Balfour Declaration: Britain should have apologised to Palestine | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Balfour Declaration: Britain should have apologised to Palestine

Comment Writer Tom Shacklock criticises Theresa May on her lack of empathy towards Palestine

Regardless of one’s stance on the creation of Israel, it is an important historical event to remember.

It dates back, not to 1948, but to November 2nd 1917, when Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour signed a declaration pledging Britain’s commitment to the Zionist project in Palestine. On November 2nd 2017, Theresa May invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a centenary dinner.

This was a golden opportunity for the two heads of states to have an open discussion about the situation in the celebrated country. Quite the contrary, Britain’s government stated firmly that it would not apologise to Palestinians for the Declaration’s consequences, nor recognise Palestine as an independent state.

However, it would have been possible for Theresa May to take pride in Israel and Zionism, as well as show more sympathy for Palestinians. Both sides have strong cases for their existence, and historical context is very importance. The Zionist cause was – and is - a cause worth committing to. Although founding a nation on a religion is an outdated and illiberal concept, by 1948, Jews across the world had experienced so much discrimination and displacement that they deserved the chance to establish a homeland.

On the question of Palestinian homes and rights, context still matters. In 1917, Palestine was taken by the British from the Ottoman Empire during WWI. It was not a free country.

In 1948, the whole world was reshaping in the wake of WWII. The East and West were drawing borders at the start of the Cold War, while European powers were paving the way to decolonization.

While Palestine was being sacrificed, and Israel established out of necessity, Britain was retreating to its little island, washing its hands of its old Empire’s problems

The post-war period was still a period of uncertainty and misery for many populations across the globe, so was an opportunity for a people as oppressed as the Jews to claim a new territory before stability was restored in the world (not that that happened). The real injustice lies in how Britain and other western powers, half-heartedly controlling the situation, were hardly affected by these uncertainties.

While Palestine was being sacrificed, and Israel established out of necessity, Britain was retreating to its little island, washing its hands of its old Empire’s problems. It neglected millions of individuals with Partition in India 1947, and the UN’s partition plan in Palestine that same year equally upset and displaced Arabs.

Apologising is not anti-Zionist; It’s simply acknowledging where parts of creating Israel went wrong

It must be acknowledged that deep-rooted anti semitism and islamophobia may very well have played a part in Israel’s – and India’s – ongoing conflicts. But these examples also show how inconsiderate Britain was of its colonised people’s feelings and tensions in the context of its decolonization process. It could have all been managed better. But it wasn’t.

Apologising is not anti-Zionist; It’s simply acknowledging where parts of creating Israel went wrong, while seeking to remedy these wrongs. It is acknowledging that Palestinians made huge sacrifices, having no say in the matter. It is acknowledging that Britain failed to support non-Jewish people, as the Balfour Declaration had promised.

Not only has such a lack of support led to internal conflict, but Palestine’s consequent reactions under the Hamas terrorist organisation has led Israel’s government to legitimise oppressing Palestinian civilians. The West is not too biased and timid with regards to Israel. Theresa May has firmly criticized Netanyahu’s illegal territorial occupations as obstructing chances for a peace deal. But, while she rightly stated, ‘criticising the actions of Israel is never – and can never be – an excuse for questioning Israel’s right to exist,’ she has left out a true recognition of the Palestinians current aspirations.

Palestinian violence should only be seen as an obstacle, and not a justification for preventing Palestine’s right to exist

100 years after the Balfour Declaration, Britain owes it support for the chapter in Israeli-Palestinian history. Zionism had its turn in 1948, as was necessary, and such a gesture as recognising Palestine State would not reverse this ancient dream. It would rather, as Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said, be a symbolic gesture. Assessing the practical arguments, on the one hand, Boris Johnson may be right to say that ‘now is not the right time,’ though he should have specified that this would be because of the chaos caused by poor management in 1948. On the other hand, Palestinian violence should only be seen as an obstacle, and not a justification for preventing Palestine’s right to exist.

Whatever the solution, it is time to stop watering down Palestine’s needs. Britain should be proud of the Balfour Declaration, but ashamed of its approach to the centenary.

French Studies undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, currently on exchange at Lyon Lumière 2 University, France. Have a strong interest in politics and culture. (@ThomasShacklock)



Published

14th November 2017 at 9:00 am



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