On 3 January 1919, Zionist Organization President Chaim Weizmann and Emir Faisal ibn Hussein, head of the Arab delegation to the Versailles peace conference, signed the Faisal – Weizmann Agreement, which noted the importance of mutual respect between Arabs and Jews and outlined several agreed-upon provisions for the future of Palestine.
The agreement came less than two years after the Balfour Declaration, a 67-word letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the first time such international recognition was granted. The letter, well known for its deliberate ambiguity, led to many questions such as: What are the differences between a national home and a state? What territory was specifically referred to in the Declaration’s use of the word Palestine? When would this promise be carried out?
Nevertheless, amid growing discontent among both Zionists and Arab nationalists regarding the future of Palestine following World War I and the national aspirations of both sides, the two leaders met at the Paris Peace Conference.
Under the terms of the Faisal–Weizmann Agreement, the Arabs would encourage Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine, while Weizmann expressed his support for an independent Arab state, in which Jews would assist in developing natural resources and establishing a growing economy. Freedom of religion and worship in Palestine was set forth as a fundamental principle that “shall forever be allowed,” and the document stipulated that Muslim holy sites would be under Muslim control.
The preamble also called on the two leaders to be mindful “of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people... realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their natural aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine.”
Before signing the agreement, Faisal added a caveat, conditioning its formal implementation on Britain fullfilling its wartime promises to the Arabs: “If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of January 4, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement.”
After signing the agreement, Faisal expressed his thoughts on the Zionist movement to Professor Felix Frankfurter, writing, “We Arabs…look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper….[W]e wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home….Myforward to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilized peoples of the world.”
The Faisal–Weizmann agreement, however, would never come to fruition, as the British and French had already agreed to the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, which divided the Middle East between their own spheres of influence. After the League of Nations divided the formerly Ottoman-controlled Middle East under the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Faisal formally repudiated the Faisal–Weizmann Agreement
Although historic, the Faisal–Weizmann agreement has become a forgotten footnote to the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.