The British Government’s Principal Motives for Issuing the Balfour Declaration. Introduction
Passed in 1917, the Balfour Declaration promised European Jewry a national home in Palestine. Though perceived by some as the first major step taken in creating the state of Israel, the Balfour Declaration was much more than the product of Zionist lobbying and sympathies from British politicians. While Zionism gained influence in British circles, the notion of a Jewish state was not the primary inspiration for British control of Palestine. Originally proposed to be an internationally controlled zone, Palestine existed as a buffer between the French imperialist colonies of Syria and Lebanon and British-controlled Egypt. In addition, the British had at their disposal a means of instigating a local uprising to consolidate their hold over Ottoman Palestine. By promising a future nation to Zionists, Britain could also sway American public opinion to support a U.S. presence in World War I (WWI). The far-reaching implications of the Balfour Declaration and subsequent British aspirations would significantly shape the future of Palestine through Jewish and Arab revolt, changing the face of Middle Eastern politics. Discussion
The long-time imperialist British understood the Middle Eastern environment that they aspired to conquer. There was little hope to consolidate power solely by wresting it from Ottoman hands. The question of controlling Palestine arose, as the Arabs agreed to assist the British forces in fighting the Ottomans on the condition that their land would be under Arab sovereignty. The Arab people had long suffered under the brutal reign of the Ottoman Empire, and “dissenting anti-imperialist voices echoed throughout Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula” (Abu-Lughod 1971, p. 55). So while many British felt guilty for the terrible history of the European Jewry, the primary reason for British passing of the Balfour Declaration was the consolidation of its imperialist holdings. Many in Great Britain felt sympathy to the Jewish plight and the Zionist cause, but “sympathy alone would not have produced the Balfour Declaration”; Jews were favored over Arabs as the group “better [suited] as its imperial desiderata” (Smith 2001, p. 76). The Zionist movement brought a new party into play, one that relied on British assistance to flourish. “Contrary to the widely held belief of Britain’s pro-Arabism, British actions considerably favored the Zionist enterprise,” a third party which could be used to manipulate control over the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (Segev 2000, p. 5). The British, in passing the Balfour D...