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 to the former Arab provinces of Ottoman Empire to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants regarding post-war settlement of their territories.
The commission reported that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. They determined that nearly nine-tenths of the population was emphatically against the entire Zionist program.
The King-Crane Commission warned that to subject the Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, to such a project would be a gross violation of the principle of self-determination, and of the peoples’ rights. The Commission, while expressing sympathy for the Jewish cause, recommended limitations on Jewish immigration and abandonment of the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine.
King and Cane returned home with their 40,000-word report in hand. By the time they returned, President Wilson had embarked on a speaking tour that would leave him a permanent invalid. He most likely never read the report until retiring from office. The report ended up, without official comment, in the U.S. Department of State archives.
On December 3 and 4, 1922, the New York Times published the King-Crane Report in its entirety, with an introduction by the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent, William Ellis. Based in Jerusalem and Damascus when the King-Crane Commission was making its inquiries, Ellis explained: “I witnessed enough to understand the painstaking impartiality, the tireless diligence and patience, and the American shrewdness and courage of the commission amidst pitfalls unimaginable to the Western world.”
He believed it had been suppressed for political reasons.
Crane, writing in the 1930s. expressed himself in no uncertain terms about the political reasons alluded to by Ellis: “The interests that were opposed to the report, especially the Jewish and the French, were able to persuade President Wilson that, as Americans were not going to take any future responsibility for Palestine, it was not fair that the report should be published and so it was pigeonholed in the State Department archives even though America, at the time, was the only country that had the prestige, the power and the resources to manage the array of complex challenges facing the Middle East.
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.
Sadly, it is a sign of the times that while Kushner and Trump trumpeted their pitiful “deal of the century,” to destroy any future Palestinian state, no one remembered that this is the one hundredth anniversary of the most intensive Western inquiry ever made into what the people who actually lived in the Middle East wanted for their future.
The tragedy is that no action was taken. Had someone bothered to read the report, the world would be a different place today.
I discuss both the King-Crane Commission, the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot agreement in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides. It is available for purchase here: Amazon