British involvement in Palestine is, for the most part, a stain on the UK's history which is why any plans to celebrate the events of 2017, when Lord Arthur Balfour (above), signed his infamous declaration are not only misguided but just plain wrong
This year marks the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration, a letter written in 1917 by Britain's then-foreign secretary Lord Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the Zionist movement, writes Sharif Nashashibi. In the letter, Balfour said the British government viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", and would use its "best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object".
The effect of this declaration was best summed up by the late British author and journalist Arthur Koestler: "One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third." It had no moral or legal right to do so.
The declaration contradicted Britain's previous promise of "complete and final liberation" for the Arabs if they rose up against their Ottoman rulers. Their subsequent revolt was pivotal to the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, and thereby the outcome of the First World War. Balfour reneged on his own pledge in his letter to Rothschild that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
In 1919, he wrote in a memorandum: "In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country... Zionism be it right or wrong is more important than the wishes of 700,000 Arabs," who constituted some 94 per cent of the population of Palestine at the time.
The Balfour Declaration, and its implementation by the British Mandate in Palestine from 1920, culminated in Israel's creation in 1948, and the wholesale dispossession of the Palestinian people. As such, one would reasonably think that 2017 would, or at least should, be a time of national introspection in Britain over its central responsibility for the Palestinians' continuing plight, not to mention the devastating consequences it has had on the wider region.
One might think that this year would be an opportunity to right a monumental wrong by supporting Palestinians' fundamental, inalienable rights and national aspirations as a form of moral redress. Failing that, one could at least expect more balance in UK policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.
After all, there is...