The British ended up creating a War Cabinet to direct the course of the British during the first World War. It consisted of David Lloyd George, the new prime minister, who was sympathetic to the Zionist cause, as well as Arthur Balfour, who had replaced Edward Grey as Foreign Secretary. They were joined by secretary Mark Sykes, who was likewise a Zionist.
Edwin Montagu and Lord Curzon, however, opposed the declaration. Curzon pointed out that the Zionist project could not be successfully carried out without displacing the indigenous Arabs. The mention of the commitment to avoid harming the ‘non-Jewish communities’ of Palestine in the Balfour Declaration was his addition. He regarded the Balfour Declaration was one of England’s most serious mistakes. Curzon would eventually replace Balfour as Foreign Secretary.
Curzon was joined in his opposition by Edwin Montagu, a Jewish anti-Zionist who had lived in British and saw returning to Israel as a return to a “Jewish Ghetto.” He left the country for the position of Secretary of State for India before the Balfour Declaration was issued.
Dr. Weizmann, the father of industrial fermentation and friend of Zionist politicians in the British government, was summoned by Winston Churchill after the latter had heard of his discovery of acetone and its usefulness in explosives. Weizmann became a close friend of Balfour, whose interest in Zionism was largely religious, whereas Weizmann was primarily a Jewish nationalist.
General Sir Edmund Allenby, who had been made commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, for his part, was opposed to the Zionist program. He had captured Damascus, Gaza and Jerusalem in 1918 during the discussions concerning the Balfour Declaration. The tension between Britain keeping its promises to the Arabs, to whom they had promised the land of Palesetine, and our agreement with the French and Russian allies, was reaching a fevered pitch. Allenby insisted that the Balfour Declaration not be published.
Despite the opposition from Montagu and Curzon, Weizmann was able to garner the support of the Chief Rabbi while attempting to drum up support for Zionism among the synagogues; a particularly important strategy for Weizmann, seeing as much of the most vocal opposition to Zionism came from within the Jewish camp itself, who opposed Zionism on religious grounds, since political Zionism contradicts the Talmud. Balfour and Weizmann eventually succeeded in delivering the letter to Lord Rothschild.
Balfour, for his part, was well-aware of the tensions inherent in Britain’s allegiance to the promises made to the Allied Powers and the promises made to the Arabs, as is clear from a secret memorandum to the British Cabinet concerning Palestine, Mesopotamia and Syria:
‘… Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind… So whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all … The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine… For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form for consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.’
Grey, Mary. The Balfour Declaration – Key players and events. Retrieved from: http://www.balfourproject.org/the-balfour-declaration-key-players-and-ev…