Balfour: Then and Now

2 Nov

 

 

Today, November 2, is exactly 100 years after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the pledge given to the World Zionist Movement in a letter signed by the British Foreign Secretary to support the establishment of a ‘national home’ in the then Ottoman millet of Palestine. Certainly ‘a day of infamy’ for the Palestinian people and their friends around the world, while unfortunately treated as ‘a day of pride’ by the British Government, and all in the West those morally bankrupt enough to regret the passing of the colonial era, and to pretend without embarrassment that the Balfour legacy is something to celebrate, rather than to mourn, in the year 2017.

 

The British pledge was an unabashed expression of colonialist arrogance in 1917, ironically made at the dawn of the worldwide movement of national upheavals that would lead in the course of the century to the collapse of European colonialism. At the end of World War I colonialism was being increasingly questioned morally, but not yet challenged legally or politically. Such challenges only began to emerge as the struggles of national liberation gained political traction globally after 1945.

 

It is worth noticing that there was a certain amount of diplomatic pushback even in the post-1918 diplomacy, especially by way of Woodrow Wilson’s advocacy of ethnic ‘self-determination’ for the Ottoman held territories of the Middle East. More strongly in the same direction was Lenin’s radical critique of colonialism as a system of oppression that needed to be opposed and crushed wherever in the world it existed. This pushback did lead Britain and France to moderate their colonial ambitions as embodied in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, but these two unrepentant colonial powers still managed to gain essentially uncontested de facto control of political communities throughout the Middle East by way of the mandate system, which might be better understood as ‘tutelary colonialism.’

 

I am led to wonder whether if Wilson had had his way at Versailles in 1919 would the Balfour impact have been lessened with respect to the unfolding reality of Palestine? Presumably, Arab self-determination throughout the region would have drastically reduced the British and French role. Perhaps this European displacement would have been to an extent as to prompt a shift of Zionist energies away from Palestine, leading to a willingness to find a secure homeland somewhere that would be more receptive to the establishment of a Jewish state in their midst. This might have spelled a different tragedy for a different people than what has befallen the Palestinian people. Of course, ‘what might have been,’ is only of interest as a way of historically decoding the injustices that currently afflict oppressed and deprived peoples. We are helpless to change the past, although we can imagine unfolding in more benevolent ways. As much as the Palestinians, the Kurds throughout the region were fragmented and subjugated, and continue to this hour to struggle for some measure of ethnic autonomy, collective dignity, and self-determination. The Kurds were promised by World War I victors a state of their own situated mainly in present day Turkey and embodied in the Treaty of Sévres (1920). A few years later what was given was taken away, reflecting geopolitical moves that adapted to intervening political developments at the enduring expense of the Kurdish people. The main intervening event between the two treaties was the shocking Ataturk victory over European powers in Turkey, which helps understand why the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) abandoned the arrangements proposed at Sevres.

 

Reverting to reality, Britain became the mandatory administrator of Palestine in 1923, opening the country to the incremental realization of the Zionist agenda, which concentrated during the 1920s and 1930s on buying land from Palestinians that could be given to Jewish settlers, doing it all it could to induce Jews to emigrate to Palestine, and resorting to a terrorist campaign that was intended to make the British position in Palestine untenable. To make the whole Zionist undertaking credible ideologically, economically, and politically it was imperative to overcome the huge demographic imbalance that existed in Palestine during the early phases of the Zionist movement. It is instructive to recall that the Jewish presence in Palestine at the time of Balfour was no more than 5-7%. Such a small minority could not possibly succeed in establishing and dominating the government of a state that was to be ethnically oriented and yet democratic. Not a single Zionist expected the resident population to accept willingly such an outcome. Israel as a viable sanctuary for Jews escaping persecution necessarily depended on finding the right formula for combining armed struggle and political deception.

 

In this sense Balfour launched a project that was utopian from the Zionist point of view and dystopian from the Palestinian perspective. On the utopian side, establishing a Jewish state that could show a democratic face to the world seemed well beyond the horizon of feasibility. To attain the Zionist goal of a democratic Jewish state in Palestine ran directly counter to the anti-colonial historical tide in the 20th Century that swept away all in path elsewhere in the non-Western world. And then to overcome such a one-sided

demographic imbalance seemed a mission impossible no matter how much the Jewish diaspora was goaded into emigrating to Israel.

 

On the dystopian side as experienced by the Palestinians, the nakba dispossession and expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians, reinforced by discriminatory immigration policy, rigid security policies, and by Zionist expansionism that continues to this day has inflicted a tragic destiny upon the Palestinian people. This kind of ethnic restructuring also was coupled with the legitimation of a settler colonial state, including by the United Nations, at a historical moment when colonialism was entering its sunset phase and the UN was supposed to reflect the moral will of the organized global community. This outcome was permanently disillusioned for the Palestinians, and involves a cruel and paradoxical twist to the long Palestinian ordeal.

 

As an American terrified by Trump and Trumpism I cannot refrain from noting the analogies with the efforts of this leadership to airbrush the Confederate past of the United States, featuring slavery, with broad strokes of moral relativism. Trump’s outrageous assertion that there were good people on the white supremacist side of the Charlottesville demonstrations and General John Kelly’s more recent obtuse contention that the American Civil War resulted from the failure of the two sides (North and South) to strike a compromise, as if a compromise with slavery was a preferred option. A rejection of this kind of high profile posturing is not only a matter of political correctness, it is much more a matter of elemental moral sensitivity and political vigilance then and now.

 

Without letting Britain off the Balfour hook, the main international culprits since 1945 are surely the United States and the UN, jointly and separately failing to produce a sustainable and just peace for both peoples. At this time such a peace will not be achieved by continued recourse to the two-state solution that with each passing Israeli settlement expansion becomes, at best, an empty slogan, and more realistically, a way of changing the conversation to avoid considering the step that alone could bring peace to both peoples: ending the apartheid structures that have fragmented, subjugated, and victimized the Palestinian people ever since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. Until Israel is persuaded to dismantle its apartheid regime (as the racist South African regime was a decade earlier), peace diplomacy is bound to be a farce that does more harm than good. If this more realistic appreciation of the preconditions for peace between Palestinians and Israelis were to begin emerging on this day of remembrance, the Balfour century could at least claim to end on a more hopeful note than it began.

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15 Responses to “Balfour: Then and Now”

  1. Carlos November 2, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

    Once again your analysis Richard is enlightening. I was oblivious to the role of Attaturk. I had always thought of him as a great statesman, not as one of the victors. I wonder
    too, and it does not come into your piece, what
    of the Armenians? Many are still enamoured
    of the two state solution, including our Australian Government. To me Israel if it continues to exist, has to dispense with apartheid and welcome the Palestinians as
    equal in every way. A single state with no discrimination.

  2. truthaholics November 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm #

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “Without letting Britain off the Balfour hook, the main international culprits since 1945 are surely the United States and the UN, jointly and separately failing to produce a sustainable and just peace for both peoples. At this time such a peace will not be achieved by continued recourse to the two-state solution that with each passing Israeli settlement expansion becomes, at best, an empty slogan, and more realistically, a way of changing the conversation to avoid considering the step that alone could bring peace to both peoples: ending the apartheid structures that have fragmented, subjugated, and victimized the Palestinian people ever since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. Until Israel is persuaded to dismantle its apartheid regime (as the racist South African regime was a decade earlier), peace diplomacy is bound to be a farce that does more harm than good. If this more realistic appreciation of the preconditions for peace between Palestinians and Israelis were to begin emerging on this day of remembrance, the Balfour century could at least claim to end on a more hopeful note than it began.”

  3. ray032 November 2, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    Jeremy R. Hammond has a long Historical perspective on what preceded the Balfour Declaration up to it’s implementation currently in Foreign Policy Journal.
    It is much too long to post excerpts here, but the Contents reveal the depth of his research into the Historical Records.

    What Was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and Why Is It Significant?

    I. The Conquest of Palestine
    Zionist Influence on British Policy
    Promises of Arab Independence
    The Balfour Propaganda

    II. The Colonization of Palestine
    Reassurances of Arab Independence
    The Treaty of Versailles
    The King-Crane Commission
    The San Remo Resolution
    The Treaty of Sèvres
    Zionism’s Failure to Convince
    Zionist Land Policies
    The Churchill White Paper

    III. The Zionist Mandate for Palestine
    The Formulation of the Mandate
    Britain’s Miscalculation
    The ‘Compulsory Transfer’

    Conclusion

    Afterword

    https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2017/11/02/what-was-the-balfour-declaration-of-1917-and-why-is-it-significant/

  4. UZA - a peoples' court of conscience November 2, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

    Thanks for the reminder; the Balfour Declaration even had a far reaching effect on the Union of South Africa; the piggy bank of the merchants, monarchies, papacy and secret societies of Europe;

  5. Gene Schulman November 4, 2017 at 1:20 am #

    A propos:

    All those Balfour Declarations (video)
    November 03, 2017 / Gilad Atzmon

    A brief history of nations plotting to send the Jews away to Palestine well ahead of the 1917 Balfour Declaration…

    Read More

  6. daveyone1 November 4, 2017 at 5:51 am #

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

  7. ray032 November 5, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    It’s an old Truism, ‘The LORD works in mysterious Ways.’

    Because of the HARD-CORE Realities on the ground so far from any notions of a Promised Land of ‘Security, Peace, and Prosperity for ALL PEOPLE,’ there seems to be a new ray of Light dawning on the Israeli Military Establishment. How this impacts the Political remains to be seen?

    Israeli Army Calls for Gaza ‘Marshall Plan’ to Thwart Takeover by Forces More Extreme Than Hamas

    Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, believes persistence of the current situation there could lead to a new outbreak of violence

    Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, has called for the implementation of a Gazan version of the Marshall Plan through which the international community would direct large amounts of assistance to improve the economy in the Gaza Strip.

    Mordechai said he believes there is an inseparable link between the conditions the residents of Gaza are enduring including its struggling economy and the security situation. He warned that a continued worsening of the situation there would increase the chances of an escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that has run the strip for the past decade.

    So he decided to recommend that Israel support a wide-scale plan that would bring real hope for positive change to the population of Gaza.

    Mordechai’s comments came in an article that he authored with the head of the Palestinian affairs department in his office, Col. Michael Millstein, and with Lt. Col. (res.) Yotam Amitay. It was published last week in Hebrew on the website of the Institute for National Security Studies. The three described an ongoing process in which Hamas has seen its power in the strip weakened since has been responsible for Gaza as the poverty and joblessness there has worsened.
    Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
    Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

    A new generation of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 has arisen in the territory, whom the authors of the article describe as relatively educated but frustrated and facing difficulties finding work because of the economic situation in Gaza. This new generation, the authors wrote, “defy the sources of authority and even sometimes demonstrate reservations regarding the traditional ideology.”

    In their opinion, Hamas understands that it is only a matter of time until a violent wave of protest, akin to Arab Spring protests elsewhere in the Middle East, could erupt against them.

    According to the article, there is a widespread phenomenon of people under the age of 20, mostly residents of refugee camps, who in despair, cross the border into Israel in an effort to be arrested by Israeli authorities who can at least provide them with regular meals. The infiltrators also then generate an income for their families in Gaza. They are considered security prisoners, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority therefore provide assistance to their families.

    Mordechai, Millstein and Amitay warned that this continued state of despair among Gaza residents is accelerating a process of radicalization that could ultimately lead to power in the strip being seized by forces even more extreme than Hamas.

    “Without getting into the Israeli interest regarding who controls the Gaza Strip if nothing is done to bring about genuine change in the outlook of the deteriorating reality, we could be faced with a situation in which forces even more extreme than Hamas take control in the future,” the three wrote in the article.

    Genuinely good news for the Gaza Strip, the authors wrote, needs to come from “turning the strip into a place that is developing, with advanced industrial zones, tourist areas, innovative means of transportation and infrastructure that responds to the residents’ needs.”

    All of this is in stark contrast with the current situation. The writers didn’t specify exactly where the huge amounts of funding necessary for such a project would come from, but they dubbed it as the local version of the Marshall Plan, the economic assistance program that was put in place by the United States to reconstruct Europe after World War II.

    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.821148

    As Israeli proxies use their influence to have US States criminalize any support for the BDS movement against Israeli Settlements, the Israelis have maintained BDS on steroids against Gaza for the last 11 years. Israel demands more economic sanctions against Iran, but don’t sanction Jews. The hypocrisy is chutzpah on steroids.

    “Wars are not always begun by shots. They are often begun by action and the action which really created the state of war in an acute sense was the imposition of the blockade. To try to murder somebody by strangulation is just as much attempted murder as if you tried to murder him by a shot, and therefore the act of strangulation was the first violent, physical act which had its part in the sequence.
    Abba Eban Israeli Foreign Minister, describing the sequence of events that caused the 6 Day War in 1967.
    .
    The IDF has finally recognized that’s exactly what Israel has been doing to Gaza since Hamas won a legitimate, Free and Fair, Democratic Palestinian Election in 2006 the Israelis and Americans annulled. Palestinians are People too, like the Jews were in 1967.

  8. ray032 November 6, 2017 at 6:51 am #

    I learned about the Documentary, “Occupation of the American Mind” this morning reading about some women in Boston wanting to show it in their Church with Jewish protesters against showing it.

    Watching it, I learned a few new details, but it generally affirms the impressions I have gotten over the years reading The Jerusalem Post, Hareetz and other MSM.

    It’s a balanced and accurate presentation of the realities on the ground in Palestine without hyperbole.

    Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crY9qMIxznA

    Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7BBIhzI1Qc

    • Rabbi Ira Youdovin November 8, 2017 at 10:12 am #

      Richard,

      I’m briefly suspending my permanent sabbatical from your blog to note an on-going inconsistency in your approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: your the strategies and tactics you advocate work at cross-purposes to the goals you claim to seek.

      The vision you affirm is of Jews and Palestinians living together as equals in some kind of political structure (more on this is a minute). Attainment of this lofty, and commendable, objective will be difficult under any circumstances. At minimum, it requires that each side acknowledge the legitimacy of the other’s being and requirements, so that the painful process of compromise can proceed. Your relentless campaign to de-legitimize Israel militates against this, thus strengthening the extremists in both camps who see the conflict as a zero-sum game in which the only goal is total victory.

      Your continuing focus on the Balfour Declaration epitomizes this pattern. While it’s understandable, perhaps inevitable, that its 100th anniversary would stimulate a floodtide of commentary pro and con, it is the leitmotif of your total approach. Mondoweiss reported that Balfour was the opening salvo in your keynote at the Cork meeting. Reducing Zionism to a function of British colonialism serves to support a notion that some Christian anti-Zionists articulate as “the original sin of Israel’s birth.” If Israel is illegitimate from its very inception, those Palestinians who seek accommodation are traitors or “conspiratorialists”, a word you have applied to Fatah in its struggle against Hamas extremism.

      I’ll take a pass on addressing the historical inaccuracies in your narrative. Rather than concentrating on the past, let’s look to the future. What do you envision as a satisfactory outcome? You have said the objective is a “bi-national state governed by international law.” When I asked you for details on how this state might be established and function effectively, you didn’t reply. So I’m now asking again. Besides, considering the continuing agony arising from the creation of mash-ups like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon following World War One, why would one want to replicate the mistake for Palestinians and Israelis?

      You’ve also said that you support Israel’s existence, but not as a Jewish state. That’s an interesting concept as there exists a diversity of notions among Jews, both in Israel and the Diaspora, as to what it means to be a “Jewish” state. What’s yours? Besides, as Israel since its inception has been Jewish by virtue of ethnicity, your proposal is tantamount` to saying that France can continue to exist but it can’t be French. Please clarify.

      Finally, you told an Italian parliamentary committee that Israel should be a Jewish homeland inside a secular state. That seems to be a version of the bi-national state concept, with the possible addition of geographically drawn autonomies. But if the borders of autonomies can be successfully negotiated, why not negotate the borders of two independent states?

      Sincerely, Rabbi Ira Youdovin

      • Richard Falk November 8, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

        Dear Ira:

        I welcome this post as it joins important issues, although I continue to wonder why you
        feel so inclined to anchor your comments always in a personalized comment that suggests,
        or implies, my incompetence or worse. It seems to add little to your analysis but you seem
        inclined to belittle those with whom you disagree.

        On Balfour, the fundamental problem and enduring relevance is the problematic nature of pledging
        support for a Jewish national home in an Arab majority country without making any effort to consult
        the resident population; in 1917 the Jewish population of Palestine was about 7% or less. Despite
        the colonial origins of the Israeli state, history moves on and it would be a greater injustice one
        hundred years later to deny a right of self-determination to the Jewish people so long as it is made
        compatible with a comp able Palestinian right.

        It is here that I think that the nature of the claim to be ‘democratic’ and ‘a Jewish state’ becomes
        problematic.If you wish to consult a scholarly source you might look at Mazen Masri, The Dynamics of
        Exclusionary Natonalism:Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State
        In my view, the insistence on being
        democratic is mainly responsible for the dispossession (and denial of any right of return) of the Palestinians in 1948
        and the insistence on being a Jewish state is mainly responsible for the subjugation and fragmentation of the
        Palestinian people.

        On the delegitimization of Israel: you continue to misstate my actual position, which is the
        delegitimization of the policies and practices toward the Palestinian people, not the state of
        Israel as such.

        Also as earlier, you overlook my emphasis on the present inequality of the two people, making the
        side with the upper hand take the first step toward achieving equality, which would require abandoning
        the policies and practices by which the Palestinians are now subjugated, gradually and prudently, but
        clearly (as with the South African decision to dismantle apartheid, release Mandela from prison, etc..).
        It is important to take note of this distinction between Israel as a state and its policies and practices.

        I know you have asked me in the past for details about the implementation of a peaceful coexistence arrangement,
        and my answer then and now is that this is up to the two peoples to decide, which is the essence of self-determination.
        As the South Africa example illustrates, if the political will is present on the dominant side, the details of transition
        and implementation can be worked out. I believe the Palestinians, including Hamas, are ready to move in this direction,
        but not clearly until Israel shows its desire to do so in a clear way, which it has never done in my view.

        I hope we can carry on this conversation free from personal innuendo.

        Best wishes,

        Richard

  9. Rabbi Ira Youdovin November 9, 2017 at 3:47 am #

    Richard,

    I greatly appreciate your prompt and detailed response that helps clarify the issues that divide us. But before responding, I’d like “clean the air that overhangs our exchange,

    You write: ” I continue to wonder why you
    feel so inclined to anchor your comments always in a personalized comment that suggests,
    or implies, my incompetence or worse. It seems to add little to your analysis but you seem
    inclined to belittle those with whom you disagree….”

    This was certainly not my intention. And frankly, I see no evidence in what I posted that supports your complaint. But you believe it’s there and I want to avoid repetition.. Toward that end, it would be extremely helpful for you to cite specific instances that you find personally offensive.

    With thanks in advance,

    Ira

    • Richard Falk November 9, 2017 at 7:18 am #

      Ira:

      I appreciate your impulse ‘to clear the air.’

      I am leaving for Vietnam on Saturday, and do not have time nor inclination to read over
      past comments, but I believe it should be obvious to you.

      On this post, as I did indicate, it is the first paragraph, which if you had not in the past
      so consistently personalized or insulted by innuendo, I would have disregarded. But my acting as
      if your perspectives transcend inconsistency and bias while mine do not is itself condescending,
      besides in my view, being false and misleading. These various issues are subject to differing
      interpretations depending on priorities, perceptions, beliefs, values, and not merely reflective
      of good or bad thinking in relation to causal effect. To continuously telling me that my views
      hurt Palestinians in the end is something I hear only from dedicated Zionists, which should tell
      you something. I do not doubt your good faith or intelligence, although I deeply disagree with
      the way you configure most issues relating to Israel/Palestine.

      Richard

  10. Laurie Knightly November 10, 2017 at 3:14 pm #

    It has been gratifying to see the amount of honorable criticism that the centenary of the Balfour has generated. This particular document launched the international response to the aspirations of Zionists and somehow managed to hold in disregard the national, cultural, and political rights of the regional inhabitants – in spite of the protective clauses included.

    Regarding the latter, it is imperative to credit Edwin Montagu, the only Jewish member of the cabinet, with the noting/protection in the Declaration of the overwhelming non Jewish population living in the area. It’s often suggested that his real interest was the status of Jews living throughout the world. His moral decency, however, exists throughout his writings and is consistent with the protective clause. And there were a significant number of prominent Jews who opposed Zionism. They were attacked, then as now, by whatever Black Cube type of mechanism was at their disposal and this continues unabated.

    Enough has been written regarding this egregious injustice to the Palestinians that one could scarcely pretend innocence. The UK, US and UN are the leading agents of this injustice and are in a position to make/demand amends.

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