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Perspective: Margaret MacMillan on Arab determination stalemate during the Paris Peace Conference

Excerpt from Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, 2002.

“[In March, 1919, Woodrow] Wilson tried to find a compromise. After all, as he pointed out, his only interest was in peace. Why not sent a fact-finding inquiry to ask the Arabs themselves what they wanted. The Peace Conference, he said, using a favorite formula, would find ‘the most scientific basis possible for a settlement….[David] Lloyd George agreed to the commission, but privately thought it a dreadful idea, and so, on second thought, did [Georges] Clemenceau.’ The two stalled when it came to naming their representative, with the result that Wilson, in exasperation, finally decided in May to go ahead unilaterally and send his own commissioners to the Middle East.

When Feisal heard the initial news that a commission was to be appointed, he drank champagne for the first time in his life. He was confident, as was the ubiquitous Lawrence, that it would confirm Syrian independence under his rule. The months in Paris had been frustrating and boring for both men.  A flight over the city helped relieve their feelings. ‘How dreadful, to have no bombs to throw upon these people,’ Feisal exclaimed. ‘Never mind, here are some cushions.’ Lawrence became increasingly difficult, playing silly practical jokes such as throwing sheets of toilet paper down a stairwell at Lloyd George and [Arthur] Balfour one evening. …

By May, when it was quite clear that there was no agreement and no serious Allied commission of inquiry, Feisal was safely back in Damascus.”

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