HC Deb 11 July 1922 vol 156 cc1032-5

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the continual misinterpretations of our pledges to the Arabs, he will publish the letter of 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon to the Sheriff of Mecca in full or the whole correspondence of which that letter formed one item?


No, Sir; it would not be in the public interest to publish one or all of the documents comprising the long and inconclusive correspondence that took place with the Sheriff of Mecca in 1915–16. I am dealing with the question of the alleged pledges to the Arabs in my reply to the hon. Member for North Stafford.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what pledges, if any, were made to the Palestine Arabs in the year 1915; whether the Sykes-Picot agreement, negotiated between the Governments of France and Great Britain before the Arabs entered the War as Allies, provided that in the event of Allied victory Palestine west of the Jordan was to be a separate international State with the exception of Haifa, which was to be British territory; and whether the Balfour declaration of November, 1917, was preceded by any pledges or promises regarding the future of Palestine?


No pledges were made to the Palestine Arabs in 1915. An undertaking was given to the Sheriff of Mecca that His Majesty's Government would recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within certain territorial limits, which specifically excluded the districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and the portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Horns, Hama and Aleppo. It was also stipulated that the undertaking applied only to those portions of the territories concerned in which Great Britain was free to act without detriment to the interests of her Allies. His Majesty's Government have always regarded and continue to regard Palestine as excluded by these provisos from the scope of their undertaking. This is clear from the fact, to which the hon. Member refers, that in the following year they concluded an agreement with the French and Russian Governments under which Palestine was to receive special treatment.

So far as I am aware, the first suggestion that Palestine was included in the area within which His Majesty's Government promised to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs was made by the Emir Feisal, now King of Iraq, at a conversation held in the Foreign Office on the 20th January, 1921, more than five years after the conclusion of the correspondence on which the claim was based. On that occasion the point of view of His Majesty's Government was explained to the Emir, who expressed himself as prepared to accept the statement that it had been the intention of His Majesty's Government to exclude Palestine.

When I assumed responsibility for Middle Eastern affairs, I went carefully into the correspondence referred to, and my reading of it is the same as that of the Foreign Office, as was recently stated in the declaration of British policy in Palestine which has been published and laid before the House. I am quite satisfied that it was as fully the intention of His Majesty's Government to exclude Palestine from the area of Arab independence as it was to exclude the more northern coastal tracts of Syria.


In view of the many statements that have been made on all sides about this correspondence, will the right hon. Gentleman consider again the desirability of publishing the correspondence, and putting an end, once and for all, to embarrassment and doubt?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, confident as he is of the view of His Majesty's Government, he is at all certain that the other party to the negotiations and correspondence really thought the same thing, and whether it has not been a bond fide statement on the part of King Hussein and his advisers?


I do not think that is so. At any rate, Sir Henry McMahon was perfectly clear in his indication of what was intended at the time. I am perfectly ready to place his opinion on public record.


Does not the right hon. Gentleman now say that this correspondence was inconclusive, and that King Hussein came in as one of the Allies before the correspondence was completed, or any real definite undertaking was actually signed as between the Treaty-making parties?


That is so.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any objection to the correspondence being published, other than its being against the public interest?


If the hon. Member had been in his place when an earlier Question was answered, he would have heard that we did not think that the publication of the correspondence was desirable.

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