Westminster Hall debate
Centenary of the Balfour Declaration
Wednesday November 16th 9.30 - 11 am
Caroline Ansell, the Conservative MP for Eastbourne elected in May 2015, was one of nine new MPs who went on a visit to Israel in September. It was paid for at a cost of £2000 by Conservative Friends of Israel.
On Wednesday she is introducing a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall in the House of Commons entitled "Centenary of the Balfour Declaration". A big turnout can be expected as Conservative Friends of Israel have in the past claimed to have the support of 80% of Conservative MPs.
This is the opening shot in a year-long public relations campaign by the new Israeli ambassador Mark Regev to persuade the British government to join in "celebrating" the centenary which actually falls on November 2nd 2017.
The Balfour Declaration refers to a letter sent by the British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild in 1917 which promises government support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" but only on condition that it can be done in a way that does not "prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
The national home has been achieved but clearly the promise has not, since the civil and religious rights (not to mention the political and human rights) of the non-Jewish communities have been severely prejudiced.
There is an obvious public relations trap here. Anyone who opposes these "celebrations" is in danger of being accused of wishing that the state of Israel did not exist.
However, a brave group of historians has set up a Balfour Project in an attempt to shine a light on the history of the Balfour Declaration. As their website says (see below) there have been many promises made to the Palestinians that have been broken.
So far Middle East minister Toby Ellwood has told MPs (at Foreign Office questions on January 12th) that the Government would "mark" the centenary in November 2017 but he did point out that "there is still work to do to honour the declaration in full".
Palestinians have said that despite assurances from the Foreign Office that it will only be marking the centenary and not celebrating it, they still view any marking or celebration as problematic particularly when the UK government has failed to honour its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people and when Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador, has talked about "joint celebrations".
The declaration was issued at a time when Britain had no jurisdiction over Palestine and was done without consultation of the inhabitants. Lord Balfour wrote in a private memorandum sent to Lord Curzon, his successor at the Foreign Office on 11 August 1919: "For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants ... The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land".
This was contrary to the conclusion reached two years earlier by the British commission of inquiry at the end of the Palestinian uprising of 1936-1939. This Paper stated: "The Royal Commission and previous commissions of Enquiry have drawn attention to the ambiguity of certain expressions in the Mandate, such as the expression `a national home for the Jewish people', and they have found in this ambiguity and the resulting uncertainty as to the objectives of policy a fundamental cause of unrest and hostility between Arabs and Jews. ...
"That Palestine was not to be converted into a Jewish State might be held to be implied in the passage from the Command Paper of 1922 which reads as follows "Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such as that `Palestine is to become as Jewish as England is English.' His Majesty's Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. Nor have they at any time contemplated ... the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language or culture in Palestine. They would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the (Balfour) Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded IN PALESTINE. " (highlight in original)
For further research, try these two articles:
From the Balfour project website:
Mindful of centuries of European persecution of the Jewish people
The Balfour Declaration: "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."
On 23 November 2019, EuroPal Forum and Middle East Monitor co-hosted a conference at the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury in London on the relations between Europe and Palestine. A first of its kind, the conference brought together individuals at the forefront of discourse on Palestine in
As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules that European Union countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, MEMO and EuroPal Forum are hosting a conference to discuss the EU’s position on major issues related to the occupat