The King–Crane Commission, officially called the 1919 Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey, was an official investigation by the United States government concerning the disposition of non-Turkish areas within the former Ottoman Empire. It was conducted to inform American policy about the region's people and their desired future in regard to the previously decided partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and the League of Nations Mandate System. 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. The Commission was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson and comprised Henry Churchill King and Charles R. Crane. It began work in June 1919 and produced its report on 28 August 1919, though the report was not published until 1922.
The Commission's work was undercut from the beginning by continuing and competing colonialist designs on the part of the United Kingdom and France, as indicated by their previous secret deals, their lack of a similar belief in public opinion, as well as the commission's late start, and encountered delays; the 1919 Paris Peace Conference had largely concluded the area's future by the time the report was finished.
Being the first-ever survey of Arab public opinion, the work of the King–Crane Commission is of special interest, according to brothers James and John Zogby, who have long been involved in polling in the Arab world.
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 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. Lloyd George commented that "the friendship of France is worth ten Syrias." France received Syria while 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
The Report was not intended to be published until the US 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.
The Commission termed the territory it was investigating "Syria", which covered the Arab territories of the defunct Ottoman Syria. Although it did not use the term Greater Syria, it looked at what would today encompass Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
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.
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. The Commission succeeded in convincing many of the educated, secular elite of this goal, but this didn't affect the negotiations at Versailles. 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 end result. The French Mandate of Syria was the end 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.
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 realize 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." Crane opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East, but was as passionate a spokesman for the independence of the Arab states. The report noted that there is a principle that the wishes of the local population need to 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.
The Commission Report was 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. It pointed out that a majority of "Syrians" were against the formation of a Jewish state. 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". 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 latter statement was based on the assumption that an army of at least 50,000 would be required to establish Jewish ownership by force. However, the commission doesn't cite any intent by Zionists to carry out their program by the force of arms.
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 massacres suffered by the Armenians during the war.
- "The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919". Hellenic Resources Network. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
- 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 scrutinized. 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.
- James Zogby, Opinions Matter: A Lesson From History, Huffington Post, July 11, 2008
- Gelvin, p. 13–14.
- Gelvin, p. 16–17.
- 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.
- Ellis, William T. (3 December 1922). "Crane and King's Long-Hid Report On The Near East". New York Times. p. 33.
- Gelvin, p. 18–20.
- Gelvin, p. 22–24.
- F.W. Brecher, "Charles R. Crane's Crusade for the Arabs, 1919-39," Middle Eastern Studies, XXIV, January 1988; pp 46-47. Elliott A Green, "The Curious Careers of Two Advocates of Arab Nationalism," Crossroads no. 33 
- Beecher, Frank W. Reluctant Ally: United States Foreign Policy toward the Jews from Wilson to Roosevelt (NY: Green-wood Press, 1991), pp. ??
- Gelvin, James L.; edited by David W. Lesch (1999). "The Ironic Legacy of the King-Crane Commission". The Middle East and the United States (Boulder, CO: Westview Press).
- King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919
- 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.