David Cesarani

Before the Storm

The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict


Bloomsbury 480pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Balfour Declaration is only sixty-seven words long. Few documents of such brevity written in the early years of the last century can still be causing so much trouble. The reasons for this strife lie in the duplicity that marked its origins and the ambiguous phrasing that was used to reconcile incompatible promises made to various parties by the British government. The story has often been told before and the volume of scholarly research on the declaration would fill a small library, but Jonathan Schneer’s lively new account is very much a tale for our times. It begins not with Zionism, but with the development of Arab nationalism and Muslim dreams of reviving the Caliphate. The early chapters, set against the background of the First World War, detail British efforts to entice the Arabs into revolt against the Ottoman Empire. With utter cynicism they promised Arab self-rule in territory that included Syria, a pledge they had little intention of keeping since they planned to divide the carcass of the empire with the French. As in a more recent case, the prospect of liberation served as a cover for invasion and occupation.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,