In Ottoman times, no political entity called Palestine existed. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, European boundary makers began to take greater interest in defining territorial limits for Palestine. Only since the 1920s has Palestine had formally delimited boundaries, though these have remained subject to repeated change and a source of bitter dispute.
The southern boundary (with Egypt) is the subject of Volume I of this collection. In the Ottoman Sultan´s firman (decree) of 1841, the first map appeared showing the boundaries of the area under Mohammed Ali Pasha´s rule. The eastern frontier of Egypt was shown as a straight line drawn from El Arish to Suez. East of this line was the Sinai Peninsula, almost waterless and inhabited only by a few Bedouin tribes. In 1892, however, with the possibility of Turkish troops being stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, a heated exchange of diplomatic correspondence took place between Cairo, London, and Constantinople. An administrative line between El Arish to the Gulf of Aqaba was agreed upon but no legal frontier was defined between Egypt and Ottoman territories. Stormy negotiations ensued in 1905 when the Sultan made a more determined effort to occupy the Peninsula. The Aqaba Incident brought the British and the Ottoman Empires to the brink of war in 1906.
The first volume includes a selection from the personal papers of Mr W E Jennings-Bramly, who at the time was a Frontier Administration Officer and was ordered to occupy Naqb el Aqaba with a small detachment of Egyptian troops. His papers provide an on-the-spot description of events and enhance this documentary collection for those interested in the delimitation of the boundary which today is the accepted frontier between Israel and Egypt.
The Anglo-French Accord
Volumes II and III provide an interesting overview of the Anglo-French debate over the northern boundary of Palestine. During the course of the First World War, the British and the French governments anticipated the defeat of the Turks and in the famous Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, secretly divided the Ottoman Empire between themselves, the Russians and the Italians. However, British interest and political aspirations called for a rapid revision of the Sykes-Picot partition. Within less than a year of concluding the agreement, the government set out to modify the provisions concerning the status of Palestine.
In December 1918 the British Prime Minister Lloyd George secured French acceptance that Palestine should come under British rather than international administration. The records show how the following period of intense and sometimes bitter negotiations between British and French policy makers, with the Zionist Organization as an interested pressure group and virtual participant in the process came close to jeopardising the post-war peace settlement.
Zionist influence on boundaries
The controversy surrounding the subsequent negotiations was fuelled by conflicting wartime promises to the Zionists and to the Arabs. The Balfour Declaration of November 2nd, 1917, concerning the establishment of a Jewish National Home, formalised an alliance with the politically influential Zionist movement.
It was a matter of urgent importance to the Zionists that Palestine should acquire a defensible boundary which would circumscribe sufficient surface water supplies for the successful development of a Jewish agriculture. But while Lloyd George dedared that Palestine should be defined in accordance to its Biblical limits "from Dan to Beersheba", Dr Weizmann lobbied to extend the boundaries further north and east for economic and security considerations.
Britain´s promise to grant King Husayn of the Hedjaz an independent Arab Kingdom (Husayn-McMahon correspondence 1915-1916) in return for leading the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during the First World War was increasingly compromised. Not only did the Hashemite states of Transjordan, Syria and later Iraq fall under British administration after the decision to apply the Mandate system to the territories was taken at San Remo in 1920, but Palestine, which was arguably promised to Husayn in 1915, was excluded from any Hashemite influence.
The eastern frontier with Transjordan
The eastern frontier was formally established in 1922 when the final draft of the Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan was approved by the League of Nations. This instrument provided the British with the authority to exclude the territory east of the Jordan river from those provisions concerning a National Home for the Jewish people. The British decided to administer Transjordan separately, leaving the Jordan river as the effective eastern boundary of Palestine.
Map of the Sinai boundary, 1906.
Map of Aqaba-Rafah, showing in pencil line the line described by Captain Owen and the Turkish Commissioners, 1906.
Map of the Sinai boundary annexed to the 1 October 1906 Agreement.
Map of northern Palestine and adjacent area showing the frontiers between British and French spheres of influence 1921.
Map showing proposed boundary between Jordan and Palestine, 1919.
Map showing boundaries of Palestine in the French proposals of March and June 1920, the Sykes-Picot line and the Meinertzhagen line.
Map showing Lebanese boundary according to Ms.Berthelot's proposal of 11 March 1920.
Map showing boundary between Syria and Palestine signed by Lt.Col. Paulet for French Government in 1922 and removed from the Commission's report on the boundary FO 93/292.
War Office map of Syria showing the international boundaries of 1914, 1918.
War Office base map of Palestine, 1923.
Colonial Office map showing Palestine and adjacent area with proposed frontier roughly sketched, 1921.