To return to the general issue, the situation laid down for the Arabs, of Palestine by typical Zionist writers is that these Arabs are political slaves, persons not having the right of ownership of their place of birth, a place indeed which in their hands politically would not exist.
Let us go back to the [Balfour] Declaration. After it had been published an event occurred which is closely attached to this particular question of national prerogatives, and may serve to close the discussion of it. The Zionist leaders approached the chief Allied Governments with a request for pronouncements of encouragement and support similar to that which Great Britain had given them.
A deception awaited them. From the French, on the 9th of February, 1918, they received a note which was no more than adequate. Mr. Sacher, or any other of the Political Committee, would have turned out some-thing much more attractive. It ran:
M. Sokolov représentant des organisations sionistes, a été reçu ce matin au Ministère des Affaires Etrangères par M. Stephen Pichon, qui a été heureux de lui confirmer que l’entente est compléte entre les Gouvernments français et brittanique en ce qui concerne la question d’un établissement juif en Palestine.
Not really a satisfactory statement, it will be seen. The French evaded giving the Zionists any direct guarantee. They confined themselves to saying that they were in agreement with the British government’s policy. This left the onus of the policy upon the British, and the Quai d’Orsay spokesmen gave no pledge at all that they would continue in agreement with it as it developed. Moreover, the French note was sent with a covering letter in which M. Sokolov was complimented upon the “dévouement avec lequel vous poursuivez la réalisation des voeux de vos co-réligionnaires.” A very back-handed compliment. It discounted the whole nationalist and not religious platform which the devoted M. Sokolov was straining to construct.
But it was when Italy was approached that the best-laid scheme really went agley. Here is the Italian pronouncement, given in London on the 9th of May, 1918, to M. Sokolov by the Marchese Imperiali, the Italian ambassador, “by order of Baron Sonnino”:
In relazione alle domande che gli sono state rivolte il Governo di Sua Maestà é lieto di confermare le precendenti dichiarazioni già fatte a mezzo dei suoi rappresentani a Washington, l’Aja e Salonico, di essere cioé disposoto ad adoperarsi con piacere per facilitare lo stabilirsi in Palestina di un centro nazionale ebraico, nell’intessa pero’ che non ne venga nessun preguidizio allo statofgiuridico e politico delle già esistenti communità religiose ed ai diritti civili e politici che gli israeliti già godono in ogni altro paese.
(In connection with the requests which have been made to it His Majesty’s Government is happy to confirm the previous statements made through its representatives in Washington, The Hague and Salonica, that is to say that it is prepared to take steps with pleasure in order to facilitate the foundation in Palestine of a Jewish national centre, on the understanding however that no prejudice shall arise through it to the legal and political status of existing religious communities and to the civil and political rights already enjoyed by Israelites in any other country.)
The Italian Government in its pronouncement put in the missing words which made all the difference. Since the petitioners who had asked for a declaration had caused the Palestine population to be divided into “communities,” the Consulta took care to signify that this division was a religious one. It spiked the guns of Lord Balfour and Dr. [Chaim] Weizmann who had used the religious idea to make the division into communities, but thereon had treated the communities as national divisions.
More important and more meaning still was the insertion of the words “legal and political status.” The Italian Government guaranteed that the National Home should not prejudice those very fundamental rights of Arabs which the Balfour Declaration deliberately had excised. With entire politeness it indicated that it was not deceived by the terms of the Balfour document, and that it would not be party to the suppression of native rights.
It is impossible not to admire the neatness of the rebuke; the hoisting of the political Zionists with their own petard by rejecting their claims under guise of confirming them — just as they had drafted for the Arabs; the elegant assumption that Lord Balfour had intended a genuine guarantee and that Italy would make it more to his mind by making it watertight.
This Italian guarantee was given, need it be said, long before the days of Fascism, by the old Italian Kingdom, democratic and liberal, so that it cannot be ascribed to rivalry or spite or other such motive. It puts Italy in a strong position at present, it is simply an example of how honesty can indeed be the best policy. Not surprisingly, it has been kept rather quiet. The version of it with which Mrs. Andrews credits M. Sokolov in her The Holy Land Under Mandate is not exact. Mrs. Andrews quotes Italy as safeguarding only the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities or the legal or political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The Italian Declaration is turned thus into another Balfour Declaration. The true version, given by M. Sokolov, in the original Italian just cited, is very different and stands to this day, with formidable implications attached to it upon which it is unnecessary to dilate.
Excerpt from J. M. N. Jeffries, The Balfour Declaration, Monograph Series No. 7, pp. 18-20, The Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, 1967, which is a reprint of Chapter 11 of Jeffries’ book Palestine: the Reality (Longman, Greens, and Co., 1939)