The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration

(Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University) Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen - Referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, "This was a crime perpetrated against our people." PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki demanded an apology from Britain on behalf of the Palestinian people. We should pay attention to this protest, which demonstrates the continued relevance of the Balfour Declaration today. The idea of self-determination as an accepted international principle was introduced into the discourse of the world powers by President Woodrow Wilson with the entrance of the U.S. into the First World War in 1917. At the San Remo Conference (1920), the League of Nations conferred a temporary ruling mandate for Palestine on Britain, until the peoples of the region could stand on their own feet. In 1922, the League of Nations approved the inclusion of the Balfour Declaration in the mandate, a measure also adopted by the other Allied powers. Britain was thus charged with the Declaration's implementation - namely, the facilitation of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. The Arabs claimed the Balfour Declaration contradicted the principle of self-determination, but they did not demand Palestinian self-determination. What they demanded instead was the joining of the mandatory Land of Israel to the short-lived Kingdom of Syria, established by the self-proclaimed King Faisal. Their recognition of Palestine as part of a "Greater Syria" remained long after Faisal was expelled from Damascus by the French in 1920. The declared awareness of the League of Nations of the exceptional situation of the Jews emphasized the significance of the special right of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. It recognized their historical and cultural affinity to the land, and affirms their political significance. The importance of the Declaration lies also in its timing, decades before the Holocaust. It recognized the right of the people of Israel to establish a national entity in the Land of Israel due to their historical ties to the land, rather than to a disaster that befell them. It is also highly significant with regard to international law that remains in force. The writer, a senior research associate at the BESA Center, served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts.

2017-03-10 00:00:00

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