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Britain should re-interpret the Balfour Declaration

Londoners mark 100 years since Balfour Declaration in a protest to recognise the on-going oppression of Palestinians and calling for an apology from the British government, in London on 4 November, 2017
Londoners mark 100 years since Balfour Declaration in a protest to recognise the on-going oppression of Palestinians and calling for an apology from the British government, in London on 4 November, 2017 [File photo]

The UN General Assembly voted on Tuesday by an overwhelming majority to grant the State of Palestine enhanced rights and privileges, allowing it to take over the chair of the Group of 77+China. This important diplomatic victory for Palestinians comes at a time when the majority of UN members not only recognise Palestine as a State but also recognise that the Palestinian people, just like any other people, have every right to a fully independent state of their own.

The G77+ China is a coalition of developing nations whose 134 member states voted, in March last year, for Palestine to be its chair in 2019 for one year. Once in position, the State of Palestine will speak for the entire G77+China in every UN event, be it about human rights, development or global justice. Despite this, the Palestinian State is still not on the world map as it should be.

The latest General Assembly resolution was supported by 146 countries and opposed by just three, namely the United States, Israel and Australia. This is a further indication that the US and Israel are increasingly isolated on the world stage, even with the US enjoying a veto which it uses shamelessly to protect Israel at the UN Security Council.

Symbolically, the vote to enhance Palestine’s UN status from observer to near fully participating member coincides with the 101st anniversary of the notorious Balfour Declaration on 2 November. In 1918, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a senior member of the Jewish community, pledging the government’s support for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people“ in Palestine. That pledge became the basis for the Palestinian Nakba (disaster) of 1948 when around 700,000 Palestinians were driven by force out of their homes by Zionist militias in order to create the State of Israel on stolen land.

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The Balfour Declaration was the first serious crime against humanity committed against the Palestinian people, not least because it helped to create the occupation and refugee crisis which is ongoing, reinforced by brutal measures imposed by the Israeli authorities.

Balfour has to shoulder the blame for condemning Palestinians to decades of forced exile around the world and displacement in other parts of their occupied homeland, such as the Gaza Strip – where most of the population are refugees – and the West Bank. By giving his backing to the Zionist cause in 1918, as if he owned the land (which Britain did not even control at the time of his declaration), Balfour basically defined Britain’s policy towards Palestine for generations to come.

It is interesting to note that the term “national home” used in the declaration has no basis in international law and was never used to refer to a state. There is no country today that calls itself a “national home”; it is as if the term has been twisted by the Zionists – Jews and non-Jews alike –  in order to grant some “legitimacy” to their future occupation of Palestine.

The Balfour Declaration is actually explicit about Britain’s support being conditional that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” In other words, the rights of other people living in Palestine – the Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike – had to be protected. Such rights include freedom of religion, the protection of civil rights and, above all, the protection of their national identity in its different manifestations.

However, the British government went on to cherry-pick what it would allow to happen in Palestine once it had been given the League of Nations Mandate to govern the territory. It ended up helping the Jewish State to come into being; it is a state that does not provide any sort of recognition or protection to the “non-Jewish” inhabitants of the land.

Britain should be held responsible for the way that the Balfour Declaration was interpreted and implemented. That short letter to Lord Rothschild did not say that a “Jewish State” was to be created regardless of the effect on the indigenous population. It was certainly not a green light for the Zionists to carry out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, nor for the destruction of their homes and towns and for the refugees to be replaced by Jews from around the world. And yet, that is what happened.

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When Israel was created in 1948 the Jews were a minority in Palestine but they were allocated a majority of the land by the UN Partition Plan. Israel’s colonisation of the land has expanded ever since, so that today it welcomes Jews from around the world but prevents Palestinians from returning, quite legitimately, to the land from which they and their families were driven. Indeed, Israel believes that the Palestinian refugees should be given citizenship in their host countries and does nothing to help them, despite the state’s obligations as the occupying power.

It is unlikely that the British government will ever ask, never mind force, Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian land, or even ease the siege of the Gaza Strip and restrictions on the Palestinians in the West Bank. Nevertheless, it is perfectly reasonable to ask Britain to look again at the Balfour Declaration and re-interpret it in the way that its author intended.

Sadly, neither Britain nor the US will ever make such a move because Israel, in their eyes, has to be defended at all costs and must be allowed to act with impunity. Even so, relatively small political and diplomatic steps, such as the latest vote at the UN General Assembly, signify not only that the Western powers are out of step with the rest of the world, but also that the refusal of the Palestinians to surrender their inalienable rights will, one day, bring about justice.

Israel demolishes Al-Araqeeb Village - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel demolishes Al-Araqeeb Village – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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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