Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Arab-Israeli Conflict

During the First World War (1914-1918), Britain met with problems concerning promises made, yet not being kept. Britain, knowing that it needed all the help it could get against the German allies, promised land to people who desperately wanted it. However, as it was revealed Britain had no intention of honouring their word.

The first promise to be made was to the Arabs, in a desperate attempt to overpower one of the countries the British were fighting; the Turks. The Arab leader, Sherif Hussein, agreed to help defeat the Turks, on the condition that at the end of the war, the Arabs would get their freedom. The British accepted the terms, and in 1915 it was written up in a letter to Hussein, more commonly known as the McMahon letter, due to the person who wrote it. The Arabs assisted the British in conquering Syria and Palestine, and were eagerly awaiting the end of the war when they would be able to claim back their lost freedom.

The second promise, however, was a vain attempt at keeping on good terms with the French, as whether or not the French were going to ‘stay friendly’ with the British was becoming questionable. This promise was to France, promising to share the Middle East with the French after the war. In 1916, the Sykes-Picot agreement was drawn up, dividing the Middle East up into large areas. While some areas would be placed under the direct rule of either the French of the British, the rest of the areas would be changed into Arab, with the ‘influence’ of either the French or British. Understandably, these details of the agreement were all kept secrets at first, but just before the war ended, all the information came out.

The third and final promise was made to the Jews in 1917, and was called the Balfour Declaration. This was, like the McMahon letter to the Arabs, promising the Jews ownership of Palestine. This was, made at a time when Britain was having many problems fighting the allies, and needed all the help they could find. There are a few reasons why historians believe this letter was issued. It was thought that the Jews in America and Russia had a lot of money and power, and so would therefore encourage their governments to continue in the war. There was sympathy for the Zionists, as the leaders like Balfour knew that the Jews had endured a lot of hardship, and suffered many injustices, and so saw this promise as a chance to right some of the wrongs committed. Britain used the Suez Canal, in Egypt. However, it was right next door to Palestine, and so it would greatly benefit Britain if the people who governed the neighbouring Palestine, were friendly towards Britain and their interests. The new leader of the Zionists, Chaim Weizmann, was a friend of a few leading politicians such as Balfour and the present Prime minister, Lloyd George.

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It is quite probable that the British Government had no idea of the changes that this Declaration would cause on the short and long-term effects on the problems between the Arabs and the Jews.

The consequences of these unkept promises were quite terrible for Britain, making their situation in Europe much worse. The Arabs reacted very badly to the final British/French rule and supervision. As they were promised their own country and their freedom, the Arabs weren’t pleased with the fact that after they fulfilled their part of the bargain, the British had no intention of fulfilling their part.


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