Committee Report on the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence
Annex D

(March 1939)


(See Paragraph 8)

Royal Egyptian Embassy, London.
Office of the Secretary-General,
Arab Delegations to the Palestine conference.

27th February 1939.


1. The Arab representatives on the Committee appointed to discuss the McMahon Correspondence have listened with the greatest interest to the statement made by the Lord Chancellor at the second meeting of the Committee on the 24th February, 1939 and have most carefully read the written memorandum of the same date, entitled "The McMahon-Husain Correspondence" (Annex B), which was communicated to them at the close of that meeting.

2. The Arab representatives wish to pay a sincere tribute to the painstaking care with which the Lord Chancellor has gone into me question, and to express their great gratification at finding that, in whatsoever degree his conclusions may differ from theirs in the interpretation of the Correspondence, he agrees with them in recognising the importance of certain other pledges made by Great Britain to the Arabs during the War. In this connexion, it is a matter of particular satisfaction to them that the Lord Chancellor should have seen fit to stress the significance of the message delivered to King Husain by Commander Hngar'h in January 1918 and of the Anglo-French Declaration of November 1918.

3. At the same time the Arab representatives find, to their great surprise and regret, that the Lord Chancellor takes the view that Palestine was excluded from the area in which Great Britain pledged herself in the McMahon Correspondence to recognise and support independent Arab Governments. Their careful examination of the statement and the memorandum under reference has led them to the conclusion that there may be some misapprehension in the Lord Chancellor's mind as to the exact purport of a correspondence which was entirely exchanged in Arabic. In the hope of removing those misapprehensions, one of the Arab representatives has conferred with the expert delegated by His Majesty's Government and his communicated to him a list of the errors of translation and other discrepancies between the Arabic, text and the official English version. In the hope of dispelling possible misapprehensions sill more fully, the Arab representatives feel it their duty to submit certain supplementary observations.

4. With a view to achieving greater clarity, the distinction drawn by the Lord Chancellor between the words of the Correspondence itself on the one hand, and, on the other, the surrounding circumstances will here be observed. The Arab representatives propose therefore to deal with those two aspect of the question in the order named, and to invite Sir Michael McDonnell, former Chief Justice of Palestine, who has very kindly consented to help them with his advice on the legal aspects of the question before the Committee, to make a statement.

5. On the subject of the surrounding circumstances, the Arab representatives have the following observations to offer.

6. In paragraph 7 of his memorandum, the Lord Chancellor states that, in view of the sacred character of Palestine, "Great Britain clearly had no right and no authority in 1915 to say that if the Allies succeeded in wresting from the Ottoman Empire a land of such importance to the Christian world they would hand it over to the rule of another independent Moslem Power without first obtaining every kind of guarantee whereby the Christian and Jewish Holy Places should be protected and free access to them allowed, at least as fully and freely as Ottoman times." From that, His Lordship goes on to conclude that it was inconceivable that Sir Henry McMahon should have intended to give the Sharif an unconditional promise the Palestine was to have been included in the area of Arab independence. The Lord Chancellor then proceeds to uphold the conclusion in the following words: "The fact that the question of guarantees was not even mentioned makes it clear beyond all doubt that Sir Henry McMahon never supposed for a moment that his letter would be read as including Palestine in the area."

7. The Arab representatives submit, with all respect, that the conclusion rests on a substantial misapprehension of the position. In the first place, the safety of, and the freedom of access to, the Holy Places were expressly stipulated for a certain ad hoc provisions of the Treaty of Berlin (1878) which enjoyed the widest international recognition, including that Turkey, and which would have been automatically made binding on any Power that were to succeed to the Ottoman sovereignty in Palestine. In the second place, the text of the Correspondence itself shows clearly that the future independent Arab Governments were intended by both parties to have the benefit of British advice and the assistance of British officials in the establishment of a sound system of administration and this alone was sufficient guarantee that the Holy Place stood in no danger whatever from the Arab governments-to-be: In the third place, Sir Henry McMahon imposes a special stipulation in regard to the Holy Places, when he says, in his note of the 24th October, 1915, that " Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise their inviolability "or, alternatively, in a more literal translation of the Arabic text, "Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise the obligation of preserving them from aggression."

8. The Arab representatives are at a loss to understand what the Lord Chancellor had in mind when he said, in reference to the Holy Places, that "the question of guarantees was not even mentioned." Not only were the protection of and the freedom of access to the Holy Places implicit in any international compact in respect of Palestine; but also, Sir Henry McMahon went out of his way to stipulate a specific and emphatic guarantee which the Sharif never for one moment objected to or questioned. And the fact that Sir Henry McMahon found it advisable to insert such a stipulation is surely conclusive proof that he had Palestine in mind when he gave that pledge to the Sharif Husain.

9. The Arab representatives fully agree with the Lord Chancellor when he says that "it is surely reasonable to believe that the Sharif of Mecca, who showed such legitimate concern for the Moslem Holy Places of the Hejaz, must have understood the strength of Christian sentiment on this point, and realised that no British official could possibly undertake to assign Palestine to another Moslem State without making the most express reservations with regard to the Christian Holy Places." That the Sharif Husain understood and respected Christian and Jewish sentiment with regard to the Holy Places of Palestine is clear not only from the fact that he never questioned Sir Henry McMahon's stipulation but also from his numerous declarations, and in particular those he made to Commander Hogarth, about the Arab readiness to ensure at all times the safety of and the freedom of access to the Holy Places of all three faiths.

10. In paragraph 9 of his memorandum, the Lord Chancellor speaks of the importance of Haifa and other ports on the Palestinian coast from the British point of view, and states that it must have been apparent to any informed observer that Great Britain would require guarantees precluding the use of Palestinian territory in general and of the port of Haifa in particular for future attacks on Egyptian territory. Here again, be it said in all respect, the Lord Chancellor appears to have overlooked the fact that the Sharif Husain's proposals envisaged a military alliance to be entered into between Great Britain and the future independent Arab Government of Palestine, and that Sir Henry McMahon, on his side, had further stipulated that European advisers and officials required in the future Arab State should be exclusively British.

11. In paragraph 33 of his memorandum, the Lord Chancellor says: "Now, if there is anything certain in this controversy it is that Great Britain was not free in October 1915 to act in Palestine without regard to French interest." He goes on to say that although it may be true that His Majesty's Government were anxious to restrict the French claims, it does not follow that they were free to do so, for, the Lord Chancellor adds, "there is a great difference between desiring an object and attaining it".

The Arab representatives wish to submit that the Lord Chancellor's contention is untenable. Whether or not the British Government were in fact free to act in relation to Palestine without regard to the French claims, it is quite clear from the evidence referred to by the Lord Chancellor that they had desired, even as far back as 1915, to withdraw Palestine from the area in which the French claims might be recognised. The available evidence points unmistakably towards that conclusion, which is also borne out by the extract* from the report of the Committee presided over by Sir Maurice de Bunsen, which the Lord Chancellor has so kindly communicated.

12. The observation that there is a great difference between desiring an object and attaining it, although obviously true, is beside the point. The point is that the British Government desired to exclude Palestine from the sphere of future French influence and were trying in the McMahon Correspondence to pave the way for the attainment of that object. There is a great difference between attaining an object and trying to attain it. The contention of the Arab representatives is that the British Government, in their desire to resist the French claim to Palestine as distinct from the rest of Syria, tried to attain the object of that desire in successive steps: first, by abstaining from making any mention of Palestine when they enumerated (in Sir Henry McMahon's note of October 24, 1915) those portions of Syria which were to be reserved for the sake of French interests; then, after the note had been actually despatched, by inviting French representatives to come to London and trying to induce them to abandon France's claim to Palestine; later still, in 1916, by insisting on provision being made in the Sykes-Picot Agreement for the internationalization of Palestine; and lastly, at the end of the War, by asking the French point-blank to assent to a British Mandate in Palestine.

13. That is the historical sequence of events which occurred between the formulation of the British desire in 1915 and the attainment of it in 1919. And Sir Henry McMahon's note of October 24, 1915, was but the first of a series of steps by which the British Government tried to attain the object of their desire to withdraw Palestine from the area of future French influence with a view ultimately to bringing it into the sphere of future British influence.

* See Annex J.

14. In paragraph jg of his memorandum, the Lord Chancellor calls attention to the fact that the Sykes-Picot Agreement provided for consultation with the Sharif in regard to the form of the administration to be ultimately established in Palestine; and he argues from that that "it is difficult to see how the Agreement can fairly be represented as a breach of faith with the Sharif".

The Agreement constituted a breach of faith for several reasons one of which was that Palestine had previously been included in the area of Arab independence. The fact that the British Government kept the Sharif in ignorance of it seems to indicate that; they had a bad conscience about it. When he heard of it accidentally eighteen months after its conclusion and protest d to the British Government, they replied with an evasion and tried, in two messages which have since been made public, to mislead him into believing that no such agreement had ever been concluded.

15. Other instances could be adduced, both from the Lord Chancellor memorandum and from his oral statement as summarised in the Record of the Second Meeting (February 24, 1939) which give the Arab representatives the impression that His Lordship could not have been fully informed as to the facts when he made those statements and comments.

One notable example is the passage in which he expressed his conviction that, in drawing up the Balfour Declaration, Mr. Balfour did not think he was doing anything that would involve a Jewish claim to an independent State in Palestine. It is none the less a historical fact that in drawing up the Balfour Declaration, Mr. Balfour did have a future Jewish State in Palestine definitely in mind. That fact is well known to those who were in touch with Mr. Balfour at the time. It was also made public by Mr. Lloyd George himself, who was Prime Minister at the time and who, in the evidence he gave before the Palestine Roy:d Commission, spoke as follows:

"The idea was, and this was the interpretation put upon it at the time, that a Jewish State was not to be set up immediately by the Peace Treaty without reference to the wishes of the. majority of the inhabitants. On the other hand, it was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them by the idea of a national home and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish Commonwealth."*

* Report of the Palestine Royal Commission, Cmd. 5479, 1939, Chapter II, paragraph 20.

16. Thus the Balfour Declaration, while it promised no more than a National Home—whatever that phrase may mean—was, in the minds of Mr. Lloyd George and his colleagues, to serve as a cloak behind which the Zionists were to be allowed and helped to establish a Jewish majority and a Jewish State in Palestine. That was the real purpose of the Balfour Declaration, as revealed by no less an authority than Mr. Lloyd George; and meanwhile, Commander Hogarth, under instructions from the British Government, was assuring King Husain that the settlement of Jews foreshadowed in the Balfour Declaration did not,mean, and would not be allowed to mean, any interference with the political and economic freedom of the Arab population in Palestine.

17. Towards the end of his statement, the Lord Chancellor said that he must in any case repudiate strongly any charge of bad faith on the part of His Majesty's Government or their predecessors. Nothing had been said by the Arab representatives, either in the memorandum submitted on the 23rd February or in their oral observations about the bad faith of the present or previous Governments. They thought it preferable to avoid all recrimination and to confine the discussion to the matter immediately before the Committee, namely that of an objective examination of the meaning and scope of the pledges contained in the McMahon Correspondence. In their opinion, it would serve no useful purpose to enter into a protracted discussion of the ethics of wartime politics and expedients, but rather to confine themselves to the more fruitful task of elucidating the truth. They derive particular encouragement from the jealous regard for the good name of His Majesty's Government which the Lord Chancellor has shown, and they venture to hope that he will reconsider his conclusions in the light of their observations and of the facts brought to light in the present memorandum.

18. In particular, the Arab representatives wish to invite His Lordship's attention to the desirability of his reconsidering the comments he made upon the late Lord Grey's speech in the House of Lords on the 27th March, 1923. In the Lord Chancellor's view, Lord Grey's speech was based on a complete misunderstanding of the Balfour Declaration. This is scarcely fair to Lord Grey. The remarks he made in his speech show that he possessed real and intimate knowledge of what was in Mr. Lloyd George's mind with regard to a future Jewish Common-wealth in Palestine.

19. The present memorandum does not attempt to answer all the points raised by the Lord Chancellor, but only those in which it has seemed to the Arab representatives that certain aspects of the "surrounding circumstances" had escaped His Lordship's attention. It is not their desire to pass moral judgments on the conduct of Allied policy during the War, but rather to urge that, if mistakes and inconsistencies did occur in the heat of war, the proper course now, from the point of view of Great Britain's good- name and of peace in Palestine, is to admit the mistakes and inconsistencies and then proceed to examine how and to what extent they can be reconciled. In the words of Lord Grey: "It would be very desirable, from the point of view of honour, that all these various pledges should be set out side by side, and then, I think, the most honourable thing would be to look at them fairly, see what inconsistencies there are between them, and, having regard to the nature of each pledge and the date at which it was given, with all the facts before us, consider what is the fair thing to be done." Those are the words of the eminent statesman under whose instructions the McMahon pledges were issued; and the advice he tendered to the Government on that occasion is precisely what the Arab representatives are now urging upon His Majesty's Government.

(Signed) G. ANTONIUS,

Secretary-General of the Arab Delegations.