Next week will mark the beginning of the 100th year since the Balfour Declaration. On Friday, Nov. 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour announced in a short letter to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild that “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Five years later, the Balfour Declaration was included in the League of Nations resolution to mandate Palestine to the British government, and another sentence was added to it: “Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, who, with the assistance of his colleague Nahum Sokolow, worked persistently and wisely on behalf of the World Zionist Organization to obtain the documents, aspired to a clearer commitment, but the modest version was still an important tier in building the State of Israel.
Arab leaders in Palestine opposed the Balfour Declaration as soon as it was made public. They protested the use of the terms “the Jewish people” and “national home” as well as the reference to the Arabs as one of the “communities” with civil and religious — but not national — rights. It is for these reasons that the Palestine Liberation Organization determined in article 18 of its 1964 charter, three years prior to “the occupation,” that “the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate system and all that has been based upon them are considered fraud.” In keeping with his organization’s charter, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas recently stated at the United Nations General Assembly (Sept. 21, 2016): “One hundred years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land.”
In the same speech, Abbas also demanded that Britain apologize to the Palestinians “for the catastrophes, miseries and injustices that it created” as a result of the Balfour Declaration. Two months earlier (July 25, 2016), Abbas, in a speech read at the summit of the Arab League, asked the secretariat-general of the Arab League to support him “in preparing a legal portfolio in order to file a lawsuit against the British government for issuing the Balfour Declaration and for subsequently implementing it in its capacity as a Mandate authority.”
These statements, as strange as they sound, reach down to the root of the matter. In 1917, the U.N. partition plan for western Israel had not yet been suggested, there was no “Nakba,” and “the occupation” of 1967 had not yet begun. The PLO’s stance proves once again the depth of its opposition to the existence of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine, an opposition born of 100 years of denying the fact that the Jews comprise not only a religion but also to a nation and are reconstituting their sovereignty in their ancient homeland. In the PLO charter — which is still alive and most definitely kicking — contrary to statements made by interested parties — this denial is stated in the clearest possible manner.
“Fanaticism,” wrote Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, “consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.” The old slogan “land — (but) for peace” had its own logic, even if I do not share it. And while the fanatics of the Israeli Left forgot their aim years ago, they are redoubling their efforts to bring an end to “the occupation” without any conditions, without even the illusion of peace. In his appearance before the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 16, 2016, as though he were a brave dissident secretly coming forward from a dark dictatorship, the B’Tselem representative condemned “the occupation” and demanded that the council act immediately to force his country to put an end to it — but in his entire speech, he did not even once express hope for peace that will prevail here after the yearned-for end to this “occupation.”
Many in Israel and around the world still do not understand the basic difficulty. In contrast to an interim agreement, which allows the both sides to continue working toward the realization of all their ambitions and dreams, a permanent agreement does not allow this. From the PLO’s point of view, a permanent agreement that will anchor Israel eternally in a part of Palestine and apply a quota to the realization of “the return of refugees to their homes,” cannot also include the essential clause declaring “an end to mutual claims.” Therefore the PLO, which loathes the Balfour Declaration 100 years after its publication, is not able to sign a permanent agreement with the State of Israel, even with the most modest terms that the Israeli Zionist Left can think of. An international attempt to coerce such an agreement will lead to the dismantling of the PLO and to the elimination of its leadership, and it will fail. From this we can understand that the efforts of the fanatics in Israel and abroad intend to have Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines. Only this and nothing else.
But — we see with our own eyes: A hundred years later, and despite everything, the national home of the Jewish people is growing, rising and prospering in the land of Israel. And so it shall be.
Benny Begin is a Knesset member for the Likud party and a former government minister.