Lawrence shepherded Feisal around Britain before the conference. He even arranged a meeting between Feisal and Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who would become, decades later, the first president of Israel. They signed an agreement — extraordinary considering the later history of these two peoples — respecting each other’s rights and agreeing to work “in accord and harmony at the Peace Conference.” Lawrence succeeded in winning some backing for Feisal in Britain and was himself to go to the Paris Conference officially as a technical advisor to the British delegation, but unofficially as an advisor to Prince Feisal.
American journalist Lowell Thomas also passed through Paris during the conference. He had been reporting on the post-war chaos in Germany and stopped to brief the American delegation on what he had seen. Thomas then sailed for America, where he would try to figure out what to do with the stories, films and glass plates he had collected during his eighteen months covering the war. The multimedia show Thomas would end up producing on Lawrence was still months off — and consequently, Lawrence’s public fame was yet to be fully realized.
Yet Lawrence called enough attention to himself in Versailles as he walked around with Prince Feisal in flowing Arab robes. Lawrence was the only member of the British delegation — which included Sir Mark Sykes, one of the authors of the Sykes-Picot Agreement — committed to Arab independence. The only woman to have any significant role in the peace settlements, Gertrude Bell, arrived in Paris on March 7, 1919, to promote the Arab cause. Immediately she joined with Lawrence and Feisal and was “swept up at once in the frenzy” of their efforts. While Bell came to call Lawrence her “beloved boy” others in the British delegation were offended by Lawrence’s “ambiguous position”: working for the British and also with the Arabs.
Lawrence helped Prince Feisal eloquently present the Arab point of view at Versailles. The prince read a speech in Arabic, apparently written by Lawrence, to the leaders of the Allied powers. Then Lawrence read it in English. And when the American President, Woodrow Wilson, noticed that some of the Europeans did not understand, Lawrence provided an impromptu translation of the speech into French. Lawrence hoped that the Americans, at least, would be sympathetic. But in the end the Arab point of view was mostly ignored.
“The whole history of the Middle East in the half century between 1919 and 1969 is a history of the undoing of the work of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the settlements made after the First World War.”
—Jon Kimche, Swiss journalist and author
The Sykes-Picot Agreement was honored at the Paris Peace Conference. France — not Prince Feisal, his father King Hussein or any other Arabs — gained control of Syria. Lawrence was deeply disappointed. But, thanks to Lowell Thomas, his fame and therefore his influence would increase. Lawrence would get another opportunity to influence the future shape of the Middle East — two years later in Cairo.