World, Middle East

UK lawmakers debate legacy of 1917 Balfour declaration

Centenary of declaration setting out UK support for 'Jewish homeland' marked with pride by premier, but sadness by others

Ahmet Gürhan Kartal   | 25.10.2017
UK lawmakers debate legacy of 1917 Balfour declaration

London, City of

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal


British lawmakers urged the government to honor all aspects of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which 100 years ago set out the U.K.’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, in a parliamentary debate Wednesday.

The debate took place a few hours after British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that her government will mark the 100th anniversary of the declaration “with pride.”

“We are proud of the role that we played in declaration of the state of Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride. And I am also pleased of the good trade relations and other relationships with Israel,” May said at a weekly question session at the House of Commons.

“We also must be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour Declaration and we recognize there is more work to done. We remain committed to the two-state solution in relation to Israel and Palestinians,” she added.

“It is important that we all recommit to ensuring that we could provide security, stability and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through such a lasting peace.”

The debate held at Westminster Hall saw government and opposition lawmakers expressing their views on the centenary and full fulfillment of the declaration. 

67 words

Tory MP Matthew Offord opened the debate by quoting from the famous declaration.

“In a mere 67 words, the United Kingdom set in motion a chain of events that led to the historic birth of Israel...The United Kingdom has a lot to be proud of, and I welcome repeated statements by the prime minister... that we will mark the centenary with a sense of pride,” Offord said.

Speaking about British-Israeli trade ties, he said he did not believe that trading with businesses based in the illegally occupied territories of the West Bank should be sanctioned, upon an intervention from Labour MP Stephen Kinnock.

“Just as the Jewish people have a legitimate claim to the land, so too do the Palestinians, who deserve a sovereign state of their own. A viable, thriving Palestinian state could offer much to the region,” he added.

Describing Hamas as a “terror group,” Offord said Israel cannot realistically be expected to enter into peace negotiations without Hamas accepting “the Quartet principles in full and unconditionally, including full disarmament.”

Taking a more balanced tone, Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said: “The government are proud of the role that the U.K. played in the creation of the state of Israel.”

“We will mark the centenary with pride and respect, but also with a degree of sadness, as issues between Israel and the Palestinians remain unresolved,” he added.

Citing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reiterating U.K. “support for a two-state solution when he visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in March,” Burt stressed that Johnson “also expressed concern about Israeli settlements and demolitions.” 

‘Disregarded 90 pct of the population’

However, Scottish Nationalist Party MP Joanna Cherry underlined that many of her constituents “have pointed out that the Balfour Declaration disregarded the rights, wishes and claims of the Palestinian people, who made up nearly 90 percent of the population in Palestine in 1917.”

“The Balfour Declaration and Britain’s subsequent acts when Palestine was under its control created the framework for Palestinian dispossession and the establishment in 1948 of a state whose basic laws and subsequent policies have privileged the rights of Jewish inhabitants above those of Palestinians,” she said.

Speaking of her recent visit to the region, Cherry said she saw “two parallel systems of law in the military courts, where human rights and basic legal process are not observed.”

“I also saw that the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank is sadly making a two-state solution almost impossible,” she said.

Cherry said “the true legacy of Balfour is 5 million Palestinians living in refugee camps or scattered across the globe; a 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank; and a 10-year illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.” 

'Far from peace'

Another Labour MP, Jullie Elliot, said “the centenary of the Balfour Declaration should not be celebrated in any way but should instead be a time when we can pause, think about the situation that we are in now because of this statement by a previous parliamentarian, and look carefully at its impact on the situation today.”

“It is time that the British government took responsibility for the actions of Lord Balfour and the government of 1917, and do their part in fulfilling the second part of the Balfour Declaration,” she said.

"The British Government should recognize the state of Palestine, to fulfil our moral obligation to the Palestinian people, including the 5 million refugees, who have a recognized right to return," she urged.

"The government should do everything within their power to get a two-state solution and urgently ensure that international law is upheld in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

Labour lawmaker Naz Shah said 5 million Palestinians live as displaced refugees, 2.5 million live in “torturous conditions in the occupied West Bank, and 1.7 million people live in the largest open prison camp on the planet, in Gaza, with no basic rights, no citizenship, and no hope of a lasting future.”

“Given that the current Israeli prime minister is intent on further expansion, the border is more undefined than ever and, sadly, lasting peace is further and further away,” Shah added, urging the U.K. government to “recognize just how far away we are from a peaceful solution.”

“We have failed the people of Palestine and with each passing day we fail more of them."

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