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2 November 2016

A century after the Balfour Declaration

By: Daoud Kuttab
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November 2 is etched in the minds of Palestinians and Arabs as a dark day. November 2, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the date when a British official promised a Zionist leader a Jewish state in a country that was already inhabited by Palestinians, including Palestinian Jews.
 
Palestinians and their supporters are planning a year-long series of activities to mark this date with the aim of reminding the world of the injustice that befell the Palestinians nearly one century ago.
 
In 1917, in a letter to Lord Rothschild, the head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour made the promise of a state for Jews, but conditioned it with a request that existing communities would not be “prejudiced” by such a state.
 
“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 other country,” the text of the declaration reads.
 
The Balfour Declaration was made before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine and the Arab orient, and was replaced by the British mandate, which helped (while at times hesitatingly) create the conditions that would eventually lead to the forced establishment of a state in Palestine against the wishes of its people.
 
While Lord Balfour was promising a “favour” to Rothschild, another British official was making a contradictory support to Arabs, again on the eve of the victory of the allies in World War I.
 
The McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, was an exchange of letters (July 14, 1915 to January 30, 1916) during World War I, between Sharif of Mecca Hussein Bin Ali and British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Henry McMahon concerning the political status of lands under the Ottoman Empire.
 
Growing Arab nationalism had led to a desire for independence from the Ottoman Empire.
 
In the letters, the Britain agreed to recognise Arab independence after World War I “in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sharif of Mecca”, which included Palestine.
 
The British mandate, which was established after World War I, would extend to May 1948, during which Zionist would establish themselves in Palestine, often with British officials turning a blind eye to their actions and illegal immigration, thus leading to the establishment of Israel and the Palestinian Nakbeh (catastrophe), as Palestinians became a refugee nation settling in tents and camps in areas around the newly established state and throughout the world.
 
Much happened in the hundred years since those contradictory British promises, but one thing is clear: the people of Palestine lost their homeland, became refugees and are living under a military colonial occupation.
 
The British government, and with it Western countries that enabled Zionist Jews to create the state of Israel and have stood largely idle as Israel swallowed the entire area of Palestine, has done little to put a stop to the Israeli expansion and occupation for one century.
 
Neither Britain nor Israel ever recognised or apologised for their historic role in creating the Palestinian refugees.
 
Israel does not only refuse to recognise its role, it has done everything possible to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their lands or even establishing an independent state on 22 per cent of the historic land of Palestine.
 
Looking back at these historic events will do little to directly restore the Palestinians’ rights, but it does provide an opportunity for people in 2016 to remember and be reminded of the series of activities and conspiracies that took place and brought us where we are today.
 
Palestinians need to look forward and convince the world that the most viable solution today to this century-old conflict lies in the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and a mutually agreed to solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.
 
These moderate goals are achievable if there is international will, including serious efforts by countries like the United Kingdom.
 
A first step in correcting the injustice that befell the Palestinians would be to recognise and apologise for what happened to them as a result of the Balfour Declaration.
 
A more effective political action, however, would be for the British government to heed its own parliament and recognise the state of Palestine on lands Israel occupied in June 1967.
 
This would be a small step towards addressing the hurt and pain that were caused by the unfair promise made by Lord Balfour.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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