What do Banksy and Arthur Balfour have in common? Read on.
When I first started hearing about the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, I thought: “Ugh, not another minefield to navigate!” It’s a Rorschach test for Israelis and Palestinians. One sees triumph and the other defeat, from the same document.
I really didn’t want to write about this for a myriad of reasons. Primary among which: it seemed a dubious document to celebrate. Nor did it signify a great deal in terms of its actual impact on events. Yes, it had symbolic value. But it didn’t translate into actual state policy or concrete action.
But then I read about the “celebrations” planned for London with none other than the Zio-energizer Bunny, Bibi Netanyahu, in attendance. That followed news that Jeremy Corbyn was refusing the invitation of the UK Israel Lobby to join the festive occasion. Of course, the UK’s Lobby-fixtures, including the Jewish Chronicle and the Tory gutter press attempted to make a huge deal out of this. As if Corbyn’s refusal involved some sort of anti-Semitic impulse. They couldn’t possibly comprehend that a British politician might have sympathy for anyone other than Zionists. Nor could they imagine that if Balfour meant anything to Palestinians, it wasn’t a happy meaning.
Several progressive activists have published their own appraisals and PressTV interviewed me last night (see video above) on the subject, so I thought I could have something new to say on the subject that might put this much-mentioned historical document in context.
First, let’s say what Balfour is and isn’t: it did not constitute British recognition of Israel as a state. It merely said that the British ‘looked favorably’ on the establishment of a “Jewish homeland.” Even more importantly and rarely remarked upon, it added the caveat that nothing in the document was meant to diminish the rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. In his own comments to the British press, Balfour’s great-nephew makes precisely this point in saying that Israel has refused to recognize this important phrase in denying Palestinians their own national rights to a homeland.
Balfour himself was not a Zionist. He didn’t even like Jews. Nor did most of the British élite of the day. Youssef Munayer even calls Balfour a “white supremacist,” which is precisely right. In fact, much like the Nazis who arose two decades later, he (along with Herzl himself) saw the creation of a Jewish homeland as a means of solving a problem. If you could rid England and the continent of much of its Jewish population and safely ensconce them elsewhere, you would relieve the internal tension and conflict resulting from Jew hatred throughout Europe (i.e. the Russian pogroms and missions of Jews who fled them to Britain). Europeans as a whole generally didn’t like Jews. Getting rid of them in a benign way was thought to be an excellent means of resolving a thorny ethnic problem.
In American history, no less a figure than Abraham Lincoln endorsed shipping African-Americans back to Africa. He, Thomas Jefferson and many of the most enlightened white intellectuals of their day could see no way that Blacks could integrate successfully into American society. So we see the impulse to ethnically cleanse is by no means a European phenomenon alone.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Declaration resulted in no concrete British policy resolved to implement it. It was another 30 years before Israel declared its independence. And Britain did not leave Palestine freely and of its own will. It did not offer statehood to Israel. The end of the British mandate resulted from the nation’s bankruptcy at the end of World War II and the need to rapidly shed the colonies which had been such a drain on the state treasury. When the British freed their colonies they did so abruptly and in a manner that provoked mass slaughter and ethnic conflict. This happened in both Palestine and in India.
Britain’s approach in mandatory Palestine vacillated depending on who seemed up and who seemed down on any particular day. For every statement that seemed to favor one party, there was another that favored the other. For every Balfour Declaration there was a Peel Commission report. There was no clear policy that offered both sides enough so that they might be satisfied and feel their interests were represented and heard by the colonial overlords. This in turn is what led to the current state of affairs and 75 years of endless bloodshed.
So the celebration in London of the centenary of Balfour is based on false premises. Which is but one of the many reasons Jeremy Corbyn made a wise decision in skipping it. There is no reason to rejoice. Balfour was the product of a failed colonial system. England has done little or nothing to promote peace or justice in Israel-Palestine. Nor is it doing so today (witness Tony Blair’s feeble “Quartet” efforts). And a celebratory dinner will not change that.
In fact, it will only remind Palestinians how little the world knows or cares about the reserve clause in the original document. It will remind them that they are the forgotten party whose rights are ignored and dismissed. It will bolster support for the most militant resistance against Israeli oppression and Occupation.
The Balfour anniversary is a source of sadness and bitterness. Even historically, it doesn’t mean anything like what its proponents believe. It is a sham.
Richard. You are in over your head.
‘In a private conversation at Balfour’s House in the summer of 1921, both Balfour and the Prime Minister contradicted him [Churchill] and told Churchill that, “by the Declaration they always meant an eventual Jewish State”. See, Fromkin, David, A Peace to End All Peace, citing to Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Companion Volume, Vol. 4, Part3: April 1921-November 1922, p. 1559.(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975)
It was clear at the time that the term “national home” really meant a state. Back in 1917, three months after his declaration was issued, Lord Balfour confessed: “My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish state.” See,Ronald Sanders book, High Walls of Jerusalem, p.652.
As far as the United States interpretation of “national home”, a U.S. intelligence recommendations drafted for President Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference reported that: “It will be the policy of the League of Nations to recognize Palestine as a Jewish State as soon as it is a Jewish state in fact.” See, J.C. Hurewitz (ed.),The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics: A Documentary Record, Vol.2, British-French Supremacy, 1914-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979, p. 132-36.
Notwithstanding what Balfour’s nephew thinks, Palestine’s Arabs were not entitled to self determination by either the Balfour Declaration or the terms of the British Mandate. They were entitled to ‘religious and civil rights’ only, but not to ‘political rights’, which would have included the right to self determination.
Richard Silverstein says
@zionauts: I don’t care what they said in private. In politics, private conversations are meaningless unless they translate into concrete policy or action. In this case, they didn’t. Britain never facilitated a Jewish state.
A ‘home’ is not a state. You can put lipstick on a pig and it doesn’t make the pig a Hollywood starlet. Use your English dictionary if you’re having trouble with the difference in their meaning.
Balfour is not A legal agreement. It offers a vague sense of what the British wanted at one particular moment in time. It does not have any relevance to the question of whether Palestinians have a right to a State. But it does make clear that Israeli Jewish self determination MUST NOT come at the expense of Palestinian self determination, which it most definitely has.
” Balfour is not A legal agreement”
Richard, my son, you are adrift in a sea of ignorance. Here is a lifesaver.
“..the Balfour Declaration entered whole into the preamble of the League of Nations mandate—at which point it acquired full legal standing in international law.”
Richard Silverstein says
@ @Argonauts: Ignorance is yours saith the Lord of Hosts.
The League of Nations hasn’t existed in 90 yrs and nothing related to it has any legal standing today or at any point after it ceased to exist. Furthermore, the Declaration had mo legal standing in terms of the League of Nations either regardless of what your hasba-shamatteh says.
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” But it does make clear that Israeli Jewish self determination MUST NOT come at the expense of Palestinian self determination, which it most definitely has. ”
You have inserted the term ‘self determination’, whereas Balfour only spoke of ‘religious and civil rights’.
Pig and lipstick, Richard. Right?
The definition of ‘political rights’ was discussed and rejected.
See, Lloyd George’s ‘The Truth About the Peace Treaties’, at page 1174.
” Lord Curzon said that he did not yet quite understand the precise significance of ‘political rights’ according to French law. In the British language all ordinary rights were included in ‘civil rights’. He was anxious to avoid introducing in the Treaty a word which might have a different meaning for the French and for the British and might revive the religious rights which had just been disposed of”.
The subject discussion between Lord Curzon, Lloyd George and the French representative Mssr. Millerand on the preceeding pages of ‘The Truth'(1170-74) concerned Britain’s successful, diplomatic paring down of French demands for a protectorate of Palestine’s Catholics under the British Mandate, not in securing ‘political rights’ for Arab Palestinians
Richard Silverstein says
Zionaut: so it’s your claim that Israel accords Palestinians full civil & religious rights, which even you agree exist in the Declaration? Though no doubt you can think of a thousand reasons to deny these rights, that doesn’t deny the fact that Israel’s existence denies Palestinians the very rights the Declaration recognizes as theirs.
You’re done in this thread. Do not publish more than three comments in any 24 hr period.
As for Lord Cuurzon and Lloyd George…really, spare us lessons in comparative British-French political history.
Richard said: “Perhaps most importantly of all, the Declaration resulted in no concrete British policy resolved to implement it.”
Great Britain and France used the ancient Roman ‘divide and conquer’ strategy to help conquer and colonize the Middle East. They would begin by conquering a foreign land, and than they’d set up a local, despised minority group to rule the conquered majority.
To that end, the Belgians favored the Tutsis in Rwanda (with bad results). The French favored the Christians in Lebanon and the Alawites in Syria (with equally bad results).
In the halls of Government, the British nicknamed this ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, ‘the Formula’, and they used it with great effect in India, Africa and elsewhere.
However, in little Palestine, there was no local, despised minority, so the British imported one; the Zionist Jews!
Note, by contrast, that in Jordan and Iraq, the British had installed their own puppet rulers so there was no need to use ‘the Formula’.
Using ‘the Formula’s’ to it’s best effect, the despised minority and the angry majority would fight to a stalemate and neither side would grow strong enough to challenge British dominion. Win!
In the worst case scenario, the fighting would devolve into a bloody civil war and the British would march in and take over the (weakened) country, ostensibly, to ‘reestablish law and order’. Win! Win!
But after World War 1, old style colonialism went out of fashion, so the League of Nations gave Great Britain the Mandates for Palestine and Iraq, while the French got the Mandate for Syria.
In theory, the British and the French were supposed to help develop Palestine, Syria and Iraq in order that these countries could one day be able to rule themselves.
That was the theory.
In practice, the British needed a deep water navel port in the Eastern Mediterranian, so they built the port of Haifa. They needed to protect their Suez Canal with an RAF air base, so they built Lod Airport (later to become Ben Gurion Airport).
For His Majesty’s Government, Palestine was conceived as a buffer state that kept France a safe distance from the Suez Canal.
Of course, the British needed oil for their Haifa-based Navy and gasoline and fuel for their Royal Air Force, so they built an oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa, as well as an oil refinery.
Years later, weakened by World War II, Great Britain no longer needed a port and air base in Palestine, so they just said, ‘sod it’, terminated the Mandate, and walked away from the mess they’d created.
The Balfour declaration included Transjordan.
Therefore, the Arabs indeed received a state which constitutes 73% of the land.
And the Jews got the right to kick out the Arabs from the part they got from the British colonial empire? The whole issue is, and will always be, the ethnic cleansing that the pre state militia undertook to create the Jewish state. Without it there would be no Israel with a Jewish majority, and therefore no possibility of a ‘Jewish AND democratic’ state.
Richard Silverstein says
@Eli: Eli, Eli. I’m disappointed in you. Such feeble hasbara. You are hereby demoted from Hasbara Specialist First Class to buck private. Who in heaven ever said the Declaration ever included TransJordan? Did some hasbaranik come up with that neat trick or did you make it up yourself? Since there were no Jews in TransJordan & the Declaration referred to creating a Jewish homeland, why would anyone in their right mind think Balfour was speaking of TransJordan? Nice try. But big fat zero for that one.
Transjordan didn’t ‘exist’ than but was part of Palestine until 1923. That is a fact. You may have heard the sentence ‘שתי גדול לירדן, זו שלנו, זו גם כן’.
Nowhere in the declaration it distinguishes between the two.
Greg Gilbert says
The Balfour Declaration was not conceived because of any sympathy for the Jews, per se. The war was not going well for Britain and they wanted support from American Jews (balfour) and they wanted the US in the war (Lusitania).
Richard Silverstein said:
“I don’t care what they said in private.”
Do you care what they said in public?
“That the Declaration paved the way for a Jewish State seems to, judging from the press, to have been taken for granted. The headlines in the London newspapers – `A state for the Jews’ (Daily Express) – `Palestine for the Jews’ (The Times, Morning Post, Daily News). The Spectator wrote of `the proposal for the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.’ The Manchester Guardian saw the Declaration as leading to `the ultimate establishment of a Jewish State.’ The Observer wrote: `It is no idle dream that by the close of another generation the new Zion may become a state.’ The Balfour Declaration, by Leonard Stein, at 562, 63.
What was Woodrow Wilson’s stand on the natural law concept of self-determination in Palestine at the time of the Paris Peace Talks in 1919?
“When Balfour met Brandeis in Paris in June 1919, he remarked . . . . that Palestine represented a unique situation. We are dealing not with the wishes of an existing community but are consciously seeking to re-constitute a new community and definitely building for a numerical majority in the future’ . He had, he went on, great difficulty in seeing how President Wilson could reconcile his adherence to Zionism with the doctrine of self-determination, to which Brandeis replied that `the whole conception of Zionism as a Jewish homeland was a definite building up for the future as the means of dealing with a world problem and not merely with the disposition of an existing community. ` Balfour gave the argument a slightly different turn at his interview with Meinertzhagen a few weeks later. ` [Meinertzhagen was also very pro-Zionist.] He agreed . . . in principle, Meinertzhagen wrote in his diary (30 July 1919), in the principle of self-determination, but it could not be indiscriminately applied to the whole world, and Palestine was a case in point . . . In any Palestinian plebiscite the Jews of the world must be consulted in which case he sincerely believed that an overwhelming majority would declare for Zionism under a British mandate.’ Leonard Stein at p. 649
Leopold Amery, one of the Secretaries to the British War Cabinet of 1917-1918 testified under oath to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in January, 1946 from his personal knowledge [Tr. 1/30/46, p 112] that:
1. He believed that the Jewish National Home was an experiment to determine whether there would eventually be a Jewish majority over the whole of Palestine.
2. He believed that the territory for which political rights were to be recognized was intended to include all of Palestine both east and west of the Jordan River.
3. He had always assumed that the particular reference to not infringing the civil or religious liberties of Arab population was not so much a safeguard against the British Government infringing those liberties . . ., but a Jewish state infringing those liberties. Therefore, at the time that possibility of a Jewish majority over the whole of the larger Palestine was, he thought envisaged.
4. The phrase “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” was intended and understood by all concerned to mean at the time of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would ultimately become a “Jewish Commonwealth” or a “Jewish State”, if only Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers.
5. Recalled that Lloyd-George had testified earlier [likely in 1939 at the time of the 1939 White Paper]:
“…There could be no doubt as to what the Cabinet then had in mind. It was not their idea that a Jewish State should be set up immediately by the Peace Treaty…. On the other hand, it was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them … and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish Commonwealth. The notion that the Jews should be a permanent minority never entered into the heads of anyone engaged in framing the policy. That would have been regarded as unjust, and as a fraud on the people to whom we were appealing.”