The Palestinians have been demanding a British official apology for the Balfour Declaration, issued a hundred years ago this month. Instead they received these public pronouncements from the highest authorities of His Majesty’s Government. “We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel,” said Prime Minister Theresa May at a dinner in London commemorating the 100th anniversary of the declaration, while condemning the “new and pernicious form of anti-Semitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist”. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said at a parliamentary session that the Balfour Declaration “paved the way for one of the greatest political triumphs of the 20th century, the creation of the State of Israel” and called the establishment of the Jewish state “an amazing achievement by humanity.”
But if the Palestinians wanted an apology, they should have also demanded it from the United States, France, Italy, China and Japan, among other nations that were then openly in favor of the Zionist cause. Even long before the Balfour Declaration, prominent international personalities had expressed their praise for the Zionist idea, which had not yet crystallized politically. As Yoram Hazony gathered in The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel´s Soul, in the eighteenth century, with his army at the gates of Jerusalem, Napoleon Bonaparte announced: “Raise Israelites! Now is the time … to reclaim your political existence as a nation among nations.” US President John Adams exclaimed: “I really wish the Jews in Judea an independent nation.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau postulated: “I will never believe that I have seriously heard the arguments of the Jews until they have a free state of their own.” After a visit to Palestine at the end of the 19th century, the German Kaiser told Theodor Herzl: “The settlements that I have seen, the Germans as well as those of your own people, can serve as examples of what can be done with the country. There is room for everyone here.” With Zionism already marching in the 20th century, even an Arabist like T.E. Lawrence said that this movement was “a conscious effort, on the part of the less European people in Europe, to confront the drift of the years, and to return once again to the East from which they came”. This is how the famed Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges pondered the rebirth of Israel: “What else were you, Israel, but that nostalgia, but that will to save, between the fickle forms of time, your old magic book, your liturgies, your loneliness with God?.”
Not only should London or no one else offer no apology to the Palestinian people, but their leaders should consider issuing one themselves for the actions of their ancestors. Did not the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem ally with Adolf Hitler during the Second World War? Did not the Arab political leaders launch pogroms against the Jewish communities in Palestine at the time of the British Mandate? Did not they begin a war of aggression in 1947 that violated the United Nations Partition resolution, with the aim of -as Ruth Wisse noted- throwing to the sea a people who had just been thrown into the ovens? This same extremism also expresses itself today when Palestinian leaders name squares, streets and schools in honor of famous terrorists and pay tribute to bloodthirsty dictators of the region. Just last month, as MEMRI showed, the Palestinian Authority inaugurated a monument to Saddam Hussein in Kalkilya with a painted slogan that reads “Palestine from the River to the Sea.”
One hundred years ago, Great Britain formalized a pro-Zionist policy rooted in the recognition of the historical bond of the Jewish people with the Land of Israel. Such connection was widely praised by illustrious personalities of the time. The Balfour Declaration was fair, and Theresa May deserves to be applauded for rejecting indignant protests from contemporary Palestinian leaders. “When some people suggest that we should apologize for this letter,” the premier said, “I say absolutely not.” Chapeau.