Why Israel was not established in modern-day Saudi Arabia

The only interest of the British in the Peninsula was in stopping the forces of King Abdulaziz from reaching the shores of the Gulf

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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History is made by individuals. That’s how Israel was born, through a promise from former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on the land of Palestine, although it could have been in any other place.

There was more than one option to establish a state for the Jews in the world, with the majority of possibilities being in the new continents. They thought of Latin America, and mainly Argentina, which was home to 250,000 Jews. The other suggestion was Australia.

The British even discussed the possibility of giving them Uganda, one of their African colonies.

A new element to the old story is that one region of Saudi Arabia was on the list of candidate places to host Jews in order to settle and establish the state of Israel. The British Library recently surprised us with one of its documents, which was a letter from the French Ambassador in Paris sent to Balfour, who was looking on the world map for a place for the Jews.

The letter contained a suggestion by a Russian Jew to occupy al-Ahsa in Saudi Arabia through neighboring Bahrain. But on that same year, 1917, Balfour had already made his mind and decided to make Palestine the Promised Land, before God unveiled his own - the long-awaited land of milk and honey!


For the bad luck of Palestinians - and the good luck of Saudis - Balfour refused the suggestion. He didn’t refuse al-Ahsa on merely historic and religious grounds, but because it was a poor land lacking the elements of a modern state.

The only interest of the British in the Peninsula was in stopping the forces of King Abdulaziz from reaching the shores of the Gulf

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

He found all of the Arabian Peninsula a hostile land, which forced its residents to migrate throughout the centuries, because of drought, famine and starvation.

Maybe if the British minister had known that the biggest oil reserves in the world lay beneath it, he would have changed the direction of the migration, and history would’ve been completely changed.

When Balfour refused the option of al-Ahsa as a state of Jews, King Abdulaziz was riding his horse and fighting with his sword for 15 years throughout the Arabian Peninsula in order to revive the kingdom of his ancestors, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And the king was lucky - the oil wasn’t discovered in the Saudi Province of Al-Ahsa until 11 years after Balfour refused to give it to the Jews.

Fertile land

Balfour was looking for a fertile agricultural land, Argentina, Australia, Uganda, and Palestine, the land of the olive trees. Who would want al-Ahsa, or any other place in the Arabian Peninsula where its residents were living on sheep and camel breeding and very basic agriculture.

The only interest of the British in the Peninsula was in stopping the forces of King Abdulaziz from reaching the shores of the Gulf, to keep their fleet safe, and block the road to the Saudi forces from crossing to Iraq, which was under their rule.

Nobody cared about what was happening in those poor desert areas, except maybe the British Captain William Henry Shakespear, who tried to convince his boss Sir Percy Cox about the importance of the Arabian Peninsula.

Cox, who drew Iraq’s map as we know it, wasn’t convinced of the importance of the Arabian Peninsula, and this is what preserved Saudi Arabia from being divided by the British scalpel, and the subsequent tragedies.

The Palestinians are still paying a hefty price of that promise with more than 4 million of them scattered all over the world, and countless others besieged in their own land. Even the Jews themselves are bogged down in a state whose future is full of conflicts with neighbors.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 12, 2014.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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