Upon hearing the initial report that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was asking the Arab League to sue Great Britain for its Balfour Declaration of 1917, I thought this must be a satire of the sort put out by The Onion.
I was wrong as it turned out. Apparently, Abbas is serious. So let’s treat his initiative seriously.
The Balfour Declaration, a statement by the then Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, Lord Balfour, called for the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the historic home of the Jewish people, Palestine as it was then known, or the land of Israel.
The declaration coming from the world power, which only months later, was to gain control in the holy land by ousting the Turks in World War II, was a turning point for the Zionist movement.
Founded in 1897 by Theodore Herzl, Zionism had as its original central goal the recognition by a central political power, mostly the Ottoman Turks, of the Jewish right to establish a political entity in Palestine. Having failed with the Turks, the breakthrough with Great Britain gave momentum to the Zionist idea going forward.
We know, of course, that the next 30 years generated many agonies in the relationship between the Zionists and the British. Still, the Balfour Declaration remains a high point in what turned out to be a 50-year struggle for Jewish statehood.
The fact that Abbas has chosen to take on this historic declaration, almost 100 years after its announcement, and 68 years after the birth of Israel, tells us so much about why the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians remains unresolved.
First, the initiative continues a pattern of Palestinian rejection of Jewish connection to the land of Israel. This denial of that connection, which sustained the Jewish people for two thousand years of the Diaspora, is at the core of Palestinian rejectionism. When Ehud Barak was offering the Palestinians a state of their own at Camp David in 2000, a moment of great opportunity for peace, the Palestinian reaction was a denial that there ever were Jewish holy places in Jerusalem.
The Balfour Declaration not only promised the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine, it based it on that historic connection. So, Abbas is now doubling down on disconnecting Jews from the Holy Land, the surest formula for continuing conflict.
Second, Abbas is continuing another unfortunate Palestinian pattern, living in the world of illusion. From the beginning, Palestinians opposed a Jewish State so much so that they rejected the 1947 UN partition plan that would have provided for Palestinian state. Ever since they have convinced themselves of all kinds of ways that they could achieve their goal of having Israel disappear. Boycotts, U.N. resolutions, international condemnations, terrorism, all harmful to Israel but having no possibility of undoing the reality of a strong and vibrant Israel. In other words, pursuing an illusion rather than seeking practical ways to improve their situation on the ground.
Talk about illusions, they don’t get any bigger than this talk of suing the British for the Balfour Declaration. One hundred years of history cannot be erased by a magic wand or a lawsuit.
Of course, so many in the international community have played into these illusions which have harmed the Palestinians. We’ll see what will happen this time.
This latest shenanigan by the Palestinians will only play into the notion in Israel that the Palestinians will never reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence and that there’s no difference between Abbas and Hamas.
There surely is a basis for such thinking, but it is not the whole story. Abbas and the PA have a complicated history that involves at times working with Israeli officials and talking about living in peace with two states.
Positive steps, however, are totally undermined by an action such as this lawsuit. It tells even the most optimistic Israeli that nothing much has changed, that Palestinians still don’t accept the meaning of Israel to the Jewish people and that wishful thinking rather than positive practical concepts still govern the Palestinian narrative.
If only this story was, in fact, an Onion satire.
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League