Who Could Ever Feel Pride in the Balfour Declaration?
Date Written: 2017-03-06
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20539
Although the Balfour Declaration itself has been parsed, de-semanticised, romanticised, decrypted, decried, cursed and adored for 100 years, its fraud is easy to detect: it made two promises which were fundamentally opposed to each other -- and thus one of them, to the Arabs (aka "the existing non-Jewish communities"), would be broken.
The Balfour Declaration's intrinsic lie -- that while Britain supported a Jewish homeland, nothing would be done "which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" - is matched today by the equally dishonest response of Balfour's lamentable successor at the Foreign Office. Boris Johnson wrote quite accurately two years ago that the Balfour Declaration was "bizarre", a "tragicomically incoherent" document, "an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama". But in a subsequent visit to Israel, the profit-hunting Mayor of London suddenly discovered that the Balfour Declaration was "a great thing" that "reflected a great tide of history". No doubt we shall hear more of this same nonsense from Boris Johnson later this year.
Although the Declaration itself has been parsed, de-semanticised, romanticised, decrypted, decried, cursed and adored for 100 years, its fraud is easy to detect: it made two promises which were fundamentally opposed to each other -- and thus one of them, to the Arabs (aka "the existing non-Jewish communities"), would be broken. The descendants of these victims, the Palestinian Arabs, are now threatening to sue the British government over this pernicious piece of paper, a hopeless and childish response to history. The Czechs might equally sue the British for Chamberlain's Munich agreement, which allowed Hitler to destroy their country. The Palestinians would also like an apology -- since the British have always found apologies cheaper than law courts. The British have grown used to apologising -- for the British empire, for the slave trade, for the Irish famine. So why not for Balfour? Yes, but…. Theresa May needs the Israelis far more than she needs the Palestinians.
Balfour's 1917 declaration, of course, was an attempt to avoid disaster in the First World War by encouraging the Jews of Russia and America to support the Allies against Germany. Balfour wanted to avoid defeat just as Chamberlain later wanted to avoid war. But -- and this is the point -- Munich was resolved by the destruction of Hitler. Balfour initiated a policy of British support for Israel which continues to this very day, to the detriment of the occupied Palestinians of the West Bank and the five million Palestinian refugees living largely in warrens of poverty around the Middle East, including Israeli-besieged Gaza.
This is the theme of perhaps the most dramatic centenary account of the Balfour Declaration, to be published this summer by David Cronin (in his book Balfour's Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel), an Irish journalist and author living in Brussels whose previous investigation of the European Union's craven support for Israel’s military distinguished him from the work of more emotional (and thus more inaccurate) writers. Cronin has no time for Holocaust deniers or anti-Semites. While rightly dismissing the silly idea that the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al Husseini, inspired the Holocaust of the Jews of Europe, he does not duck Haj Amin's poisonous alliance with Hitler. Israel’s post-war creation as a nation state, as one Israeli historian observed, may not have been just -- but it was legal. And Israel does legally exist within the borders acknowledged by the rest of the world.
There lies the present crisis for us all: for the outrageous right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is speeding on with the mass colonisation of Arab land in territory which is not part of Israel, and on property which has been stolen from its Arab owners. These owners are the descendants of the "non-Jewish communities" whose rights, according to Balfour, should not be "prejudiced" by "the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. But Balfour's own prejudice was perfectly clear. The Jewish people would have a "national home" - ie, a nation - in Palestine, while the Arabs, according to his declaration, were mere "communities". And as Balfour wrote to his successor Curzon two years later, "Zionism … is … of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices [sic] of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land".