The Balfour Declaration still divides the Middle East 100 years later

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In a 12 months brimming with profoundly symbolic centennials, Thursday marks maybe probably the most politically fraught one. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will seem in London alongside his British counterpart, Theresa May, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a 67-word missive from Britain’s then-foreign secretary expressing his authorities’s badist for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Nov. 2, 1917, public letter was written by Lord Arthur Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, the pinnacle of the British wing of the influential European Jewish banking household. Balfour articulated the British need for the institution of “a national home for the Jewish people” and promised that his authorities would “facilitate the achievement of this object.” It would take three additional many years — and an incredible deal extra politicking and bloodshed — earlier than Israel declared independence in 1948.

But the Balfour Declaration is held up as a seminal occasion, the primary formal utterance of the fashionable Israeli state’s proper to exist (although some historians quibble “national home” just isn’t the identical factor as a state). For that purpose, it is usually bitterly regarded by many Palestinians as the primary instrument of their dispossession. In 1917, Jews made up lower than 10 % of Palestine’s inhabitants — a century later, they’re now the bulk, whereas hundreds of thousands of Palestinians reside in exile or in refugee camps. Protests are deliberate within the Palestinian territories to mark the centennial.


A photograph taken in 1925 and obtained from the Israeli Government Press Office on Oct. 24, reveals a replica of the Balfour Declaration. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

For many Israelis, the centennial is one thing to rejoice — particularly on British soil. It was partially because of the efforts of a coterie of Britain-based Zionists, notably Russian-born chemist Chaim Weizmann, that Balfour and his authorities had been persuaded to finally search a colonial mandate for Palestine as Western powers carved up the crumbling Ottoman Empire. “I am proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel,” wrote British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a column for the Sunday Telegraph.

But the event is a little more awkward for the British prime minister, who is predicted to spar with Netanyahu over the Israeli chief’s hawkish line on the Iran nuclear deal. Meanwhile, May’s chief opponent, Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn, is thought for his pro-Palestinian sympathies and has opted towards attending the Thursday dinner commemorating the Balfour Declaration. His hesitance just isn’t distinctive: A current survey discovered that solely 17 % of Britons maintain favorable views of Israel.

Across Europe, there’s quite a lot of badist for the popularity of an unbiased Palestinian state amid anger on the insurance policies of Netanyahu’s right-wing authorities, which is increasing Israeli settlements within the West Bank whereas sustaining a stifling army occupation over the Palestinian territories. Critics level to a line in Balfour’s letter that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” — a stipulation that doesn’t appear to have been adopted amid the conflicts and upheavals that got here after.

“The Balfour declaration is not something to be celebrated — certainly not while one of the peoples affected continues to suffer such injustice,” wrote Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in a column revealed this week within the Guardian. “The creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another — now a deep imbalance between occupier and occupied. The balance must be redressed, and Britain bears a great deal of responsibility in leading the way. Celebrations must wait for the day when everyone in this land has freedom, dignity and equality.”


Palestinian protesters burn a banner of Balfour, British and Israeli flags throughout a protest within the metropolis of Bethlehem on Nov. 1. (Abed Al Hashlamoun/European Pressphoto Agency-EFE)

Israeli officers liken the Palestinian refusal to just accept the declaration as proof of their broader rejection of Israel. “The vehement Palestinian Arab opposition to the Balfour Declaration was and has remained rooted in the anti-historical view that Jews were aliens, with no connection to the land and no right of any kind to live there as a people,” wrote high Israeli diplomat Yuval Rotem. “This spawned an Arab exclusivism and sense of supremacy, which continues to drive the Arab-Israel conflict to this day.”

Of course, the motives driving Balfour, an influential Conservative statesman who briefly served as prime minister, had as a lot to do with geopolitics as any abiding sympathy for the Zionist plight. On an earlier go to to the area, he described Palestine as a “dolorous country on the whole” and Jerusalem as a “miserable ghetto, derelict and without dignity.”

Just days earlier than issuing the declaration, Balfour stated at a cupboard badembly that interesting to Jewish nationalism would function “extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and in America” — two international locations with vital Jewish populations and whose contributions had been vital to successful World War I. After the declaration was introduced, British leaflets had been dropped over Jewish communities in German and Austrian territory pointing to the great deeds carried out for the “people of Israel.”

The Balfour Declaration was only one piece in a collection of British diplomatic efforts that helped form the map of the fashionable Middle East. In 1916, Britain had already agreed in secret with France and Russia to a division of the Ottoman possessions that noticed Palestine designated beneath joint “international control.” A 12 months later, with the Bolshevik Revolution upending a few of these plans, Britain sought to consolidate a buffer between a French-dominated Levant and their colonial considerations in Egypt — and so a mandate for Palestine appeared increasingly interesting. Zionists, buoyed by the British badist, lobbied for Palestine to be positioned beneath British rule, which it will definitely was.

As for Lord Roderick Balfour, the great-great-nephew of the declaration’s architect, he sees flaws nonetheless unaddressed in his ancestor’s well-known act.

“I have major reservations,” he just lately advised reporters. “There is this sentence in the declaration, ‘Nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’ That’s pretty clear. Well, that’s not being adhered to. That has somehow got to be rectified.”

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