Background on the Balfour Declaration
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a
national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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
Arthur Balfour 2 November 1917
- The Balfour Declaration was issued at the time of Britain’s capture of Palestine from the Turks in 1917 to win over Jewish support not least in Germany, the US and Russia at a crucial moment in the war.
- The declaration was not however supported universally in the Jewish communities. The one Jewish member of the Cabinet in 1917, Edwin Montagu, wrote that: “I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic and in result will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”
- Balfour himself was contemptuous of the Arabs. In 1919, Balfour stated that “in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”
- The Balfour Declaration violated earlier written pledges from Britain to Arab leaders made when trying to encourage them to rise up against the Turks. This included the 1915 letters exchanged with Sharif Hussein of Mecca.
- The Balfour Declaration did have positive benefits for many Jews which should be welcomed.
- It did not state support for a Jewish state, nor did it specify that a national home for the Jewish people would be in all of mandate Palestine.
- At the time of the Balfour declaration, Palestinian Arabs made up 90% of the population. Palestinians remained the majority of the population for the entirety of the British mandate.
- The second part of the Balfour Declaration has been ignored over the last 100 years.
- British actions directly prejudiced “the civil and religious rights of non-existing Jewish communities in Palestine.” An historic apology for these actions would be welcome.
- The declaration did not include political rights for Palestinians. The failure to do so demonstrates the colonial mentality of its authors.
- Palestinians have not enjoyed civil and political rights. For example, over 400 of their villages were destroyed after the 1948 war, and 70% of the Palestinian population (now over 5 million refugees) have not been allowed to return.
- According to the UN 48,743 Palestinian buildings have been demolished since 1967. Many more homes are under threat of demolition including over 50 schools.
- Palestinians in the occupied territories do not enjoy freedom of access to religious sites not least in Jerusalem. Many young Palestinian men living in the West Bank have never been to Jerusalem, and an even higher proportion from Gaza.
- Britain can make amends in 2017 by recognizing a sovereign independent state of Palestine based on the 1967 lines alongside the state of Israel.
- Britain should mark the Balfour declaration but not as the Prime Minister repeatedly states commemorate it with “pride and respect.”
- To commemorate the Balfour Declaration is dangerously partisan and imbalanced, ignores Palestinian hopes and aspirations and the appalling conditions in which they survive in exile and under occupation till this day.
You can read international jurist Henry Cattan's chapter on this document here.
Articles on Balfour
For more information please visit The Balfour Project
British Ministerial Comments
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph on the 30th of October on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration titled ' My vision for Middle East peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state. It can be found here.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May and the Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt made comments during a debate on the 'Centenary of the Balfour Declaration' in the House of Commons on the 25th of October.
Theresa May said: "We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the state of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride. However, we must also be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour declaration. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, which is an important aim." More can be found here.
Alistair Burt said: "The Government are proud of the role that the UK played in the creation of the state of Israel. We will welcome the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guest of the Government on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. We will mark the centenary with pride and respect, but also with a degree of sadness, as issues between Israel and the Palestinians remain unresolved." More can be found here.
On the 30th of October, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a statement on Monday 30 October on the Balfour Decleration and its legacy after 100 years, where he stressed the importance of a two-state solution. His statement can be found here. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also made comments during the debate, where she challenged the Foreign Secretary on safeguarding the rights of the Palestinians and recognising a Palestinian state. Her comments can be found here.