(I’m reading Cleveland’s “A History of the Modern Middle East” at the moment. I’ve gleaned this from there. Errors of emphasis, misunderstandings and inaccuracies are mine, IANAE.)
Zionists in the late 1800s conclude that Europeans will always oppress the Jews, and that the latter need to find a homeland of their own. It didn’t necessarily have to be in the land of Biblical Israel, however.
1914: The Ottoman Empire, operating out of Turkey controls Iraq, the holy cities and west coast of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Southern Syria (Palestine and Jordan). Part of the empire’s legitimacy is connected to its Islamic heritage, although since the Ottomans want to be a great power, there are tendencies towards Westernization, at least in Istanbul.
The Ottoman Empire chooses to invade Russia, thereby placing themselves on the wrong side of WWI. Dismemberment follows, to the confusion of its Arab citizens.
1917: (Still during WWI) The Brits make “The Balfour Declaration”
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”
Jan 1919: Zionist advocate Weitzmann cuts a deal with Faysal of Syria: Jews and Arabs would cooperate in the economic development of Palestine. Faysal would recognize Balfour and consent to Jewish immigration. In return, Arab rights would be respected in Palestine and Syria would become an independent nation.
The Brits make “Palestine”, “Transjordan” and “Iraq” into colonies; (although they call them “Mandates”, since imperialism was no longer PC.)
The French, not wanting to be left out, occupy Syria. The Weitzmann-Faysal deal is thereby considered void.
The al-Saud family negotiates with a bunch of tribes to form “Arabia”, a weak, impoverished, expanse of sand whose chief economic activity was connected with the pilgrimage to Mecca. Oil riches are a post-war phenomenon.
Jewish immigration into Palestine continues. The Arab and Jewish communities construct separate institutions; factionalism limits the effectiveness of Arab institutions; the influx of the educated from Europe enhances Jewish ones.
Population of Palestine by Ethnic Group 1931-46
Date Arab % Jewish %
1931 864,806 82 174,139 16
1936 983,244 71 382,857 28
1941 1,123,168 68 489,830 30
1946 1,310,866 67 599,922 31
The Arabs wanted strict limits on Jewish immigration during the interwar period, as well as an end to land purchases by the newcomers. There were assorted riots and investigations by the Brits. Implementing the Balfour declaration proved to be as difficult as squaring a circle, given the lack of Jewish/Arab cooperation during the period.
1947: The Brits throw up their hands and pass the buck to the UN. The UN proposes a partition plan in September 1947. Before the vote, the Brits announce that the Palestinian Mandate will end in May 1948.
Chaos ensues. 400,000 Arab flee the Israeli region. The State of Israel is declared in May 1948. Various Arab armies pursue a piece of the action; they are poorly equipped and uncoordinated. Those conflicts end in Dec 1948: Israeli territory expands, the Palestinian Arab state disappears. Arabs are forcibly evacuated so that by 1949, only 160,000 Arabs remain within the borders of Israel. (The West Bank is in Jordan’s hands; Egypt owns the Gaza strip).
Israel had replaced a European Jewish refugee problem with a Middle Eastern refugee problem. Arab intransigence resulted in consecutive losses for the Palestinian Arabs.
Comments and critiques are welcome.