Last updated on: 5/20/2008 3:29:00 PM PST

Was Palestine Included in the Territory Designated for Arab Control in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Harry B. Ellis, the late Foreign Correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, in his 1957 book titled Israel and the Middle East wrote the following:

"To this day Britain and the Arabs disagree as to whether or not Palestine was included within the area of Arab independence acknowledged by the McMahon correspondence. The Arabs insist that it was, pointing out that not once did Sir Henry mention the Sanjaq of Jerusalem and the Vilayet of Beirut -- comprising Palestine -- as being excluded from the promised Arab state. For the Arabs this view is buttressed by the fact that in other cases McMahon took care to name each of the districts singled out for British reservations.

The closest McMahon came to mentioning Palestine was when he said that the portion of Syria to be excluded was within 'the two Vilayets of Aleppo and Beirut.' The Arabs argue that the words 'and the Sanjaq of Jerusalem' would have been added had Sir Henry had Palestine in mind. The Arabs further point out that in their wartime propaganda to win the Arabs to their side, the British specifically excluded only Lebanon from the area to enjoy Arab freedom.

The British, for their part, contended after the war that Palestine had been excluded by implication from the Arab state, when McMahon had singled out those 'portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo.' The Arabs rebut that these parts of Syria had been excluded because of French interests, whereas later Britain would not concede to France that the latter had special rights in Palestine."

1957 - Harry B. Ellis 

PRO (yes)

Benny Morris, PhD, Professor of History at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, in his 2001 book titled Righteous Victims, wrote the following:

"The British, including McMahon, and the Zionists maintained that he [McMahon] had implicitly included Palestine in the areas 'west' of Damascus excluded from prospective Arab rule, though a minority among British officials (Dr. Arnold Toynbee of the Foreign Office Political Intelligence Department for one) held that McMahon had in fact earmarked Palestine as part of the Arab state.

The Arabs argued that, as Palestine was not to the west but to the southwest of Damascus, and as it had not been explicitly excluded, it was to be part of the Arab state. On balance it appears that they were right. McMahon had specifically set aside for 'non-Arab' rule Lebanon and the northwestern Syrian coastal regions."

2003 - Benny Morris, PhD 

Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr., PhD, Professor Emeritus of Middle East History at Penn State Univertisy, in his 1999 book titled A Concise History of the Middle East, wrote the following:

"One of the toughest issues in modern Middle East history is to figure out whether McMahon intended to exclude only what has become Lebanon, a partly Christian region that France coveted, or also Palestine, in which some Jews hoped to rebuild their ancient homeland. Lebanon lies more directly to the west of Damascus and those other Syrian cities than does what we call Israel. The Arabs argue, therefore, that Britain promised Palestine to them. But if the letter referred to the province of Syria (of which Damascus was the capital), then McMahon meant to exclude from Arab rule what is now Israel and was then partly under a governor in Jerusalem. Not only the Zionists (or Jewish nationalists) but also the British government after 1918, and even McMahon himself, believed that he had never promised Palestine to the Arabs. In my judgment, given that Britain cared more in 1915 about keeping its French connection than about reserving Palestine for the Jews, the area excluded from Arab rule in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence was Lebanon. Only later would Jewish claims to Palestine become the main issue."

1999 - Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr., PhD 

CON (no)

Henry McMahon, former British High Commissioner, in a 1922 letter to Sir John Shuckburgh of the British Colonial Office wrote the following:

"It was my intention to exclude Palestine from independent Arabia, and I hoped that I had so worded the letter as to make this sufficiently clear for all practical purposes. My reasons for restricting myself to specific mention of Damascus, Hama, Homs and Aleppo in that connection in my letter were: 1) that these were places to which the Arabs attached vital importance and 2) that there was no place I could think of at the time of sufficient importance for purposes of definition further South of the above. It was as fully my intention to exclude Palestine as it was to exclude the more Northern coastal tracts of Syria."

1922 - Henry McMahon 

Gerald M. Adler, former Adjunct Professor of Law, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, in a 2005 draft of his handbook of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wrote:

"Hussein was made aware throughout the correspondence that Britain had not conceded its interests in Palestine. Hussein and McMahon continued the bargaining process over territory, which never culminated in an official agreement such as Britain had concluded with its other Arabian allies. The final reference in the correspondence to Hussein’s territorial ambitions is noted in a letter from McMahon on January 25, 1916, in which he accepted Hussein’s temporary willingness to defer his claims to the 'northern parts and their coasts' as a gesture of goodwill so as not to affect the Anglo-French prosecution of the war. These claims were in fact never finally accepted - military developments and Anglo-French political bargaining, overtook the situation."

2005 - Gerald M. Adler, LLM, JSD