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The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was one of the most controversial and influential decisions in the early twentieth century. The modern middle east and geopolitics has been influenced by this declaration. The declaration which was issued during the darkest days of World War one attracted little notice at the time but it undoubtedly changed the modern world and the merits of this policy can still generate some heated debate some 100 years after its publication. This article will outline the Balfour Declaration and its origins and aims. Then it will provide the context for the issuance of the Declaration and then identify its impact on the middle east. It will argue that the Declaration of 1917 was very important in the founding of the modern state of Israel and that it was one of the roots of the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.
[[File: Balfour five.jpg|200px|thumb|left|A copy of the Balfour Declaration]]
==The Balfour Declaration==The Balfour Declaration was a British government document that was drawn up by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917. It was first sent to Lord Rothschild of the banking family and the Zionist Association of Great Britain and was published the following day in the press. The document committed the British Empire to a ‘’Jewish national home’’ <ref> Gelvin. James. The Modern Middle East: A History. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 114</ref>. The declaration stated that ‘’His Majesty's government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.’’ <ref> Balfour, Sir Arthur, Balfour Declaration (1917), p. 1</ref>. The Declaration in effect assigned territory that was still part of the Ottoman Empire to the Jews for their new homeland. The Declaration also recognized the rights of the Palestinian people who already lived in the territory. The document’s inherent contradictions were not long on observers at the time. The declaration was a result of negotiations between those sympathetic to the cause of a Jewish homeland Zionists and the British government. There were many in the British elite who were sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland. In the view of the Zionists only a Jewish homeland could offer Europe’s Jews protection and equality. Many Jews especially in Eastern Europe and Russia were persecuted and often the targets of anti- Semitic violence. There were those in London who argued that Jewish emigration to Palestine would reinforce the British position in the Middle East in the aftermath of the war. They saw a Jewish homeland as a British ‘protectorate’, that would be an ally and be dependent on them and this would safeguard the Empire’s position in the Middle East<ref> Gelvin, p. 119</ref>. There was a problem, previously the British and their French allies had entered an alliance with the Arabs. The western allies had promised the Arabs populations a Pan-Arab state in the Middle East including Palestine if they rebelled against their Ottoman overlords. The British had promised Palestine or the Holy Land to both the Jews and the Arabs <ref>. Furthermore, the British had promised a land that they had not even occupied and was at present still in the control of the Turks. However, in 1918, the British army and Empire forces invaded Palestine and occupied that region<ref> Mathew, William M.. "The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate, 1917–1923: British Imperialist Imperatives". British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Routledge. 40 (3) (2013) 231–250 </ref>. The British and the French had already plans for the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret 1916 agreement between the British Empire and France. The Treaty partitioned the Ottoman Empire in the event of an allied victory, it gave France, the Lebanon, Syria, Northern Mesopotamia, and parts of Asia Minor. The United Kingdom was given Mesopotamia, including Baghdad and Palestine. The treaty obliged the allies to establish a Pan-Arab State which was to be under French and British spheres of influence. The Treaty effectively partitioned the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the defeat of the Turks. This secret treaty allowed the British to provide the Jews a homeland in Palestine. The Arabs were enraged by the Balfour Declaration. After 1918 the French and the British did not create a Pan-Arab state, as they had promised. Instead the two allies remained in the region and turned them into protectorates<ref> Gelvin, p. 167</ref>. The newly formed League of Nations introduced a mandate system. A League of Nations mandate was an internationally legal instrument that enabled the peaceful transfer of territories transferred in the wake of World War I. These legal instruments contained the internationally agreed-upon terms for administering such territories on behalf of the League of Nations. Designated nations were allocated certain territories and were expected to develop them and prepare them for eventual independence. The mandate system was formally recognized in 1919, in truth they were legal fictions. The French and the British had already seized these territories and were administering them like their other colonies. The French and the British had already seized the regions oil producing areas and had established commercial zones, this was regarded as naked imperialism by many in the Arab and the Muslim world. The mandate system gave a cloak of respectability to the British and French seizure of the Middle East, which they had secretly agreed in the Sykes-Picot Treaty. The British had the mandate to govern Palestine and they immediately introduced a series of pro-Jewish policies. This was very controversial, and the House of Common’s condemned this policy but nevertheless the Balfour Declaration was implemented by both Conservative and Labor governments. It was only in 1939 on the eve of WWII that the British decided to abandon the Balfour Declaration and adopted a less pro-Jewish policy. The Balfour Declaration, had by this stage, irrevocably changed both Palestine and the entire Middle East<ref> Gelvin, p 134</ref>.
[[File: Balfour One.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Arab demonstrators being arrested during the Arab Revolt]]
 
==Arab response==
The declaration was opposed by Arab public opinion but after the war it was endorsed by the victorious allies and it became official British policy. It was supported by the Americans but they had some reservations. Many in the British government believed that the Balfour Declaration was a mistake and that it would only lead to instability and conflict and that it had no basis in international law and believed that they had betrayed their Arab allies who had participated in the Great Arab Revolt (1916-1918). However, the Balfour Declaration remained, and it was official British policy until the start of WWII. This was despite increasingly violent Arab opposition. The Balfour Declaration and the failure of the western powers to grant a Pan-Arab state led to a great deal of resentment in the Middle East. The British not only had failed to help the Arabs to found a state but had effectively colonized them and had even given traditionally Muslim territory to non-Muslims. What particularly angered the Arabs was that Jerusalem one of the holiest sites in Islam could be lost to Jews. This led to a deep suspicion of Britain and the west in general, in the Arab World. During WWI the Arabs had seen the British as liberators who would help to modernize their society and free them from Ottoman oppression. The Balfour Declaration was to shatter this view and led to a great deal of bitterness. The Muslim world in particular came to believe that it could not trust the British and the west. The anti-western sentiments that were provoked by the Balfour Declaration remain to this day. The Declaration of 1917 poisoned the relationship between the Arab World and the West. It persuaded many that the western powers would always favor the Jews at the expense of the Muslims in the Middle East.