The Faisal Weizmann Agreement: A Forgotten Piece of Arab-Israeli History

The debatable deficiency of many scholars when analyzing Middle East politics is evident with their failure to meaningfully address the pivotal political importance of World War I and the immediate events surrounding it – in this instance the Faisal Weizmann Agreement of 1919. Why did Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, descendant of the prophet Muhammad and son of Emir Hussein of Hedjaz, initially sign the Faisal Weizmann Agreement only later to appear to rescind his previous commitment to the agreement? What does this action demonstrate about the document’s post-script and on Faisal’s commitment to the agreement overall? This paper will analyze these questions by scrutinizing Faisal’s original intention on the creation of an independent Pan-Arab state, as well as his response and reaction to Jewish migration in the British Mandate of Palestine post-signing of the agreement. Therefore, the eventual King Faisal I of Iraq never fully intended to support and uphold the items expressed in the Faisal Weizmann Agreement of 1919, as is evident with his Pan-Arab political aspirations, and by his interpretation of the Jewish population and immigration growth within the British Mandate of Palestine.

The Provisions of the Faisal Weizmann Agreement

The Faisal Weizmann agreement is a brief document signed on January 3, 1919 in Paris, France that had tremendous political and social implications.[i] Analyzing the language used by both parties of the agreement, it seems like nothing short of a miracle in relation to today’s rhetorical devices evident within Arab-Israeli relations. The general provisions outlined within the agreement are as follows:

1. Both parties are committed to the most cordial goodwill and understanding, to encourage immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale while protecting the rights of the Arab peasants and tenant farmers, and to safeguard the free practice of religious observances. The Muslim Holy Places were to be under Muslim control.

2. The Zionist movement must undertake efforts to assist the Arab residents of Palestine and the future Arab state to develop their natural resources and establish a growing economy.

3. Create a commission after the Paris Peace Conference to agree upon a border between an Arab state and Palestine.

4. Both Parties are to uphold the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

5. Disputes were to be handled by Great Britain.[ii]

In relation to this document, there are relevant events and items that must also be addressed that may have affected the commitment and interpretation of Faisal to this agreement. The McMahon Correspondence between British High Commissioner Edward McMahon and Emir Hussein, Faisal’s father, discussed the creation of an Arab Kingdom in return for British support and an Arab rebellion against the Ottomans.[iii] The correspondence discussed what the Arab Kingdom was to potentially look like, some scholars claiming the future delineation of the British mandate of Palestine was the agreed upon demarcation within the correspondence, and others stating this was not the case. Also, the Sykes-Picot Agreement as well as the French invasion of Syria may have greatly influenced Faisal’s commitment to the agreement, in regards to his personally written condition to the document. Therefore these events will be analyzed within the context of Faisal’s Pan-Arab aspiration in conjunction with his written condition upon the original agreement. The condition said the following:

“If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of 4 January, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement..”[iv]

This condition, which was not explicitly outlined or concurred upon by both parties of the signed agreement, will be the center of focus as to possibly why Faisal abandoned his commitment to the agreement’s provisions, even after writing post-scripts to the document such as:

“We Arabs… look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through; we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home… I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilised peoples of the world.”[v]

Emir Hussein and Faisal’s Quest for an Arab Kingdom

The place to start, regarding the intentions behind Faisal’s desire for an independent confederation of Arab states, is with his father the Emir Hussein of Hedjaz. The British began a correspondence with Emir Hussein in 1916 from their offices in Cairo in an attempt to establish an Arab army that would assist the British war effort against Constantinople. The Young Turks, now in power over the Ottoman Empire, never fully trusted the Emir Hussein given his influence and control over the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina.[vi] The British were informed by Hussein and other agents, [even the deceitful fraud al-Faruqi], that the local Arab populations would rise up and revolt against the Ottoman Empire given their seemingly second-class status within the affairs and governance of the empire.[vii] The Turkish were in the process of sending a small army to Hedjaz in the hopes of ousting Emir Hussein from power, and making Constantinople the protector of Islam.[viii] The Emir knew his forces were relatively weak compared to the Turkish and therefore played both the British and the Ottoman officials when failing to publicly support the British, but privately entertained the idea in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence.[ix]

The correspondence alluded to the fact that the Arabs [an undefined body of ethnically and culturally different peoples] would support the British war efforts against Constantinople in exchange for British military relief and most importantly, British support for the creation of an independent Arab kingdom [which was to be ruled by Emir Hussein].[x] Thus, the desires and belief that the Arabs were able to secure an independent kingdom or confederation of Arab states began with the political bargaining and aspirations of his father the Emir of Hedjaz with the British.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement and Faisal’s Syrian Reign

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was concluded by British, French, and Russian foreign officials in 1916, and was leaked a year later in 1917 by the newly formed Russian Bolshevik government.[xi] The agreement centered on the future spheres of influence each country would administer within the Middle East once the war was won by the allied powers. The three nations had outlined that the southern parts of Turkey and northern parts of Syria were to go to France, while the northern parts of the Arabian peninsula and modern day Iraq were to go to the British.[xii] The provisions outlined in this agreement greatly disturbed Faisal and other Arab counterparts due to their intention of establishing an independent Arab entity to be ruled by Arabs after the war was concluded. The Sykes-Picot document seemingly negated the fundamental aspirations of Faisal as well as appears to contradict the word of the British who were expressly committed [McMahon-Hussein Correspondence] to the concept of Arab independence.[xiii] Therefore one possible reason Faisal had hand written the condition upon the Faisal Weizmann document was due to the nature of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the blurred intentions it potentially portrayed regarding what Europe was seeking to implement within the region.

France’s Enduring Commitment to Syria and Faisal’s Dilemma

The same year the Faisal Weizmann Agreement was signed, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress.[xiv] The results amounted to about 80% of the congress to consist primarily of conservative Arab officials who wished to establish an independent Arab state.[xv] There was tremendous unrest within the region of what was known to the Arabs as Greater Syria, especially within Lebanon where the Arabs feared they were to be dominated by Christians in the newly established French mandate of Lebanon.[xvi] Furthermore, the Syrian National Congress had become greatly alarmed by the signing of the Faisal Weizmann Agreement, which essentially supported the implementation of the Balfour Declaration and ensured an uninterrupted flow of Jewish migrants to Palestine. As a result, the Syrian National Congress rejected the provisions of the agreement, claimed Palestine to be apart of Greater Syria and declared Faisal as the King of the Arabs.[xvii] While the unrest had been steadily growing since 1919, the French were awarded the mandate of Syria in 1920 at the San Remo conference in Italy.[xviii] What was a tumultuous situation before the creation of Syria became worse as the French insisted on directly governing the region and its people.

This confrontation between the Nationalist Congress in Syria who supported Faisal and the French who sought to implement the Syrian mandate, ended with the resignation of Faisal from power.[xix] After much bloodshed from both sides had been spilt, the Franco-Syrian war ended in victory for the European power. The determining factor of this brief Syrian national affront was at the Battle of Maysalun in 1920.[xx] The French forces were 3 times the size of the Syrians, and their superior technology and organization was no match for the local Arab fighting force.[xxi] King Faisal quickly realized that his situation was no longer tenable and fled the Syrian mandate to Great Britain who sought to empower him in Iraq.[xxii] The English believed he could be of assistance to their governance in Iraq given the British’s difficulty in maintaining a stable control within the region.[xxiii] Therefore this forced departure from the Arab nationalist agenda in Syria considerably contributed to Faisal rebuking his agreement with Weizmann and the Zionist Organization, as well as question Europe’s commitment to the concept of an independent Arab state. The Syrian National Congress had a clear Arab independence agenda and therefore the breakdown of the congress appeared to Faisal as potentially nothing other than European meddling that negated the condition on the Faisal Weizmann Agreement.

The Reign of Faisal I of Iraq and Jewish Migration Patterns in Palestine

After the British had decided their more direct form of governance over the area of Iraq was no longer feasible, they asked Faisal to become king of the mandate, which was supported by a 96% vote of the immediate population.[xxiv] In August 1921, Faisal was crowned as King Faisal I of Iraq. The newly crowned king still harbored aspirations of an independent Pan-Arab state, therefore he encouraged former Syrian officials to assist him in Iraq in order to maintain old connections as well as foster better relations between the Arab people of both the Iraqi and Syrian mandates.[xxv] Another aspect of Faisal’s Pan-Arab aspirations were visible with his desire to create a universal military service policy within Iraq, while simultaneously pursuing an Iraqi oil pipeline that would extend to the West toward the Mediterranean [thus establishing a greater reliance of the East Arab territories within the region].[xxvi] The new Iraqi king also became increasingly certain that his condition upon the 1919 Faisal Weizmann Agreement was essentially void given his mild public opposition, but grave personal discomfort, on the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty that further politically divided Syria and Iraq, as well as Iraq’s joining the League of Nations in 1932 once the British Mandate had officially expired.[xxvii] As King Faisal I of Iraq, the leader’s most visible lack of commitment to the Faisal Weizmann Agreement [concerning his written agreement] was demonstrated with his grievance issued to the British Government concerning Jewish migration patterns in the mandate of Palestine.

In 1933, right before his death in Switzerland, King Faisal I went to Great Britain to give his sincere concern about the Jewish situation in the mandate of Palestine in regards to the present and potentially future Arab position.[xxviii] The Faisal Weizmann Agreement laid out two provisions, one that would recognize the Balfour Declaration [establishment of a Jewish Homeland] and the other than would allow a steady flow of Jewish migration to Palestine.[xxix] Therefore this paper will quickly address the Jewish population levels and growth in Palestine from 1890 to 1947, a year before the Israeli War for Independence began.

1890 – 43,000 Jews

1914 – 94,000 Jews

1922 – 84,000 Jews [11.14% growth]

1931 – 175,000 Jews [16.90% growth]

1937 – 386,084 Jews [27.91% growth] etc..

1947 – 630,000 Jews[xxx]

If Faisal had intended to truly commit to the provisions outlined in the agreement between him and Weizmann, then these growing population levels in Palestine would have never been as concerning as he expressed them to be in Great Britain in 1933. Reading again the post script at the end of the second section in this paper, as well as reading over the provisions outlining the support of Jewish migration on a large scale and supporting the Balfour Declaration, why did this phenomenon concern Faisal? What did he expect to actual achieve by issuing the hand written condition upon the agreement in regards to what it actually called for?

An Impossible Condition and a Lack of Commitment to Peace

The Faisal Weizmann Agreement and the condition written by Faisal, was a tricky diplomatic endeavor from the start. For example, the Syrian National Congress in 1920 had rejected the agreement but still claimed that Faisal, the Arab who had signed the document, as the legitimate King of the Arabs. Furthermore, Chaim Weizmann was a representative of the Zionist Organization and had little relative influence regarding the measures proposed in the Sykes-Picot agreement of the major European allied powers. Any European activity in the region was out of the direct control of Weizmann, and therefore Faisal had written the condition post-signing as if the Zionist Organization did have the ability to directly control European intentions, and thus Faisal avoided being bound by the Agreement’s provisions. Lastly, the written condition of Faisal, in regards to Weizmann’s potential interpretation of it, was non-binding. In other words, Faisal had written the condition to the agreement, only after both parties to the document had signed their consent to the positions clearly expressed within the final copy of the agreement and by that logic not on Faisal’s condition. Therefore the subsequent grievance Faisal I presented to Great Britain about Jewish migration patterns demonstrated how he never fully intended to support the provision of the agreement that called for Jewish migration on a large scale as well as fulfilling the Balfour Declaration.

Furthermore, Faisal had inherited his father’s intentions on creating an independent Arab state and therefore wanted to ensure that this became a realization. He potentially used the Faisal Weizmann agreement as leverage against the European powers to uphold their support for an independent Arab entity however, as history demonstrates, this clearly failed to influence any European decision making and only forced a conflict to ensue when Faisal began to openly denounce Jewish activity in Palestine. Regardless of the post-hand written condition of Faisal on the agreement, if the son of the Emir Hussein had any intention on fulfilling the provisions outlined in the document his political activity would have looked very different. Therefore, and in conclusion, King Faisal I of Iraq never fully intended to commit to his signing of the Faisal Weizmann Agreement as is evident with his pan-Arab political aspirations, as well as his inherently grave concern for Jewish migration patterns toward the end of his life. What would have been an enduring prospect for peace, ended up being a deceitful operation of Faisal’s, on behalf of the entire Arab population.


[i] “The Weizmann-Feisal Agreement.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/The+Weizmann-Feisal+Agreement+3-Jan-1919.htm>.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Fromkin, David. A peace to end all peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. 2nd Holt pbk. ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

[iv] “The Weizmann-Feisal Agreement.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/The+Weizmann-Feisal+Agreement+3-Jan-1919.htm>.

[v] Sicker, Martin. “Reshaping Palestine: from Muhammad Ali to the British Mandate, 1831-1922”. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print. p. 147

[vi] Fromkin, David. A peace to end all peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. 2nd Holt pbk. ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Schneer, Jonathan. The Balfour Declaration: the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 1. ed. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Fromkin, David. A peace to end all peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. 2nd Holt pbk. ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

[xiv] Pipes, Daniel. Greater Syria the history of an ambition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Schneer, Jonathan. The Balfour Declaration: the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 1. ed. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Moubayed, Sami M.. The politics of Damascus, 1920-1946: urban notables and the French mandate. Damascus: Tlass House, 1999. Print.

[xxi] Gelvin, James L.. Divided loyalties nationalism and mass politics in Syria at the close of Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Print.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Fromkin, David. A peace to end all peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. 2nd Holt pbk. ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Stein, Leslie. The hope fulfilled: the rise of modern Israel. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Print.

[xxix] “The Weizmann-Feisal Agreement.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/The+Weizmann-Feisal+Agreement+3-Jan-1919.htm>.

[xxx] Pergola, Sergio. Demography in Israel/Palestine: trends, prospects, policy implications.. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, 2001. Print.

Bibliography

Fromkin, David. A peace to end all peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. 2nd Holt pbk. ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

Gelvin, James L.. Divided loyalties nationalism and mass politics in Syria at the close of Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Print.

Moubayed, Sami M.. The politics of Damascus, 1920-1946: urban notables and the French mandate. Damascus: Tlass House, 1999. Print.

Pipes, Daniel. Greater Syria the history of an ambition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.

Pergola, Sergio. Demography in Israel/Palestine: trends, prospects, policy implications.. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, 2001. Print.

Schneer, Jonathan. The Balfour Declaration: the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 1. ed. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

Sicker, Martin. “Reshaping Palestine: from Muhammad Ali to the British Mandate, 1831-1922”. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print.

Stein, Leslie. The hope fulfilled: the rise of modern Israel. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Print.

“The Weizmann-Feisal Agreement.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

<www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/The+Weizmann-Feisal+Agreement+3-Jan-1919.htm>.

6 comments
  1. This is a good read; it is interesting, compelling, and thought provoking. Thank you.

    • I appreciate the feedback. Often times people tend to react to contemporary phenomena within the area, without exploring the various activity that ignited the current situation within the region. Therefore I thought this specific topic might be beneficial to pursue and discuss.

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