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:
…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)
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.