The King-Crane Commission of 1919 was a delegation sent to the territories of the former Ottoman Empire after World War I. A champion of self-determination, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson proposed that an Inter-Allied Commission be sent to the region to determine the aspirations of local inhabitants. Wilson proposed the commission upon the conclusion of secret and contradictory negotiations between the Allied powers that did not consider the wishes of the natives.
The agreements that most dramatically emphasized the conflicting self-interests of the British and the French for the Ottoman territories during World War I were the Sherif Husayn–McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Treaty, and the Balfour Declaration. The Sherif Husayn–McMahon correspondence was an agreement made between the British high commissioner in Egypt, Henry McMahon, and Sherif Husayn of Mecca between 1914 and 1916. The British promised to recognize and help establish Arab independence if the Arabs agreed to fight in the war alongside the British. The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 defined areas of British and French control in Arab lands and in Turkey. Finally, in November of 1917 the British government publicly issued the Balfour Declaration, which stated British support for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The British negotiated the same territory on three separate occasions, making three distinctly different promises to three distinctly different groups of people.
The commission was to determine whether the region was prepared for self-determination and to ascertain what nations, if any, the indigenous population wanted to serve as mandatory powers. Wilson appointed Henry Churchill King, president of Oberlin College, and Charles R. Crane, a Chicago businessman and trustee of Robert College in Constantinople, to serve as the U.S. representatives. The King Crane Commission visited Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Anatolia between June and August 1919. The King Crane findings were first published in 1922 but not officially released by the U.S. Department of State until 1947.
The King Crane Commission began its inquiry on June 10, 1919, and traveled through Syria and Palestine for six weeks. The method of inquiry was to meet with individuals and delegations that would represent all the significant groups in the various communities to obtain the opinions and desires of the natives. The commission received 1,863 petitions with approximately 19,000 signatures and heard from representatives from over 1,500 villages. The commission concluded that if a foreign administration came to Syria, it should come not as a colonizing power but as a mandatory under the auspices of the League of Nations. The recommendations further emphasized the preservation of Syrian unity and recommended that Syria be placed under one mandatory power. Despite previous French ambitions, the commissioners recommended that the United States undertake the single mandate for all Syria. If such an arrangement were not possible, the Syrians desired that Great Britain assume the mandate. Syria was proclaimed an independent republic in 1944.
In Palestine, the King Crane Commission recommended serious modification of the Zionist program of unlimited immigration of Jews. King and Crane emphasized in their findings the centrality of the Holy Land as important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike and recommended against the creation of an entirely Jewish state. A number of factors, including President Wilson’s incapacitating stroke, prevented the findings and recommendations of the King Crane Commission from ever being implemented.
- Howard, Harry N. An American Inquiry in the Middle East: The King-Crane Commission. Beirut: Khayats, 1963;
- Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the ArabIsraeli Conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.