France, England, and Russia, had their eyes on colonizing areas then controlled by the Ottoman empire. Britain emerged with the strongest and largest land holdings after World War I. The French-British Sykes -Picot agreement in 1917 spelled ourt spheres of control of post Ottoman Middle East. The British Empire had always wanted to settle Jews in Palestine to guard its interests starting in 1841. In that year, Colonel Charles Henry Churchill, the British Consul in Syria, stated that success of such colonizing effort depended on: “Firstly that the Jews themselves will take up the matter, universally and unanimously. Secondly that the European powers will aid them in their views” Epstein, L. J. 1984. Zion’s Call: Christian Contributions to the Origins and Development of Israel. New York: University Press of America. Lieutenant Colonel George Gawler (1796-1869) was tasked with formulating strategy for this colonization. His report published in a book format in 1845 was titled: "Tranquilization of Syria and the East: Observations and Practical Suggestions, in Furtherance of the Establishment of Jewish Colonies in Palestine, the Most Sober and Sensible Remedy for the Miseries of Asiatic Turkey". In 1852 the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine was founded by Gawler and other British officials. This society later evolved into the Palestine Fund.
Bearing fruit with the first settlement in Palestine under the banner of colonialism was Rishon LeZion established in 1880. Yet, even in those early ears, many Zionsits understood the challenge faced in building a state for Jews in a land already inhabited mostly by non-Jews. Ahad Ha'Am reported to fellow Zionists upon visiting the area in 1891 that:
"We abroad are used to believe the Eretz Yisrael is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowed ..... But in truth that is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed. Only sand dunes and stony mountains .... are not cultivated." (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 42)
Zionists also understood the challenge of local resistance to colonialization. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the ideological father of the Likud party in Israel, wrote in 1923:
"They (native Palestinians) look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true favor that Aztec looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence." (Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 36)
The Balfour declaration issued in 1917 committed "her majesty's government" to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This at a time when Jews constituted less than 7% of the population and the land was not under British rule. Actually in 1906 there were some 50,000 Jews in a land of some 850,000 and of those, only a few hundred were so called Zionist Pioneers (settlers/colonists). Lord Balfour wrote in a private memorandum sent to Lord Curzon, his successor at the Foreign Office (Curzon initially opposed Zionism) on 11 August 1919:
"For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants.... The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land" (Quoted in Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel 1917-1948 , reprinted Indiana University Press, Bloomingtron, IN, 1973).Native Jews in Palestine were opposed or indifferent to the idea of Zionism. Jews across the world were also indifferent or opposed to it (this only changed after the Second World War).