Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mid East Conflict Part II: The Partitioning of Palestine

When we left off our last post, we were reviewing TE Lawrence's activities, the Zionist lobby and it's interaction with King Hussein of the Hedjaz (Hijaz) while battling the Turks in World War I. At the end of the war at the Paris Peace conference, the disposition of the post war territory was to be decided. Britain had made one too many agreements with one too many allies promising too little territory to too many people.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement promised Syria and Lebanon to France who were not willing to give it up. Britain had simultaneously promised to support the Arab claims to that territory, the Arab Peninsula and the Palestine Territory under the Hussein-McMahon agreement. The Balfour Declaration supported the creation of a Jewish state on the edge of the Palestinian Territories. During the peace conference, Britain attempted to mollify all of it's allies, but was largely unsuccessful.

France demanded Syria and Lebanon. Feisel, representing Hussein, agreed to accept the Jewish enclave, but only if Arab independent state was recognized and seated in Damascus. Neither the Arabs nor the Jews achieved their dreams. The Paris Peace conference carved up the region into "mandates" or spheres of influence.

At this point, no one is satisfied. On to the inner sanctum to review the partition of Palestine.

Hussein declared himself king of the Hajiz in October 1916 and had participated with the British against the Turks. The Hajiz were the keepers of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest shrines on the Arab Peninsula. It was not yet known as "Saudi Arabia". The Hajiz (or hedjaz) occupied most of the east coast of the Arab Peninsula. They were the upper class of the Quraysh tribe and claimed descendence from the Prophet Mohammed. Mohammed had been a member of the Quraysh.

While Hussein considered the title to mean the king of all Arabs, many of the peninsular tribes took exception to that. Specifically when the Ottoman Sultan was deposed and Hussein granted the title to himself. This went against basic Muslim principles. Particular issues arose as Hussein had not been able to secure all of the agreements and territories originally promised to him. Politically, his power was already on the wane.

His son Feisel had not yet given up on the idea of an Arab state with it's seat in Damascus. But the French already owned the land. This didn't stop Feisel. While his father sat in the Hijaz territories, his brother Abdullah was declared King of Iraq by a nationalist Arab movement there and Feisel took a large contingent of his army and grabbed Damascus in 1920. His council declared Syria independent and under the rule of Feisel. Both the Brits and the French took joint punitive actions against him and forced him out of Damascus and soon into exile.

At the same time, ibn Saud was beginning to make his presence known on the Arab Peninsula. We will discuss the creation of Saudi Arabia at a future date, but, suffice it to say, he and the ikwan (Muslim brotherhood) were raiding across the Arab lands and causing quite a stir. Meanwhile, Abdullah, Feisel's brother and Hussein's other son created a second army and began to march on Syria. They halted at Amman, which was then in the Palestine mandate. The British High commissioner called a meeting with the shayks of the area to determine the outcome of the situation as well as turn their attention to the increase raids of the Wahabi element.

The Wahabi were sincerely disliked by Hussein and the Hijaz as they, the Wahabi, claimed to be instituting the pure form of Islam while the Hijaz claimed the right of guardianship over the holy shrines. Hussein saw this as a direct challenge to his leadership as well as his historical birthright. Even today, there is no love lost for the Wahabi in Jordan.

To resolve the issue and hopefully gain ground against the overlapping agreements from war's end, the British broke off a part of the Palestine mandate and handed it to Abdullah as the ruler, hoping that it would be sufficient to quail Arab demands for Syria. The area included the west bank of the Jordan and the east bank. This along with a large amount of money and promise of British subsidy, prompted Abdullah to take their offer. The state was then referred to as "TransJordan" or "across the Jordan river". This was agreed to by the League of Nations in 1922 as long as it precluded the existing Jewish settlements.

In 1921, the British had already offered Iraq to Feisel and he was settling in.

Parts of "TransJordan" are now the Palestinian territory today. But, this division of land was the next step towards the conflict. The Arabs still insisted that the original agreement included the Palestinian territories including the Jewish settlements and insisted that they too come under Arab rule. The British for their part insisted otherwise.

Next installment, "The Birth of Saudi Arabia".


History of Jordan: Library of Congress

1 comment:

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Ah, dreams of the halcyon, abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, interrupted! ;)

Wahabbis wouldn't have liked the Fatimids, either, for that matter.