By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
Britain is proud of helping to create the Israeli state, Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday at a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
Her remarks come as Palestinians demand Britain apologize for the letter that paved way for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
But an unrepentant May emphasized that Britain was proud “of the relationship we have built with Israel” but urged “renewed resolve” for a “lasting peace” between Israel and Palestine that she said would require “compromises from each side” including an end to Israeli settlements, and what she called “Palestinian incitement.”
The British leader suggested there was no need for an apology because the text of the Declaration laid out protection for non-Jews.
“Balfour wrote explicitly 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’,” May said as she quoted from the Declaration’s final part.
“So when some people suggest we should apologize for this letter, I say absolutely not,” she said, adding: “We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel,”
May acknowledged many are sensitive about the letter but took a shot at the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is working, in part, to end the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel.
“But as we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence, we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions,” May said. “They are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the dinner at Lancashire House that was hosted by Lord Jacob Rothschild and Roderick Balfour.
Following his meeting with May at Downing Street earlier in the day, Netanyahu said he and his government want peace with the Palestinians.
“A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept a Jewish national home and finally accept a Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion, peace will be achievable,” he said.
One prominent name not at the dinner was Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn who indicated earlier in the week he would not attend.
The strong Israeli critic has previously chastised his government for not living up to its promise to the Palestinian people.
“A hundred years on, the second part of Britain’s pledge has still not been fulfilled and Britain’s historic role means we have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people, who are still denied their basic rights,” Corbyn once said of the Balfour Declaration.
“So let us mark the Balfour anniversary by recognizing Palestine as a step towards a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, increasing international pressure for an end to the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, illegal settlement expansion and the blockade of Gaza,” he said as he urged the May government to recognize a Palestinian state.
British lawmakers last week asked the government to honor all aspects of the 1917 Balfour Declaration that set the U.K.’s support for a Jewish homeland.
The U.K. has rejected calls to apologize for the Declaration and recognize the Palestinian state, despite a vote in parliament to do it.