Palestinian political Islamists Hamas have demanded Britain apologize for agreeing to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, a move experts say had “profound and pervasive” consequences for those who lived there.
Hamas released its statement Monday to coincide with the 98th anniversary of the declaration. It claimed the 1917 agreement between then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and influential Jewish community leader Baron Walter Rothschild is now null and void.
The original declaration, which aimed to combine two apparently contradictory aims, read: “His Majesty's government view with favor 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.”
The Israeli News Network reports Hamas wants Britain to apologize for the declaration, retract it and admit it was a mistake.
“The path of our people towards freedom, return and liberation goes like the path of other peoples who were under occupation – through struggle by all methods and means, first and foremost an armed struggle,” the statement said.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Oxford University history professor Avi Shlaim said the Balfour agreement continued to resonate throughout the region and beyond.
“Its consequences were both profound and pervasive, and its impact on the subsequent history of the Middle East was nothing less than revolutionary,” he said.
“It completely transformed the position of the fledgling Zionist movement vis-à-vis the Arabs of Palestine, and it provided a protective umbrella that enabled the Zionists to proceed steadily towards their ultimate goal of establishing an independent Jewish state in Palestine.”
The declaration’s impact was out of proportion to its size. It took the form of a mere letter from one party to another and yet, Shlaim says, defines the state of the Middle East to this day.
“Rarely in the annals of the British Empire has such a short document produced such far-reaching consequences,” he said.
A number of former British colonies have recently called for relations between themselves and the former imperial power to be redressed.
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