“I don’t think we celebrate the Balfour declaration. But I think we have to mark it because it was a turning point in the history of that area and the most important way of marking it is to recognize Palestine.”
— Emily Thornberry, UK shadow foreign secretary
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, is calling on the UK to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration — which called for the creation of a Jewish national homeland — with a formal British recognition of the state of Palestine.
The Balfour declaration was issued on Nov 2, 1917, and took its name from a letter written by Arthur Balfour, the foreign secretary, expressing support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” to Lord Rothschild.
Although Israel was not established until three decades later, the declaration is still seen, not least by Israel, as a founding diplomatic initiative for a Jewish state. It is deeply resented by Palestinians.
“Our record [in Palestine] demonstrates that we [British] can be, and have been, as devious as any other people. A nation which only has room for national pride, and no room for honest reflection about its past has little claim to describe itself as either moral or civilized.”
— Peter Shambrook, Durham University historian
If the British Conservative Government of Teresa May represented the views of the people of Britain rather than the preferences of the state of Israel on the disastrous outcome for the Palestinian Arabs of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, she would not be planning to celebrate this 100th anniversary with Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister. This will happen at a cosy London dinner party at the home of Lord Rothschild, heir to the recipient of that infamous letter from Arthur J. Balfour, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary.
As it is, her November 2 tete-a-tete with Mr. Netanyahu, Lord Rothschild and Lord Balfour, a descendant of Arthur J. Balfour who had no direct descendants, and a subsequent November 9, rally organized by Christian Zionists at the cavernous Albert Hall, in London’s Hyde Park, which Britain’s leader and Zionist and Israeli notables will also attend, are being pre-empted and countered by a host of events throughout the British Isles. These are not only highly critical of Britain’s disastrous legacy in its former Mandated Territory, but urge it to recognize Palestine as a state and work practically to grant the Palestinian Arabs their freedom and self-determination.
This was the duty, a “sacred trust,” the League of Nations imposed on Britain when it obtained the mandate to rule Palestine after the First World War — to prepare the people of Palestine for self-government. Where the Arabs were concerned, then 90 per cent of the population, it signally failed to do so, instead encouraging the Zionist movement to create a parallel government alongside the colonial one.