CAIRO - 2 November 2017: November 2, 1917 is engraved in the minds of every Palestinian and Arab as the day when “he who doesn’t own promised he who don’t have the right.” This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, which changed the map of the Middle East and gave rise to a century of intense conflicts.
“One hundred years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba
(catastrophe) of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated at the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) 71st session in 2016.
Abbas renewed his calls in his address to the UNGA 72nd session in September, appealing to the British government to “rectify the grave injustice it inflicted upon the Palestinian people when it issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” he said.“Until this moment, the British government has not taken any step to correct this historical injustice and has neither apologized to the Palestinian people nor compensated them, nor has it recognized the state of Palestine.”
Balfour declaration: History and implications
Sent on November 2, 1917 from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leading British Zionist, the Balfour Declaration stated the British government’s support to the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, marking the first international recognition of Zionism.
The declaration paved the way and laid the foundation to the creation of Israel. “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 letter read.
While Balfour claimed that the second half of the Declaration had to be honored as it reassured explicitly the rights of the “non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” which were in fact 90 percent of the population at the time, it was not put in practice.
After World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that ruled Palestine and the Arab orient, the empire was replaced by the British-mandate for Palestine, based on the principles of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the decisions made during the San Remo Conference of 1920.
In 1922, the Council of the League of Nations formally confirmed the British mandate document, including the Balfour declaration. Later, Britain prepared a Palestinian Constitution that also included the declaration in its introduction.
On the last day of the British Mandate, in 1947, the Zionist leaders proclaimed the state of Israel and referenced the Balfour declaration. A war broke out between the newly declared state of Israel and the Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
The war, known as Nakba
, led to driving some 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland; and Israel annexed large tracts of land and destroyed over five hundred Palestinian villages. After the 1948 war, the borders were redrawn, and the Green Line border was created.
Israel ended up with 78 percent of historic Palestine. Furthermore, Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, while Jerusalem was split between Israeli administration in the western part and Jordanian administration in the eastern part.
Balfour Declaration - File Photo
Hungarian-British author and journalist Arthur Koestler described Balfour declaration as “one nation promising an- other nation the land of a third nation.” Indeed, in an unprecedented move in international laws, with less than 70 words, one person affected the whole world and gave rise to one of the most intense, bitter and protracted conflicts of modern times. Its consequences were not confined to Palestine, as it created enmity that poses threat to the world peace until today.
Some researchers argue that Britain’s motives were not derived from favoritism of Jewish religion, but rather to build allies who could help secure its post-war influence on the strategic area east of the Suez Canal.
Britain did not have an indigenous community that could take on this responsibility, unlike the French who had the Catholics and the Maronites in the Middle East and the Russians who had the Orthodox Church. The British government had defended the declaration, claiming that it was written in a world of competing imperial powers, as World War I had raged and the Ottoman Empire was diminishing. The government explained, “In that context, establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.”
The most significant implication of Balfour declaration is the establishment of the state of Israel which used force and violence to displace the indigenous population from Pales- tine. Palestinians have since lost their homeland, became refugees and have been living under a military occupation since 1948.
Demographic implications of the Balfour Declaration Before the Balfour declaration, the region was remarkably heterogeneous; with 85 percent Muslims, around 10 percent Christians and 5 percent Jews.
There was no distinct Christian, Jewish quarter or Muslim quarters; until the Declaration was made. The Declaration altered the balance and changed the religious makeup, not only in Palestine, but in the region. It transformed the concept of religious communities into religious-national movements that conflict to control lands, creating consequences beyond its boundaries.
The British mandate officials in Palestine turned a blind eye to Zionists’ illegal immigration to Palestine; and the declaration later prompted significant demographic changes as it allowed massive immigration of Jews from all parts of the world to Israel. In addition, it led to the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.
Balfour Declaration - File Photo
Israel has done everything possible to prevent Palestinians from returning to their land, which reflected a demographic perspective related to the attempts to create a Jewish state. The responsible agency for Palestinian refugees, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), reports that the total number of registered Palestinian refugees in 1950 was 750,000,while in 2016 the number reached
5.59 million Palestinian refugees.
The situation is much different when the populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the State of Palestine) are considered in addition to the Israeli population. The first British census of Palestine in 1922 counted 750,000, of which 78 percent were Muslim, 11 percent Jewish and 10 percent Christian. In 1950, the population exceeded 2 millions, representing an almost equal balance of 50 percent Jews and 47 percent Muslims, in addition to 3 percent Christians.
At the start of the 21st century, the Jewish proportion peaked at 53 percent, followed by Muslims, amounting to 45 percent, and Christians, two percent.The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported that the number of Palestinians in the world was 12.70 million in 2016, of whom 4.88 million live in the State of Palestine, 1.53 million are citizens in Israel, 5.59 million live in Arab countries and around 696,000 in foreign countries. The Palestinian population is young, half of it is 18 years old or less, making it the youngest population in the region.
Demographic projections show that Palestinians will make up the majority of the population within 10 to 20 years, which has been the Israeli left’s evidence for all supported policies since the Oslo Accords in 1993. In addition, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) utilizes demographics as evidence of the legitimacy of an independent state of Palestine.
The tract of land at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is small. The relative proportions of this combined territory are 79 percent Israel and 21 percent Palestine territory (20 percent West Bank and 1 percent Gaza Strip). Despite this fact, the question of land and who rules it remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Following the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Israel further captured Palestinian lands in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. Palestinians demand a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, which only comprises 21 percent of what was originally Palestine. They have rejected any other proposal as it would divide the Palestinian state into disconnected regions which would not free them from Israeli occupation and would not make for a truly independent state.
For decades, Israel has pursued a dangerous policy of dividing and disconnecting Palestinian cities and villages. In 2002, Israel established a 700-kilometer long separation wall, which winds deep into Palestinian territory, along the borders between the lands controlled by the PA and the lands controlled by the Israeli occupation in 1948.
Furthermore, Israel continues to build settlements on territories that Palestinians seek for a state, an action deemed illegal by virtually all other states and under international law as it creates an obstacle to peace.
By building the wall and settlement expansion, Israel retains control over important Palestinian economic areas, agricultural grounds and natural resources like water. The International Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s West Bank wall violates international law, yet the building and expansion continue.
Major restrictions on freedom of movement are also en- forced to chock Palestinians through establishing check points and requesting special permits to be issued by the Israeli intelligence to allow Palestinians to travel between towns in the occupied territories. These restrictions are equally also applicable on Palestinians who would like to perform Muslim or Christian religious rituals. The Israeli government allegedly says that such restrictions are driven solely by security concerns and by the imperative to ensure the country’s survival.
Since 2007, Israel has been forcing a blockade on the Gaza Strip preventing basic, medical and humanitarian supplies from reaching people in need and violating the basic right of freedom of movement.The Palestinian position was weakened further, as rival factions Hamas and Fatah clashed in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Hamas took full control over the Strip and removed Fatah officials. Israel seized the opportunity and forced a closure on the Gaza Strip, and launched three military operations on the Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014 respectively. The military operations resulted in mass destruction, killing and displacement of Palestinians in Gaza.
The military operations, along with the siege, exacerbated the already worsened situation in the Strip that has a population of 2 million people. Israel also alleged that there is no Palestinian partner to the peace process as long as the Palestinians are divided, which freezes all the peace attempts.
In October 2017, Egypt managed to bring the conflicting Palestinian factions to overcome the obstacles and to invest the opportunities to create new conditions away from the fear of exclusion. The Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation agreement that ended a decade long Palestinian split.
Modern-day Britain stance on Belfour declaration
Not only has Britain has refused to apologize to the Palestinians for the Balfour declaration, it is also planning for celebrations commemorating 100 years on the declaration in November. British Prime Minister Theresa May has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials to attend the events.
A popular petition in Britain to call on the government to openly apologize to Palestinians for causing a mass displacement and injustice in Palestine failed to pass the benchmark for a debate in the British parliament. However, the British government formally responded to the petition saying; “The Balfour Declaration is a historic statement for which Her Majesty’s government does not intend to apologize,” the response continues; “We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”
The Palestinian leadership vowed to sue the British government for refusing to apologize for the declaration. In July 2016, Palestine asked the Arab Summit meeting to support the Palestinians in preparing the legal case against Britain.
Palestinians and their supporters are planning a series of activities in 2017 to remind the world that Balfour declaration is the source of the historic injustice witnessed by the Palestinian people, and to demand Britain to acknowledge its role in an unmitigated catastrophe that ruined the future of generations of Palestinians.
In a world where equality and equity are being presented as the drivers of humanity, it seems that it is turning a blind eye on how it failed to protect the indigenous people of Palestine. The whole world deserves an apology for Balfour declaration, not only Palestinians, as it demonstrates a disrupt approach to fairness, equality and human rights.
The most viable solution to this century-long conflict is to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on a two- state solution that recognizes an independent state of Pales- tine alongside Israel, and a mutually-agreed solution to the refugees’ issue. The boundaries between the two neighboring countries must be established first, and the only basis for negotiations should be the international law that can provide objective and unbiased standards applicable to both sides.
Hamas and Fatah Reconciliation Accord - File Photo
Egypt brothers Palestinian reconciliation accord
Hamas and Fatah, Palestine’s two main factions, signed an Egypt-brokered reconciliation deal in Cairo last month, in a key step toward ending a decade-long rift between the two movements. The deal will see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed unity government.
Nikolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, praised Egypt’s role in the mediation that led to a reconciliation after a decade of rivalry. “The recent understandings between Fatah and Hamas would not have taken place without the important role of Egypt and Egyptian officials, and I thank them for what they have done,” announced Mladenov, adding that he welcomed Hamas’ decision to dissolve the administrative committee and call on the government to carry out its duties in the Gaza Strip.
Mladenov deemed the step timely and important to stop the blockade on Gaza Strip. According to Mladenov, the United Nations discussed a plan with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that entails that a UN delegation would supervise the assuming of government duties in the Gaza Strip, pointing out that the Palestinians went through 10 years of division, “so it is important not to miss this opportunity.”