Remembering Balfour in London, 100 years on

Middle East Monitor reports, ‘ The grey weather did not deter the hundreds of attendees who arrived early on Saturday [7 October]  morning at the British Library in London to attend MEMO’s conference to commemorate 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. A heavily subscribed event, the conference took a detailed look at Britain’s role in the creation of Israel, past and present, showcasing an alternative narrative to the celebrations promised by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Attendees were able to purchase books on the Palestinian issue, including those shortlisted for the Palestine Book Awards 2017 and indulge in refreshments before being ushered into the auditorium. They were welcomed by Dr Daud Abdullah, the Director of MEMO, who expressed the importance of recognising the Balfour Declaration for what is was . . . Professor Avi Shlaim, an Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, echoed these sentiments in his keynote address, noting that despite the Balfour Declaration being only 67 words long, it had extensive and long-term consequences for the region as a whole. Professor Shlaim gave the audience a broader picture of British foreign policy at the time of the Balfour Declaration, citing the three promises Britain made at the end of the First World War. The first was to pledge to Sharif Hussein of Mecca to establish an independent Arab kingdom, which in the eyes of the Arabs would include Palestine. Britain later denied that this was the case. The second was the Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the Ottoman Empire, ensuring that Western influence could progress in the region. The third was the Balfour Declaration; a promise Britain had no legal authority to make this promise. The concept of a national home does not exist in international law, he stressed. Shlaim even suggested that there was an anti-Semitic motive behind the Declaration, such that by creating a Jewish homeland, Jews would not have a full right of citizenship in other countries where they lived. His speech continually highlighted how the Zionist project was an exercise in colonial occupation, one that benefited British imperial interests at the time above all else . . .

Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, Dr Victor Kattan, gave a history of how in the late 1930s Britain attempted to push a mandate that would see the rights of Palestinians catered to. In considering what prompted Britain to suddenly attempt this, he pointed to the fact that Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Indian Muslim League had wanted to bring a court case against the British in the League of Nations in protest of the situation of the Palestinian people. Whilst such attempts were unsuccessful, it was indicative of British fear for being held accountable. Kattan even suggested that it would be possible for Palestine or even an NGO to draft an international claim for the record to the Hague now that they are part of ICC . . .”

For a detailed account, click here.