What was the situation on the eve of World War I?
|World War I dramatically altered conditions of European Jewry and control over Eretz Yisrael. The war had a devastating effect on the welfare of millions of European Jews. At the same time, the war led to the British expulsion of the Ottoman Turks as rulers over their province of Palestine, a drive that Jews supported. In the war, the Ottoman empire aligned with Germany against France and Britain. The war also gave Britain the excuse to depose the Egyptian Khedive, Abbas Hilmy, and to create a British protectorate there.On the eve of World War I, the anticipated break-up of the enfeebled Ottoman Empire raised hopes among both Zionists and Arab nationalists. The Zionists hoped to attain support from one of the Great Powers for increased Jewish immigration and eventual sovereignty in Palestine, whereas the Arab nationalists wanted an independent Arab state covering all the Ottoman Arab domains.
From a purely demographic standpoint, the Zionist argument was not very strong–in 1914 they comprised only 12 percent of the total population of Palestine (including both sides of the Jordan River). The nationalist ideal, however, was weak among the Arabs, and even among articulate Arabs competing visions of Arab nationalism–Islamic, pan-Arab, and statism–inhibited coordinated efforts to achieve independence.A major asset to Zionism was that its chief spokesman, Chaim Weizmann, was an astute statesman and a scientist widely respected in Britain and he was well versed in European diplomacy. Weizmann understood better than the Arab leaders at the time that the future map of the Middle East would be determined less by the desires of its inhabitants than by Great Power rivalries, European strategic thinking, and domestic British politics. Britain, in possession of the Suez Canal and playing a dominant role in India and Egypt, attached great strategic importance to the region. British Middle East policy, however, espoused conflicting objectives, and as a result London became involved in contradictory negotiations concerning the fate of the region, making promises to both the Arabs and to the Jews as well as entering into a secret arrangement (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) with the French.
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