The Ottoman Balfour Declaration

As Martin Kramer has explained in Mosaic, the Balfour Declaration was not a unilateral move by Britain but was supported by an international consensus of the Western Allies then fighting in World War I. What’s more, writes Wolfgang Schwanitz, the Jewish claim to the land of Israel also came to be supported by the Ottoman empire, which was then fighting with Germany against the Allies. The Ottoman grand vizier, Talaat Pasha, issued an official statement lifting all restrictions on Jewish immigration to Ottoman-controlled Palestine and expressing his “sympathies for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center” there. Although the statement was a dead letter, delivered eight months after the British seizure of Palestine and less than three months before Istanbul surrendered, Schwanitz argues that it should nonetheless be taken seriously:

Talaat’s . . . statement was extraordinary in two key respects: the religious and the national. On the former level, the pledge to treat Palestine’s Jewish community on the basis of “complete equality with the other elements of the population” ran counter to the sociopolitical order of things underpinning [the Ottoman empire], whereby political power was vested with the Muslim majority while non-Muslim minorities were tolerated subjects (or dhimmis), who enjoyed protection and autonomy in the practice of their religious affairs yet were legally, institutionally, and socially inferior to their Muslim rulers.

Likewise, the sympathetic allusion to “the Jewish nation,” let alone to the creation of a “Jewish national center in Palestine,” was antithetical to the [general Muslim] perception of Jews as a religious community rather than a national group. . . .

[While] it is possible that Talaat knew full well that he would never have to implement the declaration, in view of Russia’s March 1918 departure from the war on highly favorable terms to the Triple Alliance (German-Austrian-Ottoman), and the [initial success of the] spring 1918 German offensive in Western Europe, the outcome of the war remained undecided for some time.

Scwhanitz goes on to argue that German pressure above all secured this declaration, suggesting that yet another European power joined in the international consensus on Zionism.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Balfour Declaration, Germany, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Ottoman Empire, World War I

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden