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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Lord Curzon

September 27th, 1919
F.O. No. 134231

Dear Lord Curzon,

I am putting this note into the form of a private letter, in order that you may feel free to deal with it as you please.

If I am asked to make Feisal accept the Paris arrangement of last week reasonably, I would point out to him that though it was strictly provisional, yet its provisions might be so established by him in Syria, that it would become the basis of the permanent settlement.

A. I would tell him that for it to be wholly satisfactory to him, he required some interpretations and additions of special point, and would suggest his asking H.M.G. for an assurance that our pledges with regard to the Arab character of the Government of Mesopotamia hold good, and that to relieve the local situation now (pending the Peace Conference decision) Sir P.Z. Cox again take charge there, and his present deputy be employed outside the province.

Feisal would not expect Sir Percy Cox to make any particular change. What is needed is not a change of fact but of spirit. At the same time one consequence of the Milner commission will probably be an altered relation of Egypt to the Home Government, and another will be a demand for a 'Milner commission' to bring Mesopotamia into line with the new constitution of Egypt.

My own ambition is that the Arabs should be our first brown dominion, and not our last brown colony. Arabs react against you if you try to drive them, and they are as tenacious as Jews: but you can lead them without force anywhere, if nominally arm in arm. The future of Mesopotamia is so immense that if it is cordially ours we can swing the whole Middle East with it.

B. I would suggest to Feisal that he ask the officers of H.M.G. in persuading the French to accept, jointly with us as regards Syria:-

(i) That on the evacuation the present Arab administration become civil, and that an elected assembly from areas A and B ratify this agreement, and Feisal's position.

(Of course this new agreement will be written down in Paris, and signed by us, by the French and by Feisal)

(ii) That this new Local Government be then recognised: as promised in the Anglo-French declaration of November 1918.

(Poland and Slovakia are parallels for a war recognition)

(iii) That H.M.G. concede the Arab administration a free port in Haifa, and the French concede a free port either at Tripoli or Alexandretta.

(By offering Haifa we force the French hand. Tripoli and Alexandretta are the future ports of Mesopotamia).

(iv) The necessary railway convention be drawn up, to give proper effect to the free-ports concession.

(v) That the evacuations of areas A and B be both complete.

(Neither British nor French wish this. We want to garrison Deraa, and the French want to keep their detachment in Damascus: but I think the French should pay for the privilege: see Section vi below).

(vi) The half-subsidy be paid by the British, and Feisal accepts a British adviser on his staff to deal with area B. The other half-subsidy be paid by the French, and Feisal accepts a French adviser on his staff to deal with area A.

(The point is to keep Col. Cornwallis in Damascus, where his influence will probably ensure peace. The French may see a condominium in this. We might then concede their point of the 200 troops in Damascus (Sect. v) in return.

If they still refused to allow Cornwallis in Damascus, as adviser for Area B, I would go out to Syria, and transfer Feisal and the whole Syrian Government to Deraa in the British area, and H.M.G. would of course forbid the residence of a Frenchman in area B. They will soon become reasonable.)

I think Feisal will accept these terms, if I explain them to him. He has the Zionist proposals behind him, though I suggest that H.M.G. remain ignorant of them!

C. We might take the present conversations as an opportunity of regulating the Hejaz subsidy. I would like to lift it off the Imperial Exchequer and make it a first charge on the surplus of the local Arab Governments of Syria and Mesopotamia, divided according to taste, and estimated, for size, on the former Turkish 'Hejaz' budget.

As Syria and Mesopotamia are not yet solvent the Great Powers overseeing them would guarantee the payment of the Hejaz subsidy by them, for the present. In Syria this obligation would be shared equally by the British and French Governments, who would pay the amount annually to the Government of Syria for transmission to the Hejaz.

The Government of Baghdad would remit direct to Mecca.

It seems to me inevitable that the next stage of the Arab Movement will be the transfer of the Hejaz towns to Damascus in the same relation as they formerly stood to Turkey (Just as the third stage will be the transfer of both Mecca and Damascus to Bagdad, when the density of population in Mesopotamia rises to an Egyptian standard). This second stage risks great French influence in Mecca: but if we pay half the Hejaz expenses direct to Mecca, and another share direct to the Government of Syria, we seem reasonably a cheval upon all possible contingencies.

D. With regard to the French coastal area of Syria, they have accepted the formula 'French in Syria as British in Mesopotamia'. Therefore so long as we are the more liberal ('left' in the Parliamentary sense) we call the tune. The relation of French, Arab, and British administration sandwiched across 'Arabia' will be a very peculiar one: and I have no doubt that the middle-man (Damascus) will always be urging on each of us the good features of the other. Our remedy and safeguard will be to trend continually 'left'. I think the parallel of our constructive work in Persia may help us materially in Mesopotamia.

T. E. Lawrence

Source: DG 291-3
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 24 January 2006



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