FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Balfour Declaration: Britain Broke Its Feeble Promise to the Palestinians

Photo by Elvert Barnes | CC by 2.0

There is more than a little irony in Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to attend a “celebration” dinner this week in London with his British counterpart, Theresa May, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

Palestinian objections to the 1917 document are well-known. Britain’s Lord Balfour had no right to promise a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, on the land of another people.

But Israelis have been taught a different history in which they, not the Palestinians, were betrayed.

In 1939, Britain appeared to revoke its pledge, stating “unequivocally” that it would not establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Limits on Jewish immigration were imposed, at a time when Europe’s Jews were fleeing the Nazi Holocaust.

It was for this reason that nearly a quarter of a century ago, in his book A Place Among the Nations, Netanyahu accused Britain of perfidy.

One can understand the reluctance of Israelis today to concede the pivotal role provided by Britain. The Balfour Declaration is an embarrassing reminder that a Jewish state was the fruit of a transparently colonial project.

In fact, Britain assisted the Zionists as best it could, given the need to weigh its imperial interests. Restrictions on immigration were introduced under the severe strain of a three-year armed uprising by Palestinians, determined to prevent their country being given away.

Historian Rashid Khalidi has noted that the Palestinian revolt of the late 1930s included possibly the longest-ever anti-colonial general strike. It posed such a threat that Britain committed thousands of extra soldiers to repress the insurgency, even as war loomed in Europe.

By the time Britain departed Palestine in 1948, it had overseen three decades in which the Zionists were allowed to develop the institutions of statehood: a government-in-waiting, the Jewish Agency; a proto-army in the Haganah; and a land and settlement division known as the Jewish National Fund.

By contrast, any signs of Palestinian nationalism, let alone nation-building, were ruthlessly crushed. By the end of the Arab revolt, less than a decade before the Palestinians would face a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Zionists, Palestinian society lay in ruins.

Israel learnt two lessons from Britain that guided its subsequent struggle to quash Palestinian attempts at liberation.

First, Israel continued the draconian measures of British colonial rule. In the early 1950s, Menachem Begin, leader of the pre-state Irgun militia and a future Israeli prime minister, famously called Britain’s emergency regulations “Nazi laws”.

Nonetheless, they were incorporated into the military orders Israel uses against Palestinians under occupation. Significantly, the regulations are also still in force inside Israel against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens, one in five of the population. Israel has yet to end its seven-decade state of emergency.

The other lesson derives from the wording of the Balfour Declaration. It referred to the native Palestinians – then 90 per cent of Palestine’s inhabitants – as “existing non-Jewish communities”. It promised only to protect their “civil and religious rights”, denying them recognition as a nation deserving of political and social rights.

Israel followed suit. Palestinians in Israel were characterised as “the minorities”, or generic “Israeli Arabs”, rather than Palestinians. Israel’s perverse nationality laws assign them largely religious classifications as Druze, Arameans (Christians) and Arabs (increasingly synonymous with Muslims).

In occupied East Jersualem, Palestinians are denied all national and institutional representation. And in the West Bank, the powers of the Palestinian Authority – supposedly the Palestinians’ fledgling government – extend no further than acting as a security contractor for Israel and carrying out municipal services like garbage collection. In practice, the PA’s severely circumscribed authority is confined to a tiny fraction of the West Bank.

As a result, the Palestinians’ national ambitions have shrunk precipitously: from Yasser Arafat’s struggle for one secular democratic state in all Palestine, to today’s enclaves in Gaza and slivers of the West Bank.

Israel has consistently rejected for Palestinians the very self-determination it once demanded from the British.

Netanyahu’s government is preparing to nullify any lingering hopes of Palestinian statehood with the most significant move towards annexation of Palestinian territory in 40 years, when Jerusalem was annexed. The plan is to greatly expand Jerusalem’s boundaries to include large Jewish settlements in the West Bank like Maale Adumim.

In addition, Netanyahu has reportedly promised $230 million to build five highways in the West Bank, aiding movement between Israel and the settlements.

Is there an opposition? Avi Gabbay, new leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, sounds no different from the far-right. Last month he stated: “I believe all of the Land of Israel [historic Palestine] is ours.” No West Bank settlement would be evacuated, even for the sake of peace, he added.

Britain fulfilled its promise to the Zionists in full, but broke even its feeble commitment to the Palestinians to protect their civil and religious rights. An apology from Britain is long overdue, as are efforts to repair the damage it initiated 100 years ago.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

 

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail