The Palestinian Authority’s campaign against the Balfour Declaration indicates that its leadership refuses to recognize the legitimate historical right of the Jews to their national homeland and casts serious doubts about Palestinian intentions.
November 2, 2016 marks the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, one of the earliest measures taken by a major international actor to recognize the right of the Jewish people to re-establish sovereignty over their national homeland.
The Declaration recognizes the fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel and have had a continual presence there for millennia. Jews have been striving to reconstitute their national homeland since the destruction of the Judean Kingdom in 70 CE, but the successful fulfillment of this goal began only in the 19th century when the political movement to return to the Jewish homeland began to establish national institutions at the Zionist Congress in 1897.
The Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917 by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, and states:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.”
It is important to note that at the time the Declaration was issued, Palestine referred to a geographic area, not to any political entity as no such independent or sovereign entity existed.
Recognition by the International Community
International recognition of the Jewish people’s inalienable right to reestablish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland quickly followed the Balfour Declaration.
Most significantly, the League of Nations [the precursor to the United Nations] recognized this right in its 24 July 1922 decision to establish the Palestine/Land of Israel Mandate. In that international legislative act, the League appointed Great Britain to be responsible for putting the Balfour Declaration into effect, with the goal of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The legally-binding League of Nations Mandate acknowledged the “historic connection of the Jewish people” to the area rightly known as the Land of Israel/Judea/the Holy Land.
The League of Nations mandate of 1922 transformed the Balfour Declaration and its call for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people from a policy position into an international legal obligation accepted by the international community as a whole.
Legitimate Jewish Rights
The importance of both the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations decision lays in the international recognition of preexisting natural, historical, and legal rights of the Jewish people to their homeland, in which there had been a continuous Jewish presence throughout the centuries. The official acknowledgment by the international community of the Jewish people’s historic ties to the land is further emphasized by the language used in the League’s Mandate decision. The Palestine/Land of Israel Mandate specifically calls to “reconstitute” the national home of the Jewish people, not to constitute anything new.
The International Community and the Establishment of the State of Israel
The Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations decision and the subsequent United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 all recognized the Jewish people’s right to a sovereign state in its historic homeland. These international decisions played an important role in galvanizing support for the establishment of the future State of Israel.
Palestinian Attempts to Undermine the Balfour Declaration
The essence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from 1917 until today has been the systematic and total rejection by the Palestinian leadership of the Jewish people’s legitimate national rights in the Land of Israel.
Current Palestinian attempts to undermine the Balfour Declaration are part and parcel of their campaign to undermine the basic rights of Jewish peoplehood and the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Rejecting the Balfour Declaration is tantamount to rejecting the internationally-recognized natural rights of the Jewish people to a national home in the Land of Israel.
While Israel has repeatedly stressed its adherence to the principle of two states for two people, these Palestinian attempts prove yet again that their leaders are less interested in establishing their own state alongside Israel than they are in forging it instead of Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s incongruous threat, first announced this past July, to sue the British government over the Balfour Declaration amply demonstrates that Palestinian leaders remain fixated on unfounded allegations from the past instead of moving forward to a better future for both peoples.
This historical denial of internationally-recognized Jewish rights by the Palestinian leadership is also reflected in the recent attempts in UNESCO to erase the Jewish and Christian heritage of Jerusalem.
Respect for the Rights of All
Both the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations decision included specific provisions to ensure respect for the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants in the land of Israel, irrespective of their ethnic orientation or religion.
Israel itself has always fervently strived to protect the rights of all its citizens – Jews and Arabs alike. Even before Israel became a state in 1948, the Jewish national movement deemed respect for the basic rights of all the inhabitants of the land as one of its most important values. Indeed, Israel enshrined these rights in its Declaration of Independence:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL […] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Quest for Peace
In the hope of fulfilling its dream of peaceful coexistence, Israel – and the Jewish national movement that preceded it – continually demonstrated their readiness to make painful compromises with their Arab neighbors.
In contrast, the rejectionist policies of the Palestinian leaders have not changed since 1917.
Tragically, these Palestinian policies have not been limited to the political sphere. In 1947, the UN Partition Plan – which was accepted by the Jews – was rejected by the Arabs, who chose to wage a war of annihilation instead of accepting the compromise that would have averted all the wars that followed.
Current activities by the Palestinian Authority, including its campaign against the Balfour Declaration, indicate that the Palestinian leadership continues to claim exclusive rights to the entire land, refusing to recognize the legitimate historical right of the Jews to their national homeland. These actions cast serious doubts about Palestinian intentions.
These actions, together with the systematic distortion of Jewish history, are morally unacceptable and factually unfounded. They are inimical to the international community’s – and Israel’s – desire for peace. It is long past time for the international community to step up and demand that the Palestinians stop perpetuating the conflict against Israel and finally answer Israel’s repeated calls to return to direct negotiations for a genuine peace.
By: Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs