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Kushner should be ignored, but not this US plan from 100 years ago

5 37 0
04.07.2019

Almost exactly a hundred years ago, the president of the United States was searching for a “deal of the century” in the Middle East. Christian academic Henry King of Oberlin College was no Jared Kushner. Neither he nor the industrialist Charles Crane, whose family got rich making toilets in Chicago, were sons-in-law of the American president. But Woodrow Wilson sent them on an ambitious 1919 tour across the ruins of the Ottoman Empire to find out what could be done for the Muslim and Christian Arabs and the Jews of the Middle East – and the Turks and the Armenians and the Greeks.

A hundred years ago, they reported back to Washington with a series of recommendations which would cast dark shadows for us, even today.

Unlike Kushner and the current Zionist US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, they didn’t swan into the region to talk to the richest Arabs they could find – nor did the Jews and Arabs of Palestine fail to turn up to meet them. Far from it. They wanted to know if president Wilson’s principle of national self-determination might be applied to the Holy Land.

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Messers King and Crane dutifully slogged over the mountains and river-beds of the midsummer Middle East in 1919, travelled along old railtracks and horse-trails and sailed the Mediterranean coast. They visited 36 cities and towns – including Jerusalem, Jaffa, Damascus, Beirut, Tripoli, Homs, Hama and Aleppo – heard directly from delegations from 1,520 villages, and received 1,863 petitions.

They fell off horses, were seasick on their voyages, ate at the table of British governors and of King Feisal. In the latter’s palace, they wore Arab clothes and embarked on a five course meal from one giant steaming bowl – and they finally produced a report which Wilson was too ill to read and which was then suppressed by a spineless state department.

The US state department today, of course, has neither spine, nor skull nor any other bodily form of existence. Trump long ago eviscerated the poor old thing. Even the ex-secretary of state had to admit that Kushner kept him in the dark. But Wilson trusted King and Crane and their assistants, even though they were all that was left of an international commission which was supposed to contain diplomats from Britain and France. Alas, Balfour and the Sykes-Picot agreement had already doomed the King-Crane commission before they set off by train from Paris through the Balkans to Constantinople.

And it is a sign of the times – of our times – that while Kushner and Trump himself are trumpeting their pitiful “deal of the century” to destroy any future Palestine in an ocean of Gulf Arab dollars, not a single American nor European nor Arab soul – not a remotely interested Muslim, not one Israeli – has remembered that this is the 100th anniversary of the most intensive Western enquiry ever made into what the people who actually live in the Middle East want for their future. Isn’t this worth just a small commemoration in this grubby year of betrayal and danger in the Middle East?

For one of the commission’s conclusions – and Arab scholars have confirmed its veracity – was that most of the people of the Middle East region wanted to live under an American mandate. In other words, most trusted the US above all other Western powers (they hated the French but also distrusted the British) to protect their unitary nation as it moved towards independence. Never was so much faith placed by the Arabs in the good name of the US – never had so much been invested in America’s demands for self-determination – before or........

© Independent