Balfour Declaration: May hosts Israeli PM for centenary

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Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu (06/02/17)Image copyright
PA

Image caption

Theresa May invited Benjamin Netanyahu when they met in London in February

PM Theresa May is to host her Israeli counterpart as part of events marking the centenary of a British pledge which paved the way for Israel’s creation.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit comes on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine.

Israel and Jewish communities view the pledge as momentous, while Palestinians regard it as an historical injustice.

The UK has rejected calls to apologise and has said it is proud of its role.

The Israeli prime minister will have dinner on Thursday with Mrs May. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declined an invitation to the event and is expected to send a representative in his place.

Mr Netanyahu will separately hold talks with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

The anniversary is contentious for Palestinians, who see it as a cause of decades of suffering and deprival of their own state on land that became Israel. But the British government says such criticism is misplaced.

“I am proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel and Her Majesty’s Government will mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on Thursday in that spirit,” Mr Johnson said earlier this week.

“I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel – and a believer in that country’s destiny – while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth.”

“The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realised,” he added, alluding to the plight of the Palestinians.

As he left Israel on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu thanked the British government and said it was time for Palestinians to come to terms with the past.

“The Palestinians say that the Balfour Declaration was a tragedy. It wasn’t a tragedy. What’s been tragic is their refusal to accept this 100 years later.

“I hope they change their mind, because if they do they can move forward finally to making peace between our two peoples.”

Protests

The British government’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

It said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people“, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.

The Balfour Declaration was the first international recognition by a world power of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in their ancestral land and formed the basis of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine in 1920.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Arthur Balfour (C), Gen Edmund Allenby (L), and First High Commissioner of Palestine Herbert Samuel, in Jerusalem, 1925

However, the anniversary is divisive, with Palestinians and their supporters planning protests, including a demonstration in London at the weekend.

Last year, the Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank said it intended to sue the British government for a decision it said had led to mass Jewish immigration “to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people”.

Jewish immigration to Palestine rose substantially in the interwar period, though Britain imposed strict limits later on in the wake of violence between Jewish and Arab communities.

The British Mandate expired on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war which followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.

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