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Rearranging the Middle East

June 5, 2013 9:40 am 14 comments

Map of the Middle East.

British perfidy and French collusion have created a Middle East that has been unstable since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of WWI. The Arab Spring and the convulsion it created in the Middle East require a rearrangement of the boundaries drawn by the British and French following World War I.

The British government signed the McMahon-Hussein Agreement of October, 1915, with Sharif Hussein Ibn Ali of Mecca (Saudi Arabia), the Hashemite guardian of the Islamic holy places.  The agreement promised the Arabs lands liberated from Turkish Ottoman control in exchange for Arab participation in the war (WWI) against the Ottomans.  Less than a year later, in May, 1916, representatives of the British and French government reached a secret agreement known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, which was an understanding between the two powers (with Tsarist Russia assenting) on how to dismember the Ottoman Empire. Sir Mark Sykes and Georges Picot reached a deal that would divide the Ottoman held Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine.  The maps drawn by Sykes-Picot gave the French control of Lebanon and Syria, and the Alexandretta region of Turkey.  The area around Jerusalem was to be internationalized. The British, however, demanded the Port of Haifa and Acre. The British would also go on to carve out the oil rich areas of Iraq, including Basra (Shiite southern Iraq) and Kirkuk (Kurdish northern Iraq), as well as what is today, Jordan. A straight line divided Syria and Mesopotamia, with the French slated to administer the northern part (most of today’s Syria) while the British would be taking the southern part, which meant most of today’s Iraq.

The Sykes-Picot agreement was in sharp contradiction with the earlier McMahon-Hussein Agreement.  The Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917) provided for a Jewish Homeland that was inclusive of Palestine and Jordan.  In 1922, in what amounted to another twist in British connivance, the British cut off almost 75% from what was allotted to the Jewish Homeland to create the Emirate of Trans-Jordan. Earlier, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist movement and a world renowned scientist, was instrumental in winning WWI for the British by inventing a fermentation process that allowed the British to manufacture their own liquid acetone. The British government had previously offered Uganda for Jewish settlement in what became known as the “Uganda plan.”  The majority of Zionists rejected the plan, seeking a home in their ancestral homeland of Palestine, known today as the State of Israel.

The Kurds participated in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, but failed to agree on the boundaries of Kurdistan.  In August, 1920, the British and French were present again at the Treaty of Sevres.  This treaty produced a truncated Kurdistan located on what is now Turkish territory.  It excluded, however, Kurds from Iran, the British-controlled Iraq, and French-controlled Syria.  The Treaty of Sevres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, which was essentially a peace treaty between the allies and Turkey signed on July 24, 1923.  The Kurds were excluded, forgotten by the allies, and remained stateless.

The net result of the British and French map drawings was that they had separated Arab tribes who now had clans in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, while mixing together Shiite, Sunni, Turkmen and Kurds in Iraq (for oil’s sake), and putting minority groups such as Alawis, Christians, Druze, and Kurds at the mercy of the Sunni-Arab majority in Syria.  The Mandatory powers of Britain and France are chiefly responsible for today’s Middle Eastern mayhem, particularly in their former territories of supervision, including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, where religious, ethnic, and tribal conflict is continuous, and where civil wars (Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria) have killed more people than all the Arab wars against Israel.

In a revealing November 18, 2002 interview with the New Statesman, former British (Labor Party) Foreign Minister Jack Straw, confessed that “A lot of the problems we have to deal with now are a consequence of our colonial past.” Straw added that, “There is hardly a country (in the Middle East)…The odd lines for Iraq’s borders were drawn by Brits.” He continued, “The Balfour Declaration, and the contradictory assurances which were being given to (Arabs) Palestinians in private at the same time given to Israelis (Jews).  Again, an interesting history for us, but not an entirely honorable one…”

With a raging civil war in Syria that has cost the lives of 100,000, the ongoing conflict in Iraq between the Shiites and Sunni Muslims, and while the Kurds in Northern Iraq are consolidating their free state of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, there is now an historical opportunity to rearrange the boundaries the British and French distorted in their greed and arbitrary map drawing. One might justifiably add Lebanon to the mix of the 21st Century readjustment of boundaries, allowing for ethnic and religious cohesion, as well as tribal unity.

After approximately 100 years of betrayal by the western powers, and being the largest stateless ethnic/national group in the Middle East, the Kurds deserve a state that would bring together the Kurds of Syria and Iraq.  Northeastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, which is predominantly Kurdish and currently enjoys an autonomous status in the midst of the raging Syrian civil war, is contiguous to the KRG. The two Kurdish areas are organically bound together.

The beleaguered Alawites (12% of the population) in Syria are threatened with a bloodbath by the Sunni opposition. Hence, they must be given a separate state along Syria’s Mediterranean coast from Tartus through Latakia, including Turkish held Antakya.  Sunni-Arab Syria, which occupies the vast center of Syria from Damascus to Aleppo, might be joined by Iraq’s Sunni-Arab center including areas north and west of Baghdad, to form a purely Sunni Arab state.  Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad, would likely be a Shiite Arab state.

About 10% of Syria’s population is Christian. In Iraq, the unrelenting persecution of Christians has virtually decimated the community there.  Many of Iraq’s Christians have fled to the Kurdish region and others to Syria and Jordan. A purely Christian state must be reestablished from Beirut northward and eastward inclusive of Mount Lebanon.  Lebanon’s remaining confessional groups could then conduct a national referendum as to whether they wish to stay in a unitary state. Sunni-Arab Lebanon might want to join territorially with Sunni-Syria and Iraq, and the Shiites are likely to seek their own state within Lebanon. The Druze of Lebanon may want to join with their brethren in a Druze state in southern Syria.

Israel, the sole democratic state in the region, requires secure boundaries. Therefore, it would be logical to demarcate the boundary between Jordan and Israel along the Jordan River.  Given that Jordan has a majority of Palestinians, it would be natural for the West Bank Palestinians to form a federation with Jordan.  Palestinians in the West Bank would govern themselves, while Israel will be responsible for security.  In the context of peace, a bridge will connect the West Bank with Jordan.  The Gaza Strip will be a separate Palestinian state.

Rearranging the Middle East’s map would be costly in terms of material resources, with people resettling from one area to another, but, in the long run, it will save lives and reduce injustices.  The U.S.’s insistence on keeping the artificial and troublesome states of Iraq and Syria whole is incomprehensible since it betrays the cherished ideals of freedom of choice.  Given the hodgepodge composition of Iraq and Syria, the natural inclination of the minority groups would be for self-determination. The oppressed minorities have long awaited self-rule. The Kurdish, Christian, Druze, and Alawi states will also diminish the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict by serving as a barrier between the Sunni-Arab state and Israel.  The civil war in Syria and Iraq creates a perfect opportunity for America to support the right thing.


  • The arab countries in the ME are just going back to what they were before San Remo resoltuion 1920. LIke Iraq, Lebanon, Syria.

  • “it would be natural for the West Bank Palestinians to form a federation with Jordan.”

    Er, that was pretty much what was contemplated by the partitioning of Mandatory Palestine wasn’t it — 20% to form “the Jewish Homeland” and 80% to form the “Arab Homeland”, a plan pretty well resoundingly rejected by the Arabs, including those themselves who were put on thrones by the Brits.

  • Wayne D. Kindle

    I would make The Gaza Strip a part of Israel in exchange for the all of pre 67 West Bank excepting old Jerusalem. I think that would be better for Palestine and Israel.

    • A bit late for that now, isn’t it? Israel evacuated all citizens from Gaza — which was Egypt’s problem up until the ’67 war — in 2005 because it was impossible to provide Israelis with adequate security before HAMAS took power.

  • “Former British (Labor Party) Foreign Minister Jack Straw, confessed that ‘A lot of the problems we have to deal with now are a consequence of our colonial past.’ Straw added … ‘The Balfour Declaration, and the contradictory assurances which were being given to (Arabs) Palestinians in private at the same time given to Israelis (Jews). Again, an interesting history for us, but not an entirely honorable one…'”

    Jack Straw needs some history lessons. The WW1 wartime relations were not with the Arabs of the Holy Land, but rather with the Hashemites in the Arabian Peninsula. As WW1 British Prime Minister David Lloyd George observed in his memoirs, the Arabs of Palestine fought against the UK. Namely, the Arabs of Palestine were solidly for the Ottoman Empire

  • E.S.Lombard

    Right after WWII, fifteen million Central European ethnics of various kinds were relocated and an estimated twenty million more Asians as well. Maybe this time, we can give these assorted peoples and tribes chances at self determination.

  • What a thoughtful and comprehensive description of the malignant intervention of the original colonial powers. The hope of rearranging the area is optimistic but profoundly insightful

  • Fredric M. London

    What a wonderful dream.

  • Julian Clovelly

    This article seems to be seeking a solution where there isn’t one likely to be had under present circumstances. In attempting to redraw the map of the Middle East it is in fact getting embroiled in the same mess that the allied powers got caught up in as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated – a process that started before the Great War and continued after it, and was not entirely conducted by the allied powers.

    We can argue over history interminably. It won’t get us anywhere because each tribal, religious, and ethnic group has its own “history”, and they conflict with each other at a factual level.

    There is no starting point, not the post Great War epoch, not the collapse of the Turkish Empire or even the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire. The Volkswanderung of the Turks that dismantled the Byzantine Empire and caused the fall of Constantinople is hardly a suitable starting point either – so where then? the foundation of the Eastern Empire? the building of the Roman Empire? the birth of Rome?

    Each new “history” is an interpretation of what has gone before, a means of explaining or justifying the present and dictating the “correct” path for the future. Taken back far enough these histories metamorphosise into the various religions of the region, each concealing within them land claims that conflict with alternate religions, and even with alternate versions of the same religion

    Therein perhaps lies the real problem and its insolubility. No-one wants to admit the defects of their own religion – they would rather fix on the defects of someone elses. But I sincerely doubt if there will be any solution in the Middle East – indeed worldwide – until enough people recognise that there is a need to buid a secular rather than a religious based society, that only in building something new can mankind free himself from that which is old and which contains the real source of the problems he confronts today in the form of irrational violence.

    Ultimately all three major religions of the Middle East come from similar sources – each shaped by a variety of external influences. Where else can you validly put the blame and what point is there to that blame unless it urges us to move forward away from all of it? There are many conflicts in the Middle East as ancient worlds confront a modern one. Deeply embedded in those conflicts is a fear amongst the religious of secularism – but that eventually is unavoidable – it can only be postponed. The modern world is struggling to be born in all this – and it will indeed be born. Till then the labour pains will continue and the people will cry in vain for peace.

  • Thanks for this excellent synopsis/history lesson. Very few of us reflect on the fact that there actually very few sovereign states that have “natural” boundaries (except some islands, perhaps. Even that doesn’t always work – think of Cyprus and Hispaniola). Rather most of their current borders have been set by political agreement. And, unfortunately, almost all changes in borders come about only after military conflict. Your suggestions make perfect ethnographic sense. The question: how do we make these rearrangements a reality?

  • Good ideas, however, getting the groups to the table will take considerable effort and the ruling families won’t go willingly. If this were to happen perhaps it would alleviate the blood amongst the rest of the world.

  • Zionist attempt to rewrite history. a laugh a minute.

    • Well then, do give us the truth.

    • Perhaps you would care to explain, if you can stop laughing long enough to use any intelligence you may have, just exactly where the history in this excellent and accurate analysis is rewritten, don’t forget to use references to prove your points. Preferably from verifiable sources as opposed to some brainwashing site you may be addicted to.

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