On 2nd November 1917 Arthur Balfour, the then Foreign Secretary wrote to Lord Rothschild as follows:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it beng clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”
Chaim Weizmann records, ‘I was waiting outside (the Cabinet session).. within call. Sykes (he of the contradictory Sykes-Picot agreement; on which more later) brought the document out to me, with the exclamation: ‘Dr. Weizmann, it’s a boy!’ Well — I did not like the boy at first. He was not the one I had expected….’ (Trial and Error. Hamish Hamilton, 1949. page 262). What was wrong with ‘the boy’, the declaration of favour for a national home for Jews? Surely it is what he’d campaigned for for so many years!
When Weizmann writes that ‘the boy … was not the one I had expected’, what he really means is “But that isn’t what I wrote.” For, contrary to what may seem evident, the letter from Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, ‘The Balfour Declaration’, was not drafted by Balfour or a British government secretary. For many months before negotiations had been taking place and drafts passing to and fro. The ‘final formula on which we agreed…’ see below, begs the question, “who is the ‘we’?” It was Weizmann and those leading members of the Zionist Federation, of which Weizmann was president, who were in favour of a Zionist state in Palestine.
It should be noted that this draft has nothing to say of the ‘ non-Jewish communities in Palestine’, quite certainly the reason why Weizmann ‘did not like the boy at first’, and very probably a reason why some cabinet members objected to the draft, including the Jewish Edward Montagu. Weizmann wants to know as little of the Arabs as possible, for him they are of no account, at least in these early days. And his attitude to the earlier ‘colonizing Jews’ (his terms), is both patronizingly negative, and contradictory. In his earliest reference to Arabs he writes (page 162) of the Jewish ‘young men and women who had come out of Russia … competing by superior intelligence and organization, with the cheaper Arab labour.’ Only mentioned in passing even when they are a ‘problem’, Weizmann’s attitude to Arabs is typically Western patronizing arrogance. What has changed?