Arthur Balfour (C), former British prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann (3rd-R), the then future first president of Israel, visiting Tel Aviv in 1925 - AFP
CAIRO – 30 October 2017: This Thursday, November 2, marks the one-century anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Since 1917, this day has been engraved in Palestinian and Arab history as a day when “who doesn’t own, promised who don’t have the right.”
The Balfour declaration led to the establishment of Israel, which used force and violence to displace the indigenous population from Palestine. Palestinians lost their homeland, became refugees and have been living under a military occupation since 1948. The indigenous people of Palestine had the right to progress to independence, which wasn’t achieved as a result of the British promise.
A copy of the Balfour Declaration dated November 2, 1917 - AFP
On Sunday, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, published an article in the Telegraph that he claimed to have written in the same room Balfour used a century ago to prepare the Balfour letter. Johnson defended the Balfour declaration and praised the UK’s role in paving the way for the creation of Israel and his predecessor’s role in backing a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, describing it as an “incontestable moral goal: to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland." He added, “I am proud of Britain's part in creating Israel;" adding that the Balfour Declaration was "indispensable to the creation of a great nation."
At the end of the article, Johnson warned that one of the key pillars of the Balfour Declaration is that the rights of non-Jewish communities shall be protected, which he said "has not been fully realized."
Johnson also said that “two sovereign states for Israelis and Palestinians remains the only viable solution for peace” and that London remained committed to a two-state solution. He added that the borders of the two states should be as they were before the Six Day war in 1967, with Jerusalem as a “shared capital” and “equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interest of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”
"I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples," he wrote.
He also mentioned, “A century on, Britain will give whatever support we can in order to close the ring and complete the unfinished business of the Balfour Declaration.” This support includes providing security support, contributing to the compensation of refugees and investments in Israel and the independent Palestinian state as well as the neighboring Arab countries, which may contribute to a positive transformation of the whole region.
Johnson stressed the need to ensure the security of Israelis and prevent any terrorist threats against Israel, according to his article. He also called for respect to the sovereignty of the Palestinians and to guarantee their freedom of movement. The British Foreign Secretary referred to the United Nations resolution 1515 as the only just solution to the Palestinian refugees cause and their right to return to their homeland.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - AFP
The statements by UK officials remain controversial, including Johnson’s statement and statements by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials to attend celebrations in Britain to commemorate 100 years since the declaration in November. Britain also refused to apologize to the Palestinians for the Balfour declaration.
The UK’s leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, refused to attend the official dinner marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration which helped pave the way for a Jewish nation state.
The Palestinian leadership vowed to sue the British Government for refusing to apologize for the declaration. In July 2016, Palestine asked the Arab Summit meeting to support the Palestinians in preparing the legal case against Britain. Moreover, in several occasions, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Britain to apologize for the declaration. Speaking at the UNGA 71st session in 2016, Abbas said that the Palestinian people suffered greatly as a result of the Balfour Declaration.
“One hundred years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land,” Abbas said.
He added, “We ask Britain to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice that it created and to act to rectify this historic catastrophe and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas added, “This is the least Great Britain can do.”
Abbas renewed his calls recently in his address to the UNGA 72nd session in September, and criticized Britain for marking the 100th anniversary of the declaration and demanded compensation. Abbas also questioned Israel’s commitment to the Oslo peace accords signed in 1993 in light of its refusal to recognize a state of Palestine along the 1967 lines. He stressed the urgent need for the two-state solution and said, “both nations must live side-by-side as good neighbors in secure borders."
The most viable solution to this century-long conflict is to re-launch the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on a two-state solution that recognizes an independent state of Palestine alongside Israel and a mutually agreed solution to the refugees issue. The borders between the two neighboring countries must first be established and the only basis for negotiations should be the international law that can provide an objective standard applicable to both sides.
Palestinians and their supporters are planning a year-long series of activities to remind the world that Balfour declaration is the source of the historic injustice witnessed by the Palestinian people. They also aim to demand that Britain acknowledges its role in an unmitigated catastrophe that ruined the future of generations of Palestinians.
What is Balfour declaration?
The Balfour declaration was a letter sent on November 2, 1917 from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leading British Zionist. It stated that the British government supports the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine and expressed for the first time the international recognition to Zionism. The declaration paved the way and laid the foundation for the creation of Israel.
It reads: “His majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.”