The Balfour Declaration was immediately followed by another spectacular agreement – but this time between the Jewish and Arab worlds. The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement was a landmark achievement in negotiation and fostering mutual understanding and friendship between two peoples often seen as arch enemies.
A mover and shaker in his time and a master negotiator and influencer, Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi was proclaimed King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria in 1920 and became King of Iraq from 1921 to 1933. He was the third son of Hussein bin Ali, the Grand Sharif of Mecca who also proclaimed himself King of the Arab lands in 1916.
Faisal met Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization in 1918 in Syria, to begin discussion on a mutual agreement involving the return of Jewish peoples to their homeland in Palestine. As a result, on January 4th, 1919, the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement was born which outlined Arab-Jewish cooperation, just days before the opening of the Paris Peace Conference.
The end of World War One gave opportunity for peacemaking. Major decisions were made including the creation of the League of Nations; treaties with the defeated states and awarding of German and Ottoman lands as “mandates” primarily to Britain and France. This naturally paved the way for an historic agreement between the Arab and Jewish social and political movements of the time.
Faisal conditionally accepted the Balfour Declaration and reportedly said: “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 Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper…we wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home…my people 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 civilized peoples of the world.”
Faisal had his own ambitions and certainly was leveraging British support for a Jewish homeland for his own cause. His position changed over time, and certainly the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement had very little chance of success – despite perhaps hope and political leverage on either side. In the end, however, the Balfour Declaration gave momentum to what might have been one of the first peace overtures between the Jews and the Arabs after the First World War (other than Theodor Herzl’s attempt with the Ottomans).
Still, as we commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and agreements which followed, Jewish historical right to the land of Israel is Sacrosanct.