During the late 19th century, the Zionist movement developed in Europe, dedicated to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. A number of settlements were begun, fueled by Russian pogroms and widespread anti-Semitism in Europe. Other alternatives were briefly explored, including a British proposal to settle Jews in Uganda.
On November 2, 1917 Arthur James Balfour, foreign secretary under David Lloyd George, sent a letter to the prominent Jewish leader, Lord Lionel Rothschild. It read as follows:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
This statement of the British government appeared in The Times of London on November 8 and set the international framework for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The declaration was later approved by Woodrow Wilson and the governments of France and Italy.
Arab leaders at the time believed they had also been given assurances by the British that an independent Arab state would emerge from the lands of the defunct Ottoman Empire after World War I ended. Many Arabs expected such a state to exist in Palestine.
What were the British trying to accomplish in the Balfour Declaration? In part, it was a war measure designed to attract favorable attention from Jews in Germany and Austria, as well as those in the United States. Beyond that, however, the British wanted to exert control over a highly strategic area that was close to the oil-rich Middle East and the vital Suez Canal.
After the war, in July 1922, the League of Nations established a temporary mandate for Palestine, under which the British were empowered to act in a governing capacity for the benefit of both Arab and Jew.