More than Balfour: 6 Other One-Sided Deals that Dismantled the Middle East

Published October 30th, 2017 - 02:24 GMT
The dividing wall in Israel/Palestine, AFP/File
The dividing wall in Israel/Palestine, AFP/File



The Balfour Declaration turns 100 this coming Thursday, but it is just one of a number of one-sided deals and agreements that have helped to shape the current landscape and borders of the Middle East. Many of the deals were done in secret and were done with resource and power distribution in mind between European nations despite having a profound influence on the Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds and other groups living in the region. Here are six of some of the biggest deals:



1. McMahon–Hussein Correspondence

Emir Faisal's party at Versailles, during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. At the center, from left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal, Captain Pisani (behind Faisal), T. E. Lawrence (known as "Lawrence of Arabia"), unknown, Captain Tahsin Qadri. (Wikipedia)


  • Was a series of secret letters between Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, an officer of the British Empire exchanged between July 1915 to March 1916

  • In the letter, Britain promised Arab leaders independence in return for helping to topple the Ottoman Empire

  • These were tentatively viewed as a treaty between Arabs and the British Empire, but it was not seen through, as Britain failed to uphold their end of the deal after beginning plots to take over parts of the Middle East.


2. Sykes-Picot Agreement

Map showing how Sykes and Picot divided the Middle East. (Kurdish Project)


  • Another secret agreement, this time between British representative Mark Sykes and French representative François Georges-Picot.

  • They agreed to divide up the Middle East between France and Britain to establish colonies (called mandates), with divisions based mainly on resource division and not cultural/tribal considerations. This agreement influenced the current borders of Arab nation-states, profoundly influencing politics in the region.

  • Negotiations took place between November 1915 and March 1916, and was ratified May 16, 1916. These negotiations took place at the same time as the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, but the Sykes-Picot Agreement undermined claims of Arab independence.



3. 1920 Treaty of Sèvres

Map showing how the Treaty of Sèvres planned to divide up the former Ottoman Empire


  • Ratified 2 years after WW1’s end, the treaty was between Allied powers (U.K., France, Italy and others) and Ottoman Empire to divide up the Ottoman Empire. Though this treaty was not secret, many Arabs who stood to be affected by its stipulations were not consulted.

  • This treaty officially began the transfer of land from Ottoman Empire to be colonized and mandated.

  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led Turkey’s resistance and fought for Turkey’s independence from the signatories of the Treaty 3 years later.

4.  1922 Churchill White Paper

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of United Kingdom, 1940-1945, 1951-1955


  • The White Paper was a response to violence between Arabs and Jews in Palestine (the 1921 Jaffa Riots).

  • Churchill sought to balance protections of Arabs with the Jewish community’s growth. The paper was not secret but represented yet another deal made in relative seclusion from the people the paper and subsequent policies affected.

  • The memo cemented the Balfour Declaration’s sentiment that Jews have a legally protected homeland in Palestine.


5.  November 29 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine

Proposed U.N. Partition of Palestine


  • Was a U.N. plan to divide Palestine into three smaller states: a Jewish State, an Arab State, and an internationally-controlled Jerusalem. Some Arab States were part of the negotiations but all voted against the proposed resolution--it passed anyway.

  • The plan was roundly rejected by Arab leadership on the basis that it violated the Arab right to self-determination in Palestine.

  • Though the resolution was adopted, it was not implemented as a civil war broke out in Palestine. That civil war led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which Israel won decisively and used as leverage to create the state of Israel in 1948.


6. 1993 Oslo Accords


Meeting between Israel PM Yitzhak Rabin, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton


  • Initially meeting in secret, the Accords were an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization to negotiate the right to Palestinian self-rule.

  • It created the Palestinian Authority designed to govern the West Bank and Gaza.

  • The Oslo Accords established the current power-relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the West Bank and Gaza being tightly controlled by Israel and Israel retaining power over much of the disputed land. 

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