Churchill and Israel

Churchill and Israel

A recent arti­cle declares: “Churchill, a Zion­ist, was the first politi­cian to call for the cre­ation of  Israel in 1905.” Where exact­ly did he say that? —G.H., New York City

Churchill was cer­tain­ly pro-Zion­ist by 1905, but I can find no pub­lic state­ment call­ing for an inde­pen­dent Israel before her actu­al inde­pen­dence in 1948. Until then he called for a “Jew­ish Nation­al Home,” believ­ing, with what cyn­ics might call incur­able opti­mism, that Arabs and Jews in Pales­tine could coex­ist peace­ful­ly, point­ing to the ben­e­fits the Jews had brought in the form of irri­ga­tion and horticulture. 

In 1921, when set­ting up the bor­ders of the mod­ern Mid­dle East, Churchill opt­ed not for an inde­pen­dent Israel but what he called a “Jew­ish Nation­al Home” with­in Britain’s Pales­tine Man­date, gen­er­al­ly coin­cid­ing with what is now Israel. The rest of the Pales­tine Man­date became the Arab state of Jor­dan. To a del­e­ga­tion of Pales­tin­ian Arabs in Jerusalem on 28 March 1921 Churchill declared:

Palestine (Wikipedia Commons)
Pales­tine (Wikipedia Commons)

…it is man­i­fest­ly right that the Jews, who are scat­tered all over the world, should have a nation­al cen­tre and a Nation­al Home where some of them may be reunit­ed. And where else could that be but in this land of Pales­tine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been inti­mate­ly and pro­found­ly asso­ci­at­ed? (Churchill by Him­self, 175)

Zion­ist leader Chaim Weiz­mann (wear­ing Arab head­dress as a sign of friend­ship) with then-Emir Feisal in Syr­ia. (Wikipedia Commons)

Churchill’s impres­sive achieve­ment at that time was to con­vince two Arab poten­tates, King Abdul­lah in Jor­dan and King Feisal in Iraq, to tol­er­ate a Jew­ish Home­land in their midst. This sit­u­a­tion pre­vailed until Britain gave up the Pales­tine Man­date after World War II, which led to the 1948 war in which Israel secured independence.

Speak­ing in the House of Com­mons on 10 Decem­ber 1948, Churchill regret­ted that Britain and the West had lost the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a per­ma­nent set­tle­ment. This was his first admis­sion that I could find that he con­sid­ered par­ti­tion and an inde­pen­dent Israel before the event—albeit in hindsight:

I always had in my mind the hope that the whole ques­tion of the Mid­dle East might have been set­tled on the largest scale on the mor­row of vic­to­ry and that an Arab Con­fed­er­a­tion, com­pris­ing three or four Arab States—Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, Tran­sjor­da­nia, Syr­ia and the Lebanon—however grouped, pos­si­bly unit­ed amongst them­selves, and one Jew­ish State, might have been set up, which would have giv­en peace and uni­ty through­out the whole vast scene of the Mid­dle East. As to whether so large a pol­i­cy could have been car­ried into being I can­not be sure, but a set­tle­ment of the Pales­tine ques­tion on the basis of par­ti­tion would cer­tain­ly have been attempt­ed, in the clos­est pos­si­ble asso­ci­a­tion with the Unit­ed States and in per­son­al con­tact with the Pres­i­dent, by any Gov­ern­ment of which I had been the head. But all this oppor­tu­ni­ty was lost. (Churchill by Him­self, 176-77)

Churchill sup­port­ed Israel, declar­ing in the House of Com­mons on 26 Jan­u­ary 1949: “…the com­ing into being of a Jew­ish State in Pales­tine is an event in world his­to­ry to be viewed in the per­spec­tive, not of a gen­er­a­tion or a cen­tu­ry, but in the per­spec­tive of a thou­sand, two thou­sand or even three thou­sand years.” (Churchill by Him­self, 175)

But on 30 July 1951 he again deplored post-World War II British poli­cies, which, he said, had “led to the wind­ing up of our affairs in Pales­tine in such a way as to earn almost in equal degree the hatred of the Arabs and the Jews.”  (Churchill by Him­self, 439).

Almost every­one who still has hope for Churchill’s opti­mism accepts a “two state solu­tion” for Palestine/Israel, but the exis­tence of two sep­a­rate Pales­tin­ian enti­ties, Gaza and the West Bank, sub­di­vides the Arab pop­u­la­tion. Any solu­tion with a decent chance of suc­cess must con­tem­plate a shift of peo­ples, in which one pop­u­la­tion or anoth­er is phys­i­cal­ly moved to cre­ate a con­tigu­ous Arab state. And nobody seems to want to grasp that net­tle. Even in 1948, Churchill rec­og­nized that it would not be easy.

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