On November 2, 2017 the world will reflect on an important development in history. This date marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration. Activists in South Africa and abroad protested or plan to protest against the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Are these activists well versed in the contents of the Balfour Declaration?
It seems that the basic reason for the discontent is that Israel has a state, but the Palestinian people have not. To be able to understand this issue, we need to look at the basic tenets of the Balfour Declaration and the developments thereafter.
On November 2, 1917, the then British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home of the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The British mandate was accepted on July 24, 1922 by 52 member states of the League of Nations, today the United Nations. The Jewish leaders accepted the plan, but the Palestinian leaders rejected it out of hand.
The British mandate ended on May 14, 1948 and David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 16, 1948. The Soviet Union (Russia) was the first country to recognise the state of Israel. The United States recognised the state of Israel after the Israeli elections on January 31, 1949.
Since Independence, the Israeli government offered a hand of peace to the Palestinian people on various occasions:
At the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Head of the Palestinian Delegation, Haydar Abd al-Shafi said the following: “To the co-sponsors and to the international community that seeks the achievement of a just peace in the Middle East, you have given us a fair hearing. You cared enough to listen and for that we thank you.” The Palestinian leaders could not follow through.
The Oslo 1 and Oslo 2 Accords were signed in 1993 and 1995 respectively. It was a declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements to end the conflict. Unfortunately, attacks on Israeli citizens continued. On September 30, 2015, Pres. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority effectively cancelled the Oslo Accords by telling the United Nations that the Palestinian people “cannot continue to be bound” by agreements with Israel.
During the US, George Mitchell talks in 2010, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank as a gesture for the Palestinian Authority, after previously publicly declaring his support for a future Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority rejected the gesture as insufficient.
It will serve the activists, who protest against the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, well to make an effort to study the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Compromises are part of any negotiations for peace, but it seems there is a lack of will on the part of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate in good faith.