1915: Hussein McMahon Correspondence


Britain Promises Palestine to the Arabs in Exchange for Arabs Entering WWI to Fight the Ottomans

The Hussein-McMahon Correspondence took place between July 1915 and March 1916, between Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, and Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt. 

The correspondence centered on the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire and British support for it, with discussions about the post-war recognition and independence of an Arab state in exchange for Arab support against the Ottomans. Part of the promised homeland included Palestine.

The British would later claim that they intended to exclude Palestine from the land promised to the Arabs.

The United Nations does not see there being much controversy. Palestine was part of the land promised by Britain to the Arabs.

Eventually, and in secret, the British would come to agree. “The whole of Palestine … lies within the limits which His Majesty’s Government have pledged themselves to Sherif Husain that they will recognize and uphold the independence of the Arabs.”

The British kept this conclusion secret, however, because it interfered with what they later did in the Balfour Declaration, which promised the Zionists a homeland in territory previously promised to the Arabs, and the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided up the rest of the land promised to the Arabs between Britain and France.

In 1938, yet another British committee, trying to figure out whether or not the Palestinians had a legitimate grievance and claim to Palestine, concluded yet again that they did, but kept this information secret because in public they had committed to giving the land to the Zionists instead.

Years later, in 1968, a year after Israel declared war on Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and took over Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai, the British Foreign Office revisited the Hussein McMahon Correspondence one more time, trying to figure out just how badly they screwed up the geopolitical situation for the entire globe.

“… as I interpret the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, Palestine had not been excepted by the British Government from the area in which they had pledged themselves to King Hussein to recognize and support Arab independence. The Palestinian Arabs could therefore reasonably assume that Britain was pledged to prepare Palestine for becoming an independent Arab state.” wrote Arnold J. Toynbee for the British Foreign Office.

The United Nations states “These acknowledgements that the British Government had not possessed the right ‘to dispose of Palestine’ appeared decades after the commitments to the Arabs not only had been infringed by the Sykes-Picot agreement but, in disregard of the inherent rights and the wishes of the Palestinian people, the British Government had given Zionist leaders separate assurances regarding the establishment of a ‘national home for the Jewish people in Palestine’, an undertaking that sowed the seeds of prolonged conflict in Palestine.

That’s pretty unequivocal. The Hussein McMahon Correspondence promised the Arabs Palestine in exchange for them fighting the Ottoman Empire, and then the British Government promised the same territory to the Zionists and divided up the rest with France. The Palestinian grievance is real, and Britain never had the legal right to give the land to the Zionists.

The British would publicly claim that they were only granting to the Arabs territory in which nobody else had any claims. That meant the Arabian Peninsula, and possibly Jordan. But it excluded Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Lebanon because, according to the British, the French had claims to Lebanon and Syria due to Christians in the region, and Palestinian Arabs had a claim to Palestine, and also zionists were making claims to Palestine. Hence, according to the British, subsequent agreements like the Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France and the Balfour Declaration between Britain and the zionists did not contradict the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence but supplemented it by articulating those competing claims.