leaders. For it is no easy task to rebuild two great civilisations that have been suffering oppression and misrule for centuries. We each have our difficulties we shall work out as friends, friends who are animated by similar purposes, seeking a free and full development for the two neighbouring peoples. The Arabs and Jews are neighbours in territory; we cannot but live side by side as friends.

Very respectfully,

(Sgd.) Felix Frankfurter

Agreement Between Emir Feisal and Dr. Weizmann
Faisal–Weizmann Agreement

3 January 1919

His Royal Highness the Emir Feisal, representing and acting on behalf of the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz, and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, representing and acting on behalf of the Zionist Organization, mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their natural aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine, and being desirous further of confirming the good understanding which exists between them, have agreed upon the following:

Articles:

Article I

The Arab State and Palestine in all their relations and undertakings shall be controlled by the most cordial goodwill and understanding, and to this end Arab and Jewish duly accredited agents shall be established and maintained in the respective territories.

Article II

Immediately following the completion of the deliberations of the Peace Conference, the definite boundaries between the Arab State and Palestine shall be determined by a Commission to be agreed upon by the parties hereto.

Article III

In the establishment of the Constitution and Administration of Palestine, all such measures shall be adopted as will afford the fullest guarantees for carrying into effect the British Government’s Declaration of the 2nd of November, 1917.

Article IV

All necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil. In taking such measures the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.

Article V

No regulation or law shall be made prohibiting or interfering in any way with the free exercise of religion; and further, the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall ever be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

Article VI

The Mohammedan Holy Places shall be under Mohammedan control.

Article VII

The Zionist Organization proposes to send to Palestine a Commission of experts to make a survey of the economic possibilities of the country, and to report upon the best means for its development. The Zionist Organization will place the aforementioned Commission at the disposal of the Arab State for the purpose of a survey of the economic possibilities of the Arab State and to report upon the best means for its development. The Zionist Organization will use its best efforts to assist the Arab State in providing the means for developing the natural resources and economic possibilities thereof.

Article VIII

The parties hereto agree to act in complete accord and harmony on all matters embraced herein before the Peace Congress.

Article IX

Any matters of dispute which may arise between the contracting parties hall be referred to the British Government for arbitration.

Given under our hand at London, England, the third day of January, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen

Chaim Weizmann Feisal Ibn-Hussein

Reservation by the Emir Feisal

If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of 4 January, 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.


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Still bickering over Balfour

Dore Gold

Last year, on the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the former Palestinian minister, Nabil Shaath, wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph attacking Britain for issuing its famous statement of support for the establishment in Eretz Yisrael of a national home for the Jewish people. Shaath called the Balfour Declaration, which was issued by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour on November 2, 1917, the beginning of “British imperialism” in Palestine.

At the heart of what he called Britain’s “sins in Palestine” was the promise of this territory to the Jewish people, who, in the words of Shaath, “did not even live there.” For him there was no Jewish history in Palestine, that needed to be acknowledged but only “colonial conspiracies” against the Arab residents living there. The rise of the Jewish national home, in short, was the product of external manipulations by outside powers, like Britain, and not the result of any authentic yearning of the Jews themselves. With the anniversary of the declaration again upon us, it is important to understand how Balfour’s act still confounds Palestinian leaders who are prepared to distort its significance.

What Shaath and other Palestinian spokesmen found so objectionable about the Balfour Declaration was that it constituted the first step in a long effort to get the historical rights of the Jewish people to their homeland acknowledged by the international community. That recognition actually required a tough diplomatic struggle by the leaders of the Zionist movement during the First World War and in the years that followed.

Britain was not the only state involved. For example on June 4, 1917, they received a letter from the French foreign minister, Jules Cambon, who wrote: “…it would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago.”

It turned out to be much more difficult to extract language that strong in the British cabinet at that time. What became the Balfour Declaration went through a number of drafts during the summer and fall of 1917. The original language of the declaration that was approved by the British foreign office and Prime Minister Lloyd George on September 19, 1917 specifically stated that Britain accepted the principle that “Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.”

Use of the term “reconstitute” meant that the land was once their homeland before and should now be restored to them. It meant that the Jews had historical rights. For that reason, this language had been sought by the Zionist leadership led by Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow who wanted it indicated that the Jewish people had a historical connection to their land. This original formula had been approved by President Woodrow Wilson, to whom the text was submitted in advance.

It was not such a far-fetched goal to seek formal acknowledgement of Jewish historical rights. A little over two decades earlier a well-connected Protestant clergyman from Chicago, Reverend William Blackstone, received broad backing for a petition for a Jewish homeland signed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the House of Representatives, university presidents and the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Top industrialists, like John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, also lent their support. In short, the idea of the Jewish people re-establishing their country had become acceptable in the elite sectors of the American establishment.

Blackstone’s petition specifically characterized the connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel as “an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force.” In other words, the Jewish people had not willingly given up their claim to their land. Indeed, there was no act in which they relinquished title to the Romans or their successors; in fact from the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 C.E. until the Muslim conquests, there were Jewish resistance movements that tried to recover Jerusalem, and afterwards a constant stream of Jewish immigrants followed.

Blackstone may have not known all this but he touched upon the idea that there were historical rights of the Jewish people, which were recognized at the time he sought signatories to his petition. The petition was submitted to President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 and in another version to President Wilson in 1917, with the aim of influencing his attitude to the Balfour Declaration.

Despite the growing popularity of the idea in the West, there were British opponents to making any commitment to a Jewish national home. This group sought to water down the language of what was to become the Balfour Declaration. Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India and the only Jewish member of the British cabinet ironically lead the internal fight against what Balfour was doing.

Montagu feared that acknowledging Jewish rights in Eretz Israel would lead to the denial of Jewish rights to live in Britain or elsewhere in the Diaspora. He was also ideologically committed to Jewish assimilation. So under his influence all references to the Jewish people “reconstituting” their homeland were dropped. He announced at the time: “I assert that there is not a Jewish nation.” He moreover insisted: “I deny that Palestine today is associated with the Jews.” Montagu could not stop the Balfour Declaration, so he tried to weaken its contents. It is not surprising that Shaath makes Montagu the hero of his analysis.

In any case, the Balfour Declaration was basically a statement of British policy; it did not establish legal rights. This first occurred with the meeting of the victorious allied powers at San Remo, Italy in 1920, where they adopted the Balfour Declaration in an international agreement. Then in 1922, 51 members of the League of Nations approved the document for the Palestine Mandate.

The Mandate document restored important elements that had been taken out of the Balfour Declaration as a result of the debate in the British cabinet, for it stated: “…recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” The British Government issued a White Paper in 1922 that further clarified this point by saying that the Jewish national home “should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.”

Nabil Shaath wanted his British readers last year to believe that the process that began with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and ending up with the British Mandate in 1922 created the Jewish claim to a homeland. For him the Jewish homeland was entirely invented by British imperial interests and had no historical roots. In short, it was an illegitimate claim.

But that is a distortion of what happened for what was involved at the time was a British recognition of a pre-existing right. Moreover that British recognition was fully accepted by the international community by 1922, through the League of Nations. Finally, it must be added, that those rights were not suspended when the League of Nations was disbanded, but rather they were transferred to the United Nations, which replaced it.

In summary, Shaath refuses to acknowledge the steady buildup of the Jewish national home over the centuries; the Ottoman census already showed a Jewish majority in Safed in the 16th century. European consular reports in the 19th century showed that by the 1860s the Jews re-established their majority in Jerusalem — decades before British armies took over the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration reflected a historical trend that was already underway, but it did not launch the Jewish return to Eretz Israel. This return was a product of the national will of a people which Shaath and his colleagues still refuse to recognize, thereby perpetuating the conflict with Israel to this day.


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