09.12.2023 Author: Seth Ferris

Secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, Impact on the Middle East: Palestinian-Arab Israeli Conflict

Secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, Impact on the Middle East: Palestinian-Arab Israeli Conflict

It amazes me to realize that, so many are trying to unravel what is going on in the Middle East, and with so little to work with, and even that is a BIG territory. The never-ending tragedy is not easy to peel back without knowing at least the basics, aside from the obvious religious divides, how British and French backroom double-dealing impacts us to this day, and for good measure—to toss in a bit of Russian collaboration, prior to the Russian Revolution, over the agreement divvying up the anticipated spoils of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) in the aftermath of WW1.

This agreement, as it often described, was secret to start out with, until the Russians leaked a copy after the 1917 Revolution and how it set Jews and Arabs against one another over failed and broken promises. It can also help explain what now is breaking news in Palestine and the current (mostly one-sided) bloodletting.

Moreover, the impact of the 1916 Sykes Picot secret agreement can give us deep insight into much of what is the landscape of geopolitical events in the Middle East, and is the starting point in making any sense of what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about.

Its results in both looking back, and in looking into the mirror of current realities on the ground, set into play a string of “unrealistic and impossible promises to the Arabs, it led directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, and that continues unabated.

It’s time we watch Lawrence of Arabia.

Let’s start with the infamous Lawrence of Arabia, Thomas Edward Lawrence, and his story is the STUFF of BIG movie screens, and glamorous true to boot. His story and books, including the Wilderness of ZIn, give us an insight into the intrigue of the work of British intelligence, and how it played all ends against the middle before, during and after WW1.

The extent of British lies and subterfuge is revealing, but all for a good cause, the British cause and to secure territory and energy resources for the Crown! Lawrence’s claim to fame is how “supposedly” he became the champion of Arab Tribesmen and sought to help them establish functional states, or as we call it nowadays, “self-determination”.

He is often credited with helping them to free themselves from the Ottoman Yoke.  But in reality they were pawns and cannon fodder for larger plans in the region. And does not the same thing continue to this day in the region?

As he wrote later,

“The Cabinet raised the Arabs to fight for us by definite promises of self-government afterwards… so I had to join the conspiracy, and for what my word was worth, assured the men their reward. In our past two years’ partnership under fire, they grew accustomed to believing me and to think my Government, like myself, sincere, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed. It was evident from the beginning that if we won the war, these promises would be dead paper, and if I had been an honest adviser of the Arabs, I would have advised them to go home and not risk their lives fighting for such stuff, but I salved myself with the hope that, by leading these Arabs madly in the final victory I would establish them, with arms in their hands in position so assured (if not dominant) that expediency would consult to the Great Powers a fair settlement of their claims.”

For him, in his own words, – “it was an immodest presumption… as he risked the fraud, on the conviction that Arab help was necessary to our cheap and speedy victory in the East and better to break our word and win than to lose.”

False Promises, Deception and Betrayal

While promising an Arab State on the one hand, the British came out with the Balfour Declaration which looked to create a Jewish State on the same territory claimed by the indigenous, e.g… Palestinian population, and that where all the problems started – over the same land promised to two people.

“His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object ….”

And all the rest, the Holocaust (which we can sadly see Israel’s leaders see as a model to be copied, not something to be ensured never happens again), the establishment of Israel at the hands of the US, and the Arab Israeli Wars over land, is history.  The subsequent influx of Jewish settlers and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 led to deep-rooted tensions with the Palestinian Arab population and land and human rights, with no relief in sight.

Ahab the Arab

It is worth noting even then, during the Arab Revolt, most Arabs remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire, and they were suspicious of the real intentions of the British, and with good cause, as we know in retrospect.  It may be ironic that it is the same Turkey, (Ottoman Empire) that is now speaking up the loudest for the rights of the Palestinian people.

Keep in mind that the locals, Arabs, Palestinians, etc., were not even consulted by the S-P Agreement’s chief architects, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and François Georges-Picot of France, regarding the secret deal that sought to partition the Ottoman Empire’s territories in the Middle East with the anticipated Allied victory in World War I.

The two diplomats drew artificial borders, many with a ruler, and created imperial spheres of influence, and control, [mostly] for Britain and France, carving up the region into areas of strategic importance and dividing people that were closer in identity than the name of their new countries indicated.

The game continues with new players, but the old game and ball is still in play! The lessons from Lawrence of Arabia are worth revisiting, “as in spite of the fact that he wanted to give up the desert, as many do now, the Sykes-Picot agreement caused Lawrence to go back, as he is determined to thwart the Europeans, or in today’s language: Zionists, or Imperialists, or may be simply outsiders, whatever they may be called nowadays, and to give the Arabs back their home!”

As then, it did not happen, and as now it will likely not happen either, and only the ensuring wasteland and Ahad the Arab will win with the dried blood of those who wish to fight over [it] …but to no avail.


Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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