(25 April 1917)

The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann,  Volume VII,  August 1914-November 1917, Letter 356. 

Before the Balfour Declaration was issued in November 1917, Chaim Weizmann lobbied feverishly to have the British government confirm its future physical control over Palestine simultaneously, he lobbied. He lobbied the pro-Zionist Lord Cecil who was the nephew of Arthur James Balfour, the British Foreign Minister who issued the Declaration. It provided British support for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, a concept that was given international legitimacy in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate.

Weizmann was indefatigable. He and his Zionist colleagues in London were then lobbying Prime Minister David Lloyd George to issue an official consent document for the Zionists to continue growing their presence in Palestine. The Zionist leadership did not want to have Palestine either internationalized or placed under dual British-French control; both options would have increased the difficulties for the Zionists to link Jewish immigrants to the land in Palestine. They preferred Britain, where they could exercise greater influence. 

This note of a conversation between Weizmann and acting Foreign Secretary Lord Cecil illustrates Weizmann’s thinking. Further, Weizmann lobbied for certain geographic zones to be added to Palestine under British control, particularly in the Galilee, around the headwaters of the Jordan and in the Haifa hinterland. The geostrategic value of these areas would not diminish as the British Mandate moved forward. In the late 1930s, when Jewish purchase possibilities included land around Haifa and in the Galilee, the JNF and Jewish Agency put a similar high priority on acquiring lands in these areas from Arab sellers. The JNF’s entire December 1937 meeting focused on buying these lands in the north and on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. 

Returning to the broader picture of working against multiple-country control over Palestine or its internationalization, these were identical objectives that Jewish Agency officials sought to prevent when they made their case thirty years later before the United Nations when partition was debated. Zionists wanted the fewest number of great powers to oversee and control their destiny. Once the U.N. voted for partition, the Zionist leadership sought to avoid the British and American intent to form a trusteeship for Palestine, in direct contradiction to the partition plan of establishing Arab and Jewish states. Weizmann in 1917 and Zionist leaders such as Eliahu Elath, Aubrey (Abba) Eban and David Horowitz in 1947 and 1948 strove to keep Zionist decision-making in Zionist hands, under the auspices of a single power, and where possible influence the borders of a future Jewish state.

Ken Stein, June 2024

Chaim Weizmann lobbies Lord Cecil to have Great Britain 

control Palestine after World War I

(25 April 1917)

Dr. Weizmann analysed before his lordship the various possible solutions of the Palestinian problem, namely:

  1. A British Protectorate over Palestine.
  2. An Anglo-French Condominium.
  3. Internationalisation of Palestine.

It was submitted that from the Jewish point of view the British Protectorate is the most desirable one for the following reasons:

Jews all over the world trust Great Britain and look to this country as a liberator of Palestine. They know that law and order would be established there and justice would be meted out to the various races living in the country. On the other hand the Jews would not be interfered with in their colonising activity and in their cultural development, and when the Jewish population has grown strong enough, it would be given by Great Britain the measure of self-government which it deserved. This wise policy of Great Britain has been sufficiently proved in all its colonies, and no other nation in the world has ruled its colonies in the same manner. Under British rule great and flourishing Jewish communities have been established all over the world like the communities in Canada, South Africa and Egypt, and even the American community has been established under an English-speaking race which is imbued with the same spirit of justice and fairness as the British race. The fact that England is a biblical nation accounts for the spiritual affinity between them and the Jews. 

2. An Anglo-French Condominium means a dual control, and in view of the particular conditions of the country such a dual control is fraught with gravest dangers. History has proved in many cases that under a dual control the country remains neglected and one part of the population is usually played out against the other. The French would no doubt lean on the Syrians and Christian Arabs, that is generally on the Levantines. The Levantine is not an attractive type; he has lost the primitive virtues of the Arab and has not acquired the virtues of European civilisation; he is covered with a veneer of superficial French polish; he cannot be relied upon as a suitable element with which co-operation would promise good results. Any enterprise in the country would have to be sanctioned by both governments and would lead constantly to jealousies, endless waste of time, and all the energy which is necessary for developing a devastated country like Palestine would have to be employed in order to counteract political intrigues.

3. Internationalisation would present the same difficulties but in a still more aggravated form. Of course from a purely British point of view both a dual control and still more internationalisation represent a danger as it would in the last resort be a weakening of the Egyptian defences. The war has proved sufficiently conclusively that a well organised enemy with a  base in Palestine could be a serious menace to Egypt. Contrary to what military experts thought before the war the strip of the Sinai desert does not present a sufficient defence of Egypt. The desert can be bridged over by roads, railways and water pipes, and an army having Palestine at its back could easily cross the desert.

Lord Robert then asked what were the objections against a purely French control; the answer was that of course a purely French control is preferable to a dual control or internationalisation but the French in their colonising activity have not followed the same lines as the English. They have always interfered with the population and tried to impose upon them the “spirit français,” the French administration is much less efficient in its work, and I think it is no exaggeration that the Zionist organisation did more in Palestine than the French did in Tunis. The French colonising policy is at the same time a Catholic policy, and although atheist at home they have always exported Catholicism abroad. In Palestine therefore they would lean on elements which are unfriendly to the Jewish population and to a Jewish development. The confidence which exists in the Jewish population all over the world towards Great Britain does not exist towards the French. Lord Robert I think saw the force of the argument, and the question was not pursued any further. 

Then the discussion turned on the question of an arrangement which is supposed to exist between Great Britain and France regarding Palestine. This arrangement had been entered into apparently almost at the beginning of the war and appears to be more or less on the following lines: That the French are to have Northern Syria down to a line drawn from Haifa to the Lake of Tiberias, the rest of Palestine south of this line down to the Egyptian frontier is to be internationalised, the Bay of Haifa with the two towns Haifa and St. Jean D’Acre to be British with a British railway joining up the Bay with the Baghdad railway. Dr. Weizmann submitted that this arrangement embodies all the faults of an Anglo-French and an international settlement and is moreover aggravated by the fact that Palestine is cut up into two halves and the Jewish colonising effort which has been going on before the war for more than thirty years is thus annihilated. By the separation of Galilee from Judea, Palestine has been deprived of a very valuable part of the country. The Jews of the Zionists would particularly suffer because round the Lake of Tiberias the country is dotted with Jewish colonies. Although this is very grave from our point of view and we would always consider it an unjust partition and it would certainly constitute a Jewish irredenta, we would find a certain amount of compensation in the fact if at least Judea were British, for a generation or two the Jews could work under a British protection in Judea, try to develop the country as much as possible and home for the time when some just tribunal would give them the rest of Palestine on which they have an historic claim. But if Judea instead of becoming British would be simply internationalised then this partition from a Jewish point of view is a Solomon’s judgment of the worst character, the child is cut into two and both halves mutilated. But also from a general point of view it does not seem to be an admissible solution. The entry of Russian and American Democracies into the war, the proclamation of anti-annexationist principles and the settlement of the map of the world on national principles on a basis of historic claims are not in accordance with a division of Palestine which is based purely on strategic considerations. But even from the purely strategic point of view this division does not present any advantages. The possession of the Bay of Haifa is a valuable asset from a strategic point of view as long as the hinterland is consolidated and populated by a loyal and civilised population, but if the hinterland is going to be handed over to an international regime the advanced British position will become an island and the naval base would not be able to lean on a reliable population behind it. There is little doubt that the suggested division of Palestine would raise an outcry which will ring through from one end of the world to the other as it is contrary to all the principles which have been proclaimed by the Allies since the beginning of the war and which have lately been so strongly emphasised by America and Russia.

On the other hand a Jewish Palestine under a British Protectorate could not be interpreted simply as an annexation of Palestine by Great Britain. In view of the relation of the Jews to Great Britain mentioned before it would be easily understood that Great Britain is so to say keeping the country in trust for the Jews.

With regard to Dr. Weizmann’s going out to Egypt and Syria he remarked that he would go on the clear understanding that he is to work for a Jewish Palestine under a British Protectorate. Lord Robert agreed to this view; he mentioned that of course there are considerable difficulties in the way but that it would strengthen the position very considerably if the Jews of the world would express themselves in favour of a British Protectorate. Dr. Weizmann replied that this is exactly the task which he would like to undertake to bring about such an expression of opinion and it is for that purpose that he would go to Palestine. The interview terminated on that point.