King–Crane Commission

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Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey
The first publication of the report in Editor & Publisher magazine in December 1922. The publication was described as a "Suppressed Official Document of the United States Government."
Created1919, but not published until 1922
Author(s)Henry Churchill King and Charles R. Crane
PurposeOfficial investigation by the United States Government concerning the disposition of non-Turkish areas within the former Ottoman Empire.

The King–Crane Commission, officially called the 1919 Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey, was a commission of inquiry concerning the disposition of areas within the former Ottoman Empire.

The Commission began as an outgrowth of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The Commission visited areas of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Anatolia, surveyed local public opinion, and assessed its view on the best course of action for the region. Originally meant to be led by French, British, Italian and American representatives, it ended as an investigation conducted solely by the United States government after the other countries withdrew to avoid the risk of being "confronted by recommendations from their own appointed delegates which might conflict with their policies".[1][2] With the withdrawal of other allied nations, the commission lost any real credibility.

The Commission submitted its report to the Paris Peace Conference in August 1919. Its working being undercut from the beginning by France and the United Kingdom's pact, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and colonialist designs, the Peace Conference had largely concluded the area's future by the time the report was finished.[3][4]


President Woodrow Wilson of the United States was an avowed opponent of secret diplomacy.

At the Paris Peace Conference, groups of imperial nations such as France and Britain sought to divide the Ottoman Empire among themselves using the mandate system while anti-imperialist leaders such as President Wilson and Amir Faysal sought to oppose such plans.[5] The conference began in 1919. In the wake of World War I, the participants were exhausted and particularly interested in the fate of their imperial rival, the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]

The French in particular had extensive claims in the Middle East. Since as early 1900, the French began to build relationships and claims on political, moral and economic grounds.[6] They created a role for themselves as the traditional protector of Lebanese Christians. The French supported the Maronites in Lebanon with missionaries and schools, deepening their relationship with the Christian religious community.[citation needed] Many Lebanese Christians feared domination as a religious minority and vocally supported the French Mandate. This gave the French political credibility in the region.[citation needed]

Finally French capitalists controlled 63% of the Ottoman Public Debt.[6] This economic tie made France very concerned about the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The French were adamant that because of their unique relationship with Syria, they should be one of the nations to receive a mandate in Syria.[citation needed]

Secret negotiations[edit]

The French allied themselves with the British in order to press their claims.[citation needed] While the British did not have the same connection with the Middle East, they were still interested in expanding and defending their existing colonial empire. In what came to be known as the Sykes Picot agreement, the French and the British agreed to divide the Middle East between the two of them after the war.[citation needed] When they reached the Paris Peace Conference, this agreement made negotiation on the Middle East nearly impossible.[citation needed] When American diplomats proposed the King–Crane Commission to investigate popular sentiment in Greater Syria, both French and British Diplomats greeted it with public approval, but behind the scenes the outcome had already been decided.[citation needed]

The British also engaged in secret negotiations with Arab powers in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence before the conference occurred.[citation needed] Ultimately, this would cause the British to fall into poor standing with the Arabs because they would betray Arabian trust by conducting simultaneous negotiations in the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration.[7] When the time came for a mandate to be selected, Arabs felt they could no longer trust Great Britain because of their support for Zionism.[citation needed]

Zionism and early Jewish settlement[edit]

Zionism has been a popular and contentious subject among historians for many years. According to the Israeli-Arab author Nadim Rouhana, “the essence of the encounter therefore took place between a group of people living in their homeland and a group of people who arrived from other parts of the world guided by an ideology that claimed the same homeland as exclusively theirs.”[8] Zionism in Rouhana's eye revolved around a system of exclusion in which Zionist arrived and stole the lands that its 90% Palestinian-Arab population resided on.[citation needed] This interpretation is understandable given the nature of the future state of Israel, but it does not give a full picture of Jewish people in Palestine. Author Dina Porat rounds off Rouhana's argument by stating, “Almost none of the Zionist leaders educated in Europe studied Arabic…Arabs did not master European languages or the Hebrew spoken by the settlers. The absence of a common language created an abyss that exists today.”[9] The reason for the distance between the two groups rested in the lack of cultural assimilation.[citation needed] These two viewpoints demonstrate that the encounter between Zionists and Arab was one where cultural differences were ignored or exploited.[citation needed] The British in particular exploited the rivalry between these groups with the Balfour declaration. The Balfour Declaration aligned the goals of Zionism with their imperial goals.[citation needed]

The 1919 Paris Peace Conference[edit]

1919 Photo of the King Crane Commission

The Commission was originally proposed by the United States as an international effort to determine if the region was ready for self-determination and to see what nations, if any, the locals wanted to act as mandatory powers.[citation needed] The plan received little support from the other nations, with many claimed delays.[citation needed] The Americans gradually realized that the British and French had already come to their own backroom deals about the future of the region, and new information could only muddy the waters. So, the United States alone sponsored the commission.

The Commission's representatives appointed by President Woodrow Wilson were Henry Churchill King, a theologian and fellow college president (of Oberlin College), and Charles R. Crane, a prominent Democratic Party contributor.[10]

The Commission's effectiveness was hampered by the fact that it was the British army that actually protected them and controlled the translators, giving a skewed view of opinion where it was considerably easier to decry the French than the British.[citation needed] In spite of this, based on interviews with local elites, the Commission concluded that, while independence was preferred, the Americans were considered the second-best choice for a colonial power, the British the third-best, and the French easily the worst choice.[11]

Based on these interviews, King concluded that while the Middle East was "not ready" for independence, a colonial government would not serve the people well either.[citation needed] He recommended instead that the Americans move in to occupy the region, because only the United States could be trusted to guide the people to self-sufficiency and independence rather than become an imperialist occupier.[citation needed] From King's personal writings, it seems that his overriding concern was the morally correct course of action, not necessarily tempered by politics or pragmatism.[citation needed] The Republicans had regained control of the United States Senate in the 1918 midterm elections. In light of Republican isolationism, the probability of a huge military involvement and occupation overseas, even given British and French approval, was practically nil.[citation needed]

The British Foreign Office was willing to allow either the United States or Great Britain to administer the proposed Palestine mandate, but not the French or the Italian governments.[12] The point ended up being moot in any case, as Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, heads of governments of Great Britain and France, prevailed in drafting the provisions of the San Remo conference and the Treaty of Sèvres. Lloyd George commented that "the friendship of France is worth ten Syrias."[10] France received Syria while Britain would get Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine, contrary to the expressed wishes of both the interviewees and the Commission itself.[11] In the United States, the report floundered with Wilson's sickness and later death.[citation needed]

Delay in publication[edit]

The Report was not intended to be published until the US Senate actually passed the Treaty of Versailles, which it never did.[citation needed] As a result, the report was only released to the public in 1922, after the Senate and House had passed a joint resolution favoring the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine along the lines of the Balfour Declaration.[citation needed] Public opinion was divided when it was learned that the Arab majority had requested an American mandate with a democratically elected constituent assembly.[13]

Conclusions regarding Syria, Palestine and Lebanon[edit]

The Commission's "Report upon Syria" covered the Arab territories of the defunct Ottoman Syria, then under the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. This area covered would today encompass Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, as well as Hatay and Cilicia.

The commission's visit to the region was 42 days long, from June 10 to July 21, 1919; 15 days were spent in OETA South, 10 in OETA West, 15 in OETA East, and 2 in OETA North. With respect to OETA North ("Cilicia"), the Commission "did not endeavor to give thorough hearings... feeling that it is not seriously to be considered a part of Syria, and desiring not to open up as yet the question of the Turkish-speaking portion of the former Turkish Empire." The population estimates included in the report are as follows:[14]

OETA South OETA West OETA East Totals
Muslims 515,000 600,000 1,250,000 2,365,000
Christians 62,500 400,000 125,000 587,500
Druses 60,000 80,000 140,000
Jews 65,000 15,000 30,000 110,000
Others 5,000 20,000 20,000 45,000
Totals 647,500 1,095,000 1,505,000
Grand Total 3,247,500

The Commission Report, which was published in 1922, concluded that the Middle East was not ready for independence and urged Mandates be established on the territories whose purpose was to accompany a process of transition to self-determination.[citation needed]

The Commission hoped for a "Syria" built along liberal and nationalistic grounds that would become a modern democracy that protected the rights of its minorities.[citation needed] The Commission succeeded in convincing many of the educated, secular elite of this goal, but this didn't affect the negotiations at Versailles.[citation needed] Historian James Gelvin believes that the Commission actually weakened the stature of the pro-Western elites in Syria, as their vocal support of complete independence made no impact upon the result.[15] The French Mandate of Syria was the result regardless, and the native elites were left either powerless or granted power only at the whim of the French. This helped set back the cause of an actual Syrian liberal democracy in Gelvin's view.[16]

Results of the petitions received from OETA South (became Palestine), OETA West (became Lebanon and Western Syria) and OETA East (became Syria and Transjordan)

Although the commission was sympathetic toward Zionism,[17] it opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine because it conflicted with the Balfour Declaration in respect of the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine.[citation needed] The commission found that "Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase".[18] Nearly 90% of the Palestinian population was emphatically against the entire Zionist program.[18]

The report noted that there is a principle that the wishes of the local population must be taken into account and that there is widespread anti-Zionist feeling in Palestine and Syria, and the holy nature of the land to Christians and Moslems as well as Jews must preclude solely Jewish dominion. It also noted that Jews at that time comprised only 10% of the population of Palestine.[2]

Summary of Arguments Presented to the Commission For and Against Zionism

The Commission Report was skeptical of the viability of a Jewish state in "Syria".[citation needed] The logic of the Commission went along the lines that the first principle to be respected must be self-determination. It pointed out that "feeling against the Zionist program is not confined to Palestine", but "people throughout Syria" were also against the formation of a Jewish state.[18] It concluded that the only way to establish a viable Jewish state would be with armed force to enforce it. This was precisely what the Commission wanted to avoid, so they dismissed the idea, saying that Zionists anticipated "a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants to Palestine, by various forms of purchase".[18] That said, there would be nothing wrong with Jews coming to "Israel" and simply living as Jewish Syrian citizens, but noted "nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".[18] The latter statement was based on the assumption that an army of at least 50,000 would be required to establish Jewish ownership by force.[18] In respect to the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East, the report cautioned "Not only you as president but the American people as a whole should realise that if the American government decided to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, they are committing the American people to the use of force in that area, since only by force can a Jewish state in Palestine be established or maintained."[19]

About the international importance of Palestine, the report noted:

"The fact that the Arabic-speaking portion of the Turkish Empire has been the birthplace of the three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and that Palestine contains places sacred to all three, makes inevitably a center of interest and concern for the whole civilised world. No solution which is merely local or has only a single people in mind can avail."[20]

Narrating the fear felt by Christians and Muslims over their holy places, it mentions: "With the best possible intentions, it may be doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places, or custodians of the Holy Land as a whole. ..... The places which are most sacred to Christians-those having to do with Jesus-and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them. It is simply impossible, under those circumstances, for Moslems and Christians to feel satisfied to have these places in Jewish hands, or under the custody of Jews."[18] The Commission recommended to include Palestine in a united Syrian State, the holy places being cared for by an International and Inter-religious Commission, in which also the Jews would have representation. All Syria should become under a single Mandate, led by a Power desired by the people, with America as first choice.[18]

Results of the petitions received[edit]

The King-Crane commission created "the first-ever survey of Arab public opinion," but its results went largely unheeded.[21] The table below shows results of the petitions received from OETA South (became Palestine), OETA West (became Lebanon and Western Syria) and OETA East (became Syria and Transjordan).[22]

OETA South OETA West OETA East Syria Complete
No. Per Cent. No. Per Cent. No. Per Cent No. Per Cent
Total Number of Petitions Received: 260 446 1157 1863
A—Territorial Limits:
1. For United Syria 221 85.0 187 41.9 1022 94.3 1500 80.4
2. For Separate Palestine 3 1.1 1 0.22 2 0.17 6 0.32
3. For Separate Palestine under British if French have Syrian Mandate 1 0.3 0 1 0.08 2 0.1
4. For Autonomous Palestine within Syrian State 24 9.2 0 0 24 1.29
5. For Independent Greater Lebanon 0 196 43.9 7 0.6 203 10.9
6. Against Independent Greater Lebanon 0 108 24.2 954 82.0 1062 57.0
7. For Autonomous Lebanon with Syrian State 0 33 7.4 0 33 1.76
8. For Inclusion of Bekaa with Damascus 0 1 0.22 3 0.25 4 0.21
9. For Inclusion of Bekaa with Lebanon 0 7 1.5 4 0.34 11 0.59
10. For Inclusion of Cilicia with Armenian State 0 3 0.67 0 3 0.16
11. For Inclusion of Cilicia with Syrian State 0 2 0.45 0 2 0.1
1. For Absolute Independence of Syria 174 67.0 130 29.1 1066 92.2 1370 73.5
2. For Independence of Iraq (Mesopotamia) 26 10 76 17 976 84.3 1278 68.5
3. For Independence of all Arab Countries 30 11.5 9 2 58 5.0 97 5.2
C—Form of Government:
1. For Democratic Kingdom 5 1.9 96 21.5 1006 87.0 1107 59.3
2. For Emir Feisal as King 2 0.8 95 21.2 1005 86.9 1102 59
3. For Democratic Representative Government 0 26 5.8 8 0.68 34 1.82
4. For Guarding of Rights of Minorities 4 1.5 19 4.2 1000 86.5 1023 54.9
5. Arabic to be Official Language 10 3.8 0 1 0.08 5 0.27
6. For Abolition of Foreign Capitulations 5 1.9 0 0 10 53
7. For Autonomy for all provinces of Syria 0 13 2.9 1 0.08 19 1.02
D—Choice of Mandate:
1. British—
a. For British Mandate 48 18.4 4 0.9 14 1.2 66 3.53
b. For British Mandate if mandate is obligatory 0 0 0 0
c. For British “Assistance” 0 4 0.9 0 4 0.21
Total British First Choice 48 18.4 8 1.8 14 1.2 70 3.75
d. For British Mandate as second choice 2 0.8 26 5.8 13 1.1 41 2.19
e. For British “Assistance” as second choice 0 70 15.7 962 82.2 1032 55.3
2. French—
a. For French Mandate 17 6.5 213 47.7 41 3.5 271 14.52
b. For French Mandate if mandate is obligatory 0 1 0.22 0 1 0.05
c. For French “Assistance” 0 1 1 0.08 2 0.1
Total French First Choice 17 6.5 215 48.1 42 3.6 274 14.68
d. For French Mandate as second choice 0 0 3 0.25 3 0.15
e. For French “Assistance” as second choice 0 0 0 0
3. American—
a. For American Mandate 2 0.8 36 8 19 1.6 57 3.05
b. For American Mandate if mandate is obligatory 3 1.1 3 0.66 2 0.17 8 0.4
c. For American “Assistance” 3 1.1 86 18.2 975 84.3 1064 57.0
Total American First Choice 8 3 125 28.0 996 86.1 1129 60.5
d. For American Mandate as second choice 5 1.9 3 0.66 4 0.34 8 0.4
e. For American “Assistance” as second choice 0 3 0.66 0 3 . 15
4. Choice of Mandate left to Damascus Conference 23 8.9 0 0 23 1.23
E—Zionist Program:
1. For Complete Zionist program (Jewish State and immigration) 7 2.7 2 0.45 2 0.18 11 0.59
2. For Modified Zionist program 8 3 0 0 8 0.4
3. Against Zionist program 222 85.3 88 19.7 1040 90.0 1350 72.3
F—Protests and Criticisms:
1. Anti-British—
a. General Anti-British Statements 0 2 0.45 1 0.08 3 15
b. Specific Criticisms of Administration 0 0 0 0
c. Protests against Interference with free access to Commission 0 0 0 0
2. Anti-French—
a. General Anti-French statements 4 1.5 114 25.5 983 85.0 1129 60.5
b. Specific Criticisms of Administration 0 12 2.7 12 1.04 24 1.29
c. Protests against Interference with free access to Commission 6 1.3 5 0.51 11 0.59
3. Anti-Arab—
a. General Anti-Arab Statements 7 2.7 23 5.1 5 0.51 35 1.87
b. Specific Criticisms of Administration 0 0 4 0.34 4 0.2
c. Protests against Interference with free access to Commission 0 0 0
4. Against Article 22 of League Covenant 0 78 17.4 955 82.1 1033 55.3
5. Against Secret Treaties, especially treaties dividing Syria 0 48 10.7 940 81.3 988 52.9

Conclusions regarding Armenia[edit]

The Commission expressed support for the creation of an Armenian state and rejected that Turkey would respect the rights of the Armenian population, in the light of the genocide suffered by the Armenians during the war.[citation needed]

The Report[edit]

Its publication was initially suppressed for various reasons,[23] and later reported by the State Department that publication "would not be compatible with the public interest".[24] The Commission's report was ultimately published in the December 2, 1922 edition of the Editor & Publisher magazine.


  1. ^ Nutting, Anthony (1964). The Arabs: A Narrative History from Mohammed to the Present. C.N. Potter. Britain and France backed out rather than find themselves confronted by recommendations from their own appointed delegates which might conflict with their policies
  2. ^ a b "The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919". Hellenic Resources Network. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
  3. ^ David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, 1989, pp 396-97

    The proposal was viewed as childish by the French and British career officials, who did not believe that public opinion, in the European and American sense, existed in the Middle East. Nonetheless the British Prime Minister tried to make the best of it by attempting to get the commission to focus exclusively on the claims of France--and the resistance to those claims by the Arabs whom France sought to rule.... The British, like the French, had staked out an enormous claim in the Middle East, but Lloyd George successfully kept the British claims from being scrutinised. When President Wilson's Commission of Inquiry went out to ascertain the wishes of the Middle Eastern peoples, it did not go to Mesopotamia, where British India had instituted direct rule.

  4. ^ Brecher, Frank W. (1987). "Woodrow Wilson and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict" (PDF). American Jewish Archives. 39 (1): 37. Citing, U.S. State Department, The Paris Peace Conference, Vol. 11, p. 75.
  5. ^ Howard, Harry (1963). The King Crane Commission. Beirut: Khayats. p. 1.
  6. ^ a b Khoury, Philip (1987). Syrian and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 30–31.
  7. ^ Petran, Tabitha (1972). Syria. New York: Praeger Publishers. pp. 54–56.
  8. ^ Rouhana, Nadim (2006). Rotberg, Robert (ed.). Zionism's Ecounter with the Palestinians. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p. 118. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  9. ^ Porat, Dina (2006). Forging Zionist Identity Prior to 1948. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. pp. 53–54.
  10. ^ a b Gelvin 1999, pp. 13–14
  11. ^ a b Gelvin 1999, pp. 16–17
  12. ^ Ingrams, Doreen (1973). The Palestine Papers, 1917–1922: Seeds of Conflict. George Brazziler. p. 51. ISBN 0807606480.
    Minutes of the Eastern Committee, UK Archives, PRO CAB 27/24.
  13. ^ Ellis, William T. (3 December 1922). "Crane and King's Long-Hid Report On The Near East". The New York Times. p. 33.
  14. ^ Report, Office of the Historian, page 756
  15. ^ Gelvin 1999, pp. 18–20
  16. ^ Gelvin 1999, pp. 22–24
  17. ^ Ovendale, Ritchie (23 October 2015). The Origins of the Arab Israeli Wars. Routledge. pp. 51–. ISBN 978-1-317-86768-5.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h "I. The Report upon Syria: III-Recommendations, Zionism". The King-Crane Commission Report. 28 August 1919.
  19. ^
    Green, Elliott A. (1992). "The Curious Careers of Two Advocates of Arab Nationalism". Crossroads (33).
  20. ^ "I. The Report upon Syria: II General Considerations". The King-Crane Commission Report. 28 August 1919.
  21. ^ Zogby, James (11 July 2008). "Opinions Matter: A Lesson From History". Huffington Post.
  22. ^ Page 758-763; Report of the American Section of the International Commission on Mandates in Turkey, Paris, August 28, 1919, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Volume XII, Field Missions of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, Document 380, Paris Peace Conf. 181.9102/9 (Office of the Historian)
  23. ^ Brecher 1987, pp. 40–41
  24. ^ Letter from Undersecretary Henry Fletcher to Secretary of State Leland Harrison, April 7, 1922. Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, 763.72119/7161, Microfilm Publication 367, Reel 439, National Archives and Records Administration, quoted in Restoring Lost Voices of Self-Determination, King-Crane Commission Digital Archival Collection, Oberlin College Archives, Ken Grossi, Maren Milligan, Ted Waddelow, August 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Gelvin, James L. (1999). Lesch, David W. (ed.). "The Ironic Legacy of the King-Crane Commission". The Middle East and the United States. Westview Press. ISBN 9780786734504.
  • Andrew Patrick (2015). America's Forgotten Middle East Initiative: The King-Crane Commission of 1919. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-78453-274-1.
  • Smith, L.V., 'Wilsonian Sovereignty in the Middle East: The King–Crane Commission Report of 1919', in D. Howland and L. White, The State of Sovereignty, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
  • The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, edited by Walter Laqueur, 31-33. New York: B. L. Mazel, 1969.
  • Friedman, Isaiah. The Question of Palestine, 1914-1918: British-Jewish-Arab Relations. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.
  • Hourani, Albert. Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay. London: Oxford University Press, 1946.
  • Ingrams, Doreen. Palestine Papers 1917-1922 Seeds of Conflict. New York: Braziller, George, 1972.
  • Khoury, Philip. Syrian and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • Longrigg, Stephen Hemsley. Syria and Lebanon Under French Mandate. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.
  • Petran, Tabitha. Syria. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972.
  • Tibawi, Abdul. A Modern History of Syria: Including Lebanon and Palestine. London: Macmillan and Co, 1969.
  • Knee, Stuart (1997). "Anglo-American Relations in Palestine 1919-1925: An Experiment in Realpolitik". Journal of American Studies of Turkey. 5: 3–18. Archived from the original on 2005-03-09.