Suing Britain for the Balfour Declaration

by Zalman Shoval

There is a method to Abbas’ madness and his strategy of falsehood.

The announcement last week by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, through his foreign secretary, that the Palestinians intend to sue Britain for the 1917 Balfour Declaration, might cause some chuckles, but to paraphrase Shakespeare, there is a method to the madness. Since neither history nor the law is on the Palestinians’ side in their struggle against Israel, their preferred method is to fabricate history in an attempt to undermine the legality of international agreements that contradict their objectives.

The Balfour Declaration is dangerous for them, not just because it spoke of a national home, emphasis on “national,” for the Jews in the land of Israel, but because it relates to the Arab population in the land of Israel in the context of its religious and civil rights, without any mention of national rights. It was clear to the British statesmen that Arabs in that part of the Ottoman Empire called Palestine did not have the history of a nation, nor did they ever have one in the past. The Balfour Declaration, as is well known, was granted legal approval from the League of Nations and other international agreements, but beyond its legal provisions, it corrected a historical debt toward the Jewish nation, as stated by Winston Churchill in 1949 when he said, “The coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of 1000, 2000, or even 3000 years.”

The State of Israel would have been established with or without the Balfour Declaration. As David Ben-Gurion, then-chairman of the Jewish Agency, testified before a royal British committee in 1937, “Our right to Eretz Israel does not derive from the [British] mandate and the Balfour Declaration. It predates those. … The Bible, which was written by us, in our own Hebrew language and in this very country, is our mandate.”

Abbas certainly knows that the founding of the State of Israel was not the result of the Balfour Declaration, but raising these claims about the declaration, within the legal and historical spectrums, is meant to give weight to the claim that the founding of the State of Israel supposedly robbed the Palestinian “nation” of its land, its sovereignty and its historical purpose.
Nonetheless, this is not just about rewriting history, but practical tactics, because if the validity of the Balfour Declaration is undermined, the logical conclusion is that the Jews do not have a right to a state in any part of “Palestine,” not even within the framework of “two states for two peoples.”

This, by the way, is also the intention of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, which is raging in different parts of the world, including in the U.S., and is not a struggle against the “occupation,” but rather meant to undermine the right of the State of Israel to exist. This sentiment is the only reason Abbas refuses to hold true peace negotiations with Israel and various Arab leaders throughout recent decades rejected all the agreements and compromises offered by the State of Israel, the Zionist entities that preceded her or other international bodies. One of the lessons we should learn from all this is that the Palestinians’ disregard for international agreements puts the value of any agreements with them into question.

The attack on the Balfour Declaration is not the only example of the Palestinian strategy of deception. Their leadership is currently also attempting, with the generous assistance of France, to bring about what would amount to the cancellation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which emphasizes the importance of secure — in other words, defensible — borders, and does not require a complete withdrawal by Israel from all the territory it holds as a result of its defensive campaign in the 1967 Six-Day War. All of the above confirms the importance of establishing facts on the ground to prevent Palestinian violations of agreements that may be signed with them in the future, especially regarding issues pertaining to security.

One way to ensure this is through an Israeli security and civilian presence in certain areas in the territories. This is what the Israeli government was faced with during the Camp David Accords in 1978, when it was decided that there would be “designated security areas” within the planned Palestinian autonomy, and this was also what was reflected in 1970 in then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s decision to expand the civilian presence within the military parameters in Kiryat Arba next to the Arab city of Hebron.

This op-ed originally appeared in Israel Hayom

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