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The King-Crane Commission was an official investigation during 1919 by the United States government into the circumstances and conditions existing in certain parts of the former Ottoman Empire, in order to inform American policy with regard to the future of the region regarding the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The commission visited Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Anatolia.
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. The plan received little support from the other nations, with many claimed delays. The Americans gradually came to realize that the British and French had already come to their own backroom deals about the future of the region, and new information could only serve to muddy the waters in their view. So, the commission was sent out sponsored by the United States alone. President Wilson picked Henry Churchill King, a theologian and fellow college president (of Oberlin College), and Charles R. Crane, a prominent Democratic party contributor.
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. In spite of this, based on interviews with local elites, the commission came to the conclusion 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 possible choice.
Based on these interviews, King came to the conclusion that while the Middle East was "not ready" for independence, a colonial government would not serve the people well either. 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. 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. The Republicans had regained control of the United States Senate in 1918, and as isolationists, the probability of a huge military adventure and occupation overseas, even given British and French approval, was practically nil.
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. 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. France received Syria and Britain would get Mesopotamia (Iraq and Palestine), contrary to the expressed wishes of both the interviewees and the Commission itself. In the United States, the report floundered with Wilson's sickness and later death.
Delay In Publication
Publication was intended to be suppressed until the Senate actually passed the Treaty of Versailles, which it never did. 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. Public opinion was divided when it was learned that the Arab majority had requested an American mandate with a democratically elected constituent assembly.
Syria and Palestine
One feature for which the report is still remembered today was an early statement skeptical of the viability of a Jewish state in Syria. The logic of the commission went along the lines that the first principle to be respected must be self-determination. Since the commission had a very "maximalist" view of Syria – what would today encompass Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Gaza Strip – it pointed out that a majority of Syrians were against the formation of a Jewish state. Therefore, 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". 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."
The commission also tackled the issue of whether there should be an Armenian state, and came to the conclusion that there should be one. While one explanation might be mere favoritism (the Armenians are Christian), the arguments used for an Armenian state are quite similar to later arguments for the existence of Israel after World War II. The report noted that the Armenians had suffered a traumatic experience in the genocide, that they couldn't trust the Turkish state to respect their rights anymore, and that they were "a people." Therefore, Armenian independence should be respected and ensured.
- ^ The Palestine Papers, 1917-1922, Doreen Ingrams, George Brazziler Edition, 1973, pages 51 and the Minutes of the Eastern Committee, UK Archives, PRO CAB 27/24.
- ^ CRANE AND KING'S LONG-HID REPORT ON THE NEAR EAST, New York Times, 3 December 1922.
- Gelvin, James L., "The Ironic Legacy of the King-Crane Commission," in The Middle East and the United States, ed. David W. Lesch (Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 2003).
- Report of the King-Crane Commission
- Another copy of the report
- Knee, Stuart (1997). "Anglo-American Relations in Palestine 1919-1925: An Experiment in Realpolitik". Journal of American Studies of Turkey 5: 3–18. http://www.bilkent.edu.tr/~jast/Number5/Knee.html.