LAST WEEK turned a century after the UK endorsed a Jewish state in Palestine in a declaration, which has hitherto been known as the Balfour Declaration.
As was watched on global TV networks, Palestinians, joined by other protesters elsewhere were reported to have demanded an apology from Britain for ceding their land to other people.
In Ramallah, around 3,000 people marched from the city centre to the British Consulate; many of them carrying banners with slogans such as “100 years of dispossession”. Palestinians blame Britain for their current plight.
Last week also marked the 100th year that Britain promised to Jews or Zionists a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which ended up being renamed Israel. Palestinians blame Britain for their current plight.
They see the Balfour Declaration as the original sin that resulted in what they consider a catastrophe – “nakba” - their mass displacement that resulted from the war precipitated by Israel’s creation in 1948.
On November 2nd 1917 the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour authored a 67-word letter to one Lord Rothschild of the Jewish movement in Britain.
It declared sympathy with “Jewish Zionist aspirations” and the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people. If Palestinians and men and women of goodwill elsewhere recall the Balfour Declaration in dismay and protest, is not because they are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, it is because they are repugnant of the continued displacement of Palestinian people and deprival of their original land more than a century ago and subsequently in 1948 when the state of Israel was imposed by force of arms apparently with British approval.
As the founder President of this country Mwalimu Nyerere once said: “If the state of Israel is not a problem to anybody, for how long will Palestinian people be homeless or stateless?”
Unfortunately, the question of Palestine has been an issue, which has been addressed sporadically by the international community and with no concrete action to legitimize Palestine as a sovereign state alongside the state of Israel.
In the intervening period however, in the course of the tenure of office Mr David Cameron, there has been a positive vote in the British Parliament in favor of recognition of the state of Palestine alongside that of Israel.
The other day, I was thrilled to follow the news of the British Parliament vote, albeit a non-binding one, in favor of the recognition of a Palestine state, something that has not happened all these years before in a country which should have long shouldered responsibility over what has happened in Palestine after the caesarian birth of the state of Israel.
To quote a news agency report then: “…After a four hour debate, during which over 50 MPs spoke, the British Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of the government recognizing Palestine as a state.
“The original motion stipulated as follows: ‘This House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.” “However, during the debate, it was amended to include the words: ‘as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”
In spite of the overwhelming vote when 274 MPs voted to adopt the non-binding motion, when 12 MPs voted against it, Prime Minister David Cameron then elected to abstain from the vote called by the Opposition Labor Party.
But this overwhelming vote by British parliamentarians could have been read as an indicator that Britain is poised to relive its history as a country, which facilitated a Jewish state in a Palestinian homeland in the first place. But coming at that moment in time, it could have been helpful in building up the necessary pressure for a negotiated two-state solution in the area – that is to have a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.
One may recall that this was the agenda of American President Barack Obama when he assumed office - to have a negotiated two state solution in the area.
But the fact that apart from Britain, other European states such as Sweden had come up in favor of recognizing Palestine, brings the whole agenda of having in place a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one - more urgent today than ever before.
For obviously, it has been a misnomer, hasn’t it, for Britain to continue assuming a back seat at it has, over the years since its Balfour Declaration of 1917 and let the Americans assume the lead in resolving the Palestine question?
Clearly, what has happened in the Middle East with the caesarian birth of the state of Israel with this historical point of view, starting with the Balfour Declaration, it sounds logical for the rest of the world to expect the British now to assume leadership given their historical role as is reflected in the Balfour Declaration?
In the intervening years, we have seen the Jewish state expanding considerably since its caesarian plantation, annexing more land from the Euphrates to the Nile, waging wars of annexation of more Arab land and continuing unchecked in its wars of aggression and more occupation of Arab land.
Even after the caesarian birth of the state of Israel, one sees an old UN resolution calling for the establishment and co-existence of two states in the area – that of Israel and Palestine.
Which world power today, has stood up to ensure that this old UN resolution is implemented? On the contrary, we have all stood witness to the establishment of apartheid like ‘Bantustans’ in the area dubbed ‘Palestine National Authority’ which is far from a sovereign state, isn’t it?
Given that it was necessary to establish a homeland for Jews in the area, whatever the legitimacy of the claims, what has happened to the British assertion as contained in the Balfour Declaration that “nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine?”
Latest reports in the area speak of Israel continued expansion of settler structures in East Jerusalem, which is the perceived capital of an envisaged Palestinian state. In fact, the Israelis have been behaving every inch like a colonial power and even worse than that.
Whereas Jerusalem is the holy place of the major religions of the world, the Israelis do not want to make the place available, least of all to their Palestinian neighbors.
Watching television reports, Israel has been using troops to attack people wishing to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holy mosques in East Jerusalem.
One remembers former American President Obama’s initiative to have a two state resolution in the area. What became of the initiative? Is it the powerful ‘Jewish lobby” within the United States which allegedly calls the shots on the American global agenda?
But the British and other members of the European Union such as Sweden and Ireland will make a huge difference in putting pressure to bear on ensuring that there is justice in the Middle East with Palestinians guaranteed to have a sovereign state of their own, and not a Bantustanlike one, which is currently in place.