A century on, Balfour Declaration keeps regional tensions alive

November 05, 2017
Bitter centenary. Palestinians protest against Britain’s Balfour Declaration in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 2, the 100th anniversary of the document. (AFP)

London- The 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration aggravated tensions be­tween Palestinians, who reflected on their misfor­tunes, and Israelis, who celebrated the occasion that eventually led to the formation of their country.

“It’s so divisive even today be­cause Zionists think that the Bal­four Declaration laid the founda­tion stone for modern Israel — and they’re right to think that — and by the same token non-Jewish Pales­tinians and Arabs see it as the foun­dation stone of their dispossession and misery,” historian Jonathan Schneer told the Associated Press.

Events celebrating the Balfour centenary took place in Israel, in­cluding one in the Knesset, while thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets to express their objection to the day that Britain promised to create a home for Jews in historic Palestine.

“It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish com­munities in Palestine,” wrote Brit­ish Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917.

From a Palestinian perspective, that part is yet to be fulfilled.

“[Balfour] promised a land that was not his to promise, disregard­ing the political rights of those who already lived there. For the Pales­tinian people — my people — the events this letter triggered have been as devastating as they have been far-reaching,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wrote in an opinion article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“Today, Palestinians number more than 12 million and are scat­tered throughout the world. Some were forced out of their homeland in 1948, with more than 6 million still living in exile to this day,” Ab­bas wrote.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu travelled to Britain to mark the anniversary.

“One hundred years after Bal­four, the Palestinians should finally accept a Jewish national home and finally accept a Jewish state and, when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer and, in my opinion, peace will be achievable,” Netanyahu told British Prime Min­ister Theresa May.

The Balfour anniversary came at a time when the Middle East peace process appeared to have reached a dead end and showed little hope of being restarted.