King–Crane Commission

Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey

The first publication of the report in Editor & Publisher magazine in December 1922. The publication was described as a "Suppressed Official Document of the United States Government."
Created 1919, but not published until 1922
Author(s) Henry Churchill King and Charles R. Crane
Purpose Official investigation by the United States Government concerning the disposition of non-Turkish areas within the former Ottoman Empire.

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.[1] 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 privately on 28 August 1919. Its publication was suppressed at the time as it was considered by the State Department that publication "would not be compatible with the public interest".[2] The Commission's report was ultimately published in the December 2, 1922 edition of the Editor & Publisher magazine.

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,[3] 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.

The King-Crane commission was "the first-ever survey of Arab public opinion" and the fact its results went largely unheeded was bemoaned by pollster James Zogby.[4]


1919 Photo of the King Crane Commission

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 realized that the British and French had already come to their own backroom deals about the future of the region, and new information could only muddy the waters. So, the United States alone sponsored the commission. President Wilson picked Henry Churchill King, a theologian and fellow college president (of Oberlin College), and Charles R. Crane, a prominent Democratic party contributor.[5]

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 concluded 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.[6]

Based on these interviews, King concluded 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.[7] 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."[5] France received Syria while Britain would get Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine, contrary to the expressed wishes of both the interviewees and the Commission itself.[6] 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.[8]


The Commission termed the territory it was investigating Syria, which covered the Arab territories of the defunct Ottoman Syria. Though it did not use the term Greater Syria, it looked at what would today encompass Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq.

Middle East

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.[9] 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.[10]

Jewish homeland

Although the commission was sympathetic toward Zionism, it opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine because it conflicted with the Balfour Declaration in respect of the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The commission found that "Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase".[11] Nearly 90% of the Palestinian population was emphatically against the entire Zionist program.[11]

The report noted that there is a principle that the wishes of the local population must 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.[1]

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.[11] 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." [12]

About the international importance of Palestine, the report noted:
"The fact that the Arabic-speaking portion of the Turkish Empire has been the birthplace of the three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and that Palestine contains places sacred to all three, makes inevitably a center of interest and concern for the whole civilized world. No solution which is merely local or has only a single people in mind can avail."[13]

While the holy places "having to do with Jesus–and also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them", Moslems and Christians would not feel satisfied to have these places in Jewish hands, or under the custody of Jews. "With the best possible intentions, it may be doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places, or custodians of the Holy Land as a whole."[11] The Commission recommended to include Palestine in a united Syrian State, the holy places being cared for by an International and Inter-religious Commission, in which also the Jews would have representation. All Syria should become under a single Mandate, led by a Power desired by the people, with America as first choice.[11]


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 genocide suffered by the Armenians during the war.


  1. 1 2 "The King-Crane Commission Report, August 28, 1919". Hellenic Resources Network. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
  2. Letter from Undersecretary Henry Fletcher to Secretary of State Leland Harrison, April 7, 1922. Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, 763.72119/7161, Microfilm Publication 367, Reel 439, National Archives and Records Administration, quoted in Restoring Lost Voices of Self-Determination, King-Crane Commission Digital Archival Collection, Oberlin College Archives, Ken Grossi, Maren Milligan, Ted Waddelow, August 2011
  3. 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.
  4. James Zogby, Opinions Matter: A Lesson From History, Huffington Post, July 11, 2008
  5. 1 2 Gelvin, p. 1314.
  6. 1 2 Gelvin, p. 1617.
  7. 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.
  8. Ellis, William T. (3 December 1922). "Crane and King's Long-Hid Report On The Near East". New York Times. p. 33.
  9. Gelvin, p. 1820.
  10. Gelvin, p. 2224.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 III-RECOMMENDATIONS, Zionism
  12. 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 [1992]
  13. King-Crane Commission Report, II-GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS


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