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Revisiting the Balfour Declaration

The 96th anniversary of the Balfour declaration prompted diverging comments from Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority, shedding light upon the perspectives regarding Palestinian right to self-determination. The absolute denial uttered by Netanyahu, through his renewed calls for Palestinians to recognise the Jewish state, were countered by a declaration on the Palestinian Ministry of Information’s website, which described the Balfour Declaration as the commencement of ethnic cleansing.

Netanyahu’s paraphrasing of the insistence that Palestinians recognise the Jewish State this time included a reference to the declaration as a means of deriving legitimacy for Israel’s belligerent occupation. “That declaration recognised the right of the Jewish people to its own homeland in Israel…There is no doubt that international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its own state in its historic homeland is important; the refusal to recognise us is the root of the conflict.” Netanyahu’s statement is portrays the dynamics of how international governments allegedly support Palestinian self-determination yet always manage to dilute the rhetoric with displays of support for the on-going Zionist colonisation; the exception to the conformist trend is exhibited by countries whose history has been marred by foreign intervention, dictatorships and neoliberal experiments.

Palestinian self-determination as expressed by the PA remains mired in contradictions. The Ministry of Information has declared the Balfour Declaration “an illegal promise made by someone who does not own to someone who does not deserve,” summarising the prevalent attitude of the British with regard to Palestine. The declaration also aided towards the expulsion of Palestinians from historical memory, referring to the indigenous population as the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” which attributed an undeserved illusion of demographic majority in favour of Jews solely through its use of terminology depicting Palestinians. The reversal of ownership; and subsequent resolution affirming the creation of the State of Israel excludes the inalienable rights of Palestinians. While the rhetoric of respecting international law continues to take precedence, Israel is clearly intent on a continuation of human rights violations which the PA, through various forms of political intimidation including security cooperation with Israel, is unable to address in a coherent manner.

Official discourse by Palestinian representatives fluctuates between assertions uttered by the Palestinian UN envoy Riad Mansour that failure to stop settlements will result in considering “all means, diplomatic, legal and political” to address the violations, and Abbas’ agreement to relinquish the right to resort to legal means for the negotiations to take place. The discrepancy between the PA’s published statement and its use of conciliatory rhetoric such as ‘conflict’ instead of on-going colonisation, has unfortunately created a scenario where the evocation of the Balfour Declaration as a document which asserts its support for Zionist ideology is mellowed by the PA’s own acquiescence. The anniversary of the Balfour Declaration should not be utilised solely as a mere remembrance of Palestinian dispossession, lest it induces a further fragmentation between the right to memory and the people. It is the recognition of Palestinian historic legitimacy which should advance the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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