The year was 1919. The war to end all wars had ended. President Woodrow Wilson appointed the King Crane Commission to study the desires of the Middle East , liberated from 500 years of Ottoman Turkish rule, and to report to him on what policies would best support the self-determination of the peoples of the region.
The Allies had enlisted Arab support in the war against the Turks in exchange for Allied guarantees of full independence for the Arab people.
The findings and recommendations of King Crane would remain in the ash heap of history as a weak Wilson was bulldozed by European allies at the Paris Peace Conference. Looking at today's Middle East , the findings and recommendations of King Crane are a prophecy come to pass. The forces at work in today's Middle East are best understood in the context of this time frame. King Crane examined the confluence of Arab nationalism, Zionism and European colonial ambitions to hand down the definitive road map, the departure from which has led to the current debacle.
At the end of World War I, an entity known as natural Syria , spanned the area now known as Syria , Lebanon , Jordan and Israel . It was referred to as natural Syria because of the commonality of language, culture, familial connections and commerce networks which had existed within its borders.
Britain and France had conspired to divide Syria into separate colonial spheres of influence. Britain would take control of Palestine and create from it the additional kingdom of Trans Jordan . France would take control over Syria and further divide Lebanon from it, effectively quartering natural Syria .
On July 2, 1919 The General Syrian Congress, 'furnished with credentials duly authorizing us to represent the Moslem, Christian and Jewish inhabitants of our respective districts' made known their aspirations for the future of Syria . The Resolution sought 'full and absolute political independence' with 'a constitutional monarchy based upon principles of democratic and broadly decentralized rule which shall safeguard the rights of minorities' There was a request for the United States to provide limited technical and economic assistance and an explicit rejection of any French involvement in the future of Syria. Recognizing the conspiracies afoot between Britain and European Zionists with respect to Palestine , Article 7, of the Resolution made it clear that:
We reject claims of the Zionists for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in that part of southern Syria which is known as Palestine . . . . Our Jewish fellow-citizens shall continue to enjoy the rights and to bear the responsibilities which are ours in common.'
Article 8. of the Resolution addressed Syrian concerns over rumors of British and French plans to carve up Syria as spoils for their victory over the Turks:
We desire that there should be no dismemberment of Syria . And no separation of Palestine or the coastal regions in the west or the Lebanon from the mother country; and we ask that the unity of the country be maintained under any circumstances.
In closing the Resolution noted that:
The lofty principles proclaimed by President Wilson encourage us to believe that the determining consideration in the settlement of our own future will be the real desires of our people.
We believe that the Peace Conference will meet our desires in full if only to ensure that our political privileges may not be less after the sacrifices of life which we have made in the cause of our freedom than they were before the War.
Concerned with realizing the aspirations of the people of Syria itself, King Crane's own recommendations mirrored those expressed by the Syrian General Congress. In its final report dated August 28, 1919 , the Commission had the following recommendations:
We recommend . . . that the unity of Syria be preserved in accordance with the earnest petition of the great majority of the people of Syria . The territory is too limited, the population too small and the economic, geographic, racial and language unity too manifest, to make the setting up of independent states within its boundaries desirable'The country is very largely Arab in language, culture, traditions and customs.
Violating their own promises of post war independence to the Arabs, Britain and France would secretly enter into the Sykes-Picot Agreement on May 16, 1916 . Under its terms, the Arab territories would be divided between the British and the French as colonial spoils of the war. In further betrayal of the promises made to the Arabs to enlist them in the war against the Turks, Britain promised European Zionists that Britain would support the formation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine --a land which was then 97% Arab in its population. These events are creatively depicted in the award winning motion picture Lawrence of Arabia.
In complete disregard for logic, cultural reality and the self-determination of the Syrian people, Britain and France with American acquiescence would literally draw and quarter Syria into the states of Palestine , Lebanon , Trans Jordan and Syria .
Rejecting Syrian claims to part of the southern Turkish Empire known as Cilicia, the Commission noted that, 'Syria, too, has no such need of further seacoast as the large interior sections of Asia minor.' This was a recognition that the entire Mediterranean coasts of Palestine and Lebanon belonged and would remain within Syria . When Palestine and Lebanon were taken from Syria , almost three quarters of her natural coastline and harbors were eliminated.
After examining the unique circumstances of Lebanon , King Crane recognized that it would best evolve within a unified Syria for various reasons and rejected the specter of Lebanon being slivered off into its own nation.
Lebanon has achieved a considerable degree of prosperity and autonomy within the Turkish Empire . She certainly should not find her legitimate aspirations less possible within a Syrian national state. On the contrary it may be confidently expected that both her economic and political relations with the rest of Syria would be better if she were a constituent member of the state rather than entirely independent of it.
As a predominantly Christian country, it is also to be noted that Lebanon would be in a position to exert a stronger and more helpful influence if she were within the Syrian state, feeling its problems and needs, and sharing all its life, instead of outside it, absorbed simply in her own narrow concerns. For the sake of the larger interests of both Lebanon and Syria then, the unity of Syria is to be urged. It is certain that many of the more thoughtful Lebanese themselves hold this view.
These very same reasons drove the French to promote Lebanese separatism. French objectives, as the Syrians rightfully discerned, stood in direct conflict with Syrian self-determination. France 's objective was to divide and weaken Syria while maintaining its colonial influence through the establishment of a vassal client state in the form of a separate Lebanon .
In 1976 Lebanon 's Christian government would turn to Syria to save Lebanon from itself. Lebanon's inherent weakness after being carved away from Syria left it open to endemic conflict and external exploitation which it was powerless to control. Syria 's presence brought an end to 15 years of bloody civil war and Lebanon remained stable for years under Syria 's presence.
In 2005, the neocons of the Bush Administration had Syria on their agenda. Their first objective was to drive a wedge between the increasingly cooperative relationship between Syria and Lebanon . The neocons did not invent this approach. Keeping Lebanon divided from Syria had been a western priority since the days of French colonial rule. It was no surprise that U.N. resolution 1559 found France as its eager co-sponsor. The protests of over one million Lebanese against the departure of Syria meant nothing to those preaching Lebanese self-determination while ordering Syria to leave.
PALESTINE / ISRAEL
We recommend . . . serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine a distinctly Jewish state.
[a] national home for the Jewish people is not the equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine . The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conferences with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine by various forms of purchase.
In 2005, most Israelis still list the complete removal of Arabs from their borders as a priority worth pursuing.
In his address of July 4, 1918, President Wilson laid down the following principle as one of the four great 'ends for which the associated peoples of the world were fighting': 'The settlement of every question whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement or of political relationship upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.' If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine's population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine ' nearly nine tenths of the whole ' are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than this . . . .
It is to be noted also that this feeling against the Zionist program is not confined to Palestine, but shared very generally by the people throughout Syria . . . More than 72 percent ' 1,350 in all ' of all the petitions in the whole of Syria were directed against the Zionist program. Only two requests ' those for a united Syria and for independence ' had a larger support . . . .
In its most prophetic warning, the Commission sounded the alarm over what would result if the will of the indigenous people and the recommendations of the Commission were ignored.
The Peace Conference should not shut its eyes to the fact that the anti-Zionist feeling in Palestine and Syria is intense and not lightly to be flouted. No British officer consulted by the Commissioners believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program on the part of the non-Jewish populations of Palestine and Syria . Decisions requiring armies to carry [them] out are sometimes necessary but are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of serious injustice. For the initial claim often submitted by Zionist representatives that they have a 'right' to Palestine based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago can hardly be seriously considered.
Zionist influence among the victorious Allies would trump the principle of self-determination which Wilson trumpeted to the world as it was being consumed by the flames of World War I. The Zionist conquest of Palestine and the disenfranchising of its Arab population has never been accepted by the indigenous Arabs. Despite 'peace treaties' signed by unelected rulers, popular sentiment runs strongly against the Zionist program. As a consequence, war has been waged with only intermittent interruption, tens of thousand have perished and populations have been radicalized over this issue. Israel ' a nuclear power ' was driven from Lebanon , is withdrawing from Gaza and is building a wall around itself. Untold billions, perhaps even trillions of dollars have been squandered trying to force Israel down the throats of those who never opted for her presence on their soil. The number of 50,000 troops seems almost whimsical in light of the hundreds of thousands now filling the Middle East .
King Crane also addressed the issue of how people around the world would react to Jerusalem being under Zionist control, and reached the following conclusions.
[i]t may be doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places, or custodians of the Holy Land as a whole.
The reason is this: The places which are most sacred to Christians ' those having to do with Jesus ' and which are also sacred to Moslems are not only not sacred to Jews but abhorrent to them. It is simply impossible under those circumstances for Moslems and Christians to feel satisfied to have these places in Jewish hands or under the custody of Jews. There are still other places about which Moslems must have the same feeling. In fact, from this point of view, the Moslems just because the sacred places of all three religions are sacred to them have made very naturally much more satisfactory custodians of the holy places than the Jews could be. It must be believed that the precise meaning in this respect of the complete Jewish occupation of Palestine has not been fully sensed by those who urge the extreme Zionist program. For it would intensify with a certainty like fate the anti-Jewish feeling both in Palestine and in all other portions of the world which look to Palestine as the Holy Land .
In 1967, Israel would occupy Jerusalem . It has since declared Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish state and stated emphatically that Jerusalem 's identity as the capital of Israel is not negotiable. Since its occupation of Jerusalem , worshipping Muslims have been attacked at the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Mosque itself has been defiled and burned. Christian have also felt pressure upon their ability to worship, not least of all because they are Arabs in a Jewish state.
For centuries, Jews lived and prospered as minority communities within the Arab and Muslim world. In the early 20th Century, the convergence of Zionism, a world war and the triumph of colonialism would lay the seeds for perpetual conflict in the Middle East . Previously healthy relationships between Arab and Jews would be poisoned as Arab lands were fractured and taken to feed the ambitions of Europeans and Zionists. Arabs aspirations were ignored not because Zionists were Jews, but primarily because early Zionists were Europeans who shared a general European contempt for the cultures of the Middle East . For this same reason, Middle Eastern Jews were treated with a similar contempt by the founders of Israel .
We are now faced with the consequences of ignoring self-determination, as King-Crane's crystal ball sits in the dusty attic of history.