The Legal Veracity of the Balfour Declaration

Amb. Alan Baker

Copy of the Balfour Declaration sent to Lord Walter Rothschild, November 2, 1917

With the 2017 centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration,1 which acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to their national homeland in Palestine, the international community is witnessing a highly orchestrated attempt by the Arab League and the Palestinian leadership to question its legal veracity.

This campaign is one of the means of manipulation of the international community used by the Palestinian leadership to cast doubt and undermine the historic and legal basis and rights of the Jews in the area.

Sadly, and completely at odds with history and international law, this campaign appears to be receiving support from other countries.

In the context of the Balfour Declaration centenary, the Palestinian leadership called on the Arab League at its September 2016 summit meeting in Nouakchott, Mauritania, to institute “an international criminal case for the crime committed against our nation by the UK for issuing the Balfour Declaration.”2

The Palestinian leadership launched a “Balfour Apology Campaign” with a disturbing statement to the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2016, in which Mahmoud Abbas stated:

100 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.3

Abbas went on to formally demand an apology from the UK for issuing the Balfour Declaration.4

In October 2016, the UK-based “Palestinian Return Centre,” a group affiliated with the Hamas terror organization and acknowledged by the UN as an official NGO (non-government organization), hosted a public seminar in the British House of Lords, condemning the Balfour Declaration and reiterating the call for a British apology.

Was the Declaration Legal?

This campaign has given rise to a number of questions regarding the legal veracity of the Balfour Declaration and its continued relevance and status today in the context of the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

Perhaps the basic question is the legally binding nature of the document, since it was clearly not, in and of itself, an international agreement, but a letter acknowledging and declaring a national commitment by the British government, issued by the British Foreign Secretary to the Jewish leadership of the day in Palestine.

The following points sum up the international legal status of the document:

  1. International law and practice have consistently recognized and accepted unilateral declarations officially issued, considered binding as far as the government is concerned.
  2. This practice was recently codified by the International Law Commission in its 2006 “Guiding Principles applicable to unilateral declarations of States capable of creating legal obligations.”5
  3. Citing several examples of unilateral declarations issued over the years by heads of state and foreign ministers as indicative of their authors’ intention to commit themselves internationally. The International Law Commission determined that such public declarations create legal obligations to be respected by other states.
  4. The legal effect of a declaration is determined by its content, the factual circumstances in which it was made and the reactions to which it gave rise. The historic circumstances prevalent in 1917, the clear intention of Britain in issuing the Declaration, as well as the subject-matter of the Declaration – establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine – are all indicative of the intention that the Declaration would be considered binding.

On March 28, 1921, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill was challenged over the Balfour Declaration by a former mayor of Jerusalem, Mousa Kazim el Husseini. Churchill responded:

Our position in this country is based upon the events of the war, ratified, as they have been, by the treaties signed by the victorious Powers. I thought, when listening to your statements, that it seemed that the Arabs of Palestine had overthrown the Turkish Government. That is the reverse of the true facts. It has been the armies of Britain which have liberated these regions.

Winston Churchill in doorway receiving Mousa Kasim Pasha el Husseini at reception at Government House, Jerusalem. Emir Abdullah of Jordan stands on the left behind Mrs. Churchill. (Library of Congress)

5. The fourth principle states “a unilateral declaration binds the State internationally only if it is made by authority vested with the power to do so. By virtue of their functions, heads of State, heads of Government and ministers for foreign affairs are competent to formulate such declarations.” As such, the Balfour Declaration, issued by the British Foreign Secretary, clearly represents the formal and official authority of the British government and voiced a very precise intention of the British government as to the character and governance of Palestine.

6. The International Law Commission principles endorse the obligatory nature of unilateral declaration once accepted by other states. Since the Balfour Declaration was subsequently incorporated by the international community into binding international treaties, and as such accepted by states, its obligatory character became all the more evident. By the same token, having created legal obligations, such a declaration cannot be arbitrarily revoked.
The subsequent incorporation of the Balfour Declaration into international multilateral instruments further solidified its internationally binding nature. This is evidenced in the following instruments:

  1. In the San Remo Declaration, dated April 25, 1920,6 the Allied Powers – Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, together with the United States as a neutral observer and the Jewish leadership in Palestine – confirmed the pledge contained in the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

It was agreed to include in the League of Nations mandate the following provision:

The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, 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.

2. The League of Nations Mandate, dated July 24, 1922, entrusted to Great Britain the powers of Mandatory over the territory of Palestine.7

The Council of the League of Nations, composed of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan as permanent members, and Belgium, Brazil, Greece, and Spain as non-permanent members, stated in the preambular provisions:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might 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; and

Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.

The Mandate was subsequently approved by all 52 members of the League of Nations.

3. UN Charter, Article 80

Recognizing the need to ensure the continuation of the rights derived from the Mandate, even after the expiry of the League of Nations in 1946, Article 80 of the UN Charter, often referred to as the “Palestine Clause,” states in the context of the International Trusteeship System:

…nothing in this Chapter shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties.8

This article was drafted further to representations by the Jewish leadership at the San Francisco conference, in order to protect both the existing rights of states, as well as those of “any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which members of the United Nations may respectively be parties.”

In light of the above, there can be absolutely no doubt that the 1917 Balfour Declaration was a legally binding document, properly issued by the authorized representative of the British government, conveying a clear intention regarding the rights of the Jewish People to territory of Palestine, and subsequently accepted and adopted by the international community in the framework of international treaties.

* * *

Notes

1 http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/balfour.html

2 https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/07/26/mahmoud-abbas-seeks-to-sue-uk-over-balfour-declaration-calls-on-arab-league-for-help/

https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/UNISPAL.NSF/47D4E277B48D9D3685256DDC00612265/ABF18E1D5FEF29278525803600658A0C

4 http://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-assembly-israel-palestinians-idUSKCN11S2CZ

5 http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/commentaries/9_9_2006.pdf

6 http://www.cfr.org/israel/san-remo-resolution/p15248

7 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/palmanda.asp

8 http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-xii/index.html

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.


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100 Years Since the Balfour Declaration – Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold speaks about how the terrorist organization The Palestinian Return Center and other Islamist organizations, are waging war against Israel’s right of existence by any means possible. His aim is to focus on subduing these current threats.

 

Winston Churchill’s Defense of the Balfour Declaration in 1921

By Lenny Ben-David

 

On March 28, 1921, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill visited Jerusalem where he attended a tree-planting ceremony on the site of the future Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. At the Government Office of the British High Commissioner, Churchill also met with Emir Abdullah of Jordan, Jerusalem’s Arab political and religious leaders, and the Jewish chief rabbis.

Winston Churchill Was a KEY Player to the Formaton of Modern Israel

He also met and heard from a former mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim el Husseini who denounced the Balfour Declaration, petitioned Churchill to stop the immigration of Jews into Palestine, and claimed that life for the Arabs was better under the Ottomans. Churchill responded, defending the Balfour Declaration and the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland.

Winston Churchill in doorway receiving Mousa Kasim Pasha el Husseini at reception at Government House, Jerusalem. Emir Abdullah of Jordan stands on the left behind Mrs. Churchill. (Library of Congress)

Husseini was related to the infamous Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini and father of the notorious Arab militia fighter, Abdul Khadar el-Husseini. The Husseinis’ hatred of Jews was only matched by their hatred for King Abdullah, and Husseini clan members were involved in Abdullah’s assassination on the Temple Mount in 1951.

Churchill’s response:

…You have asked me in the first place to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and to veto immigration of Jews into Palestine. It is not in my power to do so, nor, if it were in my power, would it be my wish. The British Government have passed their word, by the mouth of Mr. Balfour, that they will view with favour the establishment of a National Home for Jews in Palestine, and that inevitably involves the immigration of Jews into the country. This declaration of Mr. Balfour and of the British Government has been ratified by the Allied Powers who have been victorious in the Great War; and it was a declaration made while the war was still in progress, while victory and defeat hung in the balance. It must therefore be regarded as one of the facts definitely established by the triumphant conclusion of the Great War. It is upon this basis that the mandate has been undertaken by Great Britain, it is upon this basis that the mandate will be discharged. I have no doubt that it is on this basis that the mandate will be accepted by the Council of the League of Nations, which is to meet again shortly.

Moreover, it is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire. But we also think it will be good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine, and we intend that it shall be good for them, and that they shall not be sufferers or supplanted in the country in which they dwell or denied their share in all that makes for its progress and prosperity. And here I would draw your attention to the second part of the Balfour Declaration, which solemnly and explicitly promises to the inhabitants of Palestine the fullest protection of their civil and political rights.

Churchill (beneath the tree) speaks at the Hebrew University tree-planting ceremony. Note the translator (standing left of Churchill) and the two chief rabbis of Palestine. (Library of Congress)

I was sorry to hear in the paper which you have just read that you do not regard that promise as of value. It seems to be a vital matter for your and one to which you should hold most firmly and for the exact fulfillment of which you should claim. If the one promise stands, so does the other; and we shall be judged as we faithfully fulfil both.

The Arabs Didn’t Liberate Palestine; the British Did

After all, the British Government has a view of its own in this matter, and we have right to such a view. Our position in this country is based upon the events of the war, ratified, as they have been, by the treaties signed by the victorious Powers. I thought, when listening to your statements, that it seemed that the Arabs of Palestine had overthrown the Turkish Government. That is the reverse of the true facts. It has been the armies of Britain which have liberated these regions. You had only to look on your road here this afternoon to see the graveyard of over 2,000 British soldiers, and there are many other graveyards, some even larger, that are scattered about in this land. The position of Great Britain in Palestine is one of trust, but it is also one of right. For the discharge of that trust and for the high purposes we have in view, supreme sacrifices were made by all these soldiers of the British Empire, who gave up their lives and their blood. Therefore I beg you to realize that we shall strive to be loyal to the promises we have made both to the Arab and to the Jewish people, and that we shall fail neither in the one nor in the other.

I would also draw your attention to the very careful and exact nature of the words which were used by Mr. Balfour. He spoke of “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jews.” He did not say he would make Palestine the National Home for the Jews. There is a difference between the two which is of great importance. The fact that Palestine shall contain a National Home for the Jews does not mean that it will cease to be the National Home of other people, or that a Jewish Government will be set up to dominate the Arab people. On the contrary, the British Government is well disposed towards the Arabs in Palestine, and, indeed, cherish a strong friendship and desire for co-operation with the Arab race as a whole. That is what you would expect from the British Empire, which is the greatest of all the Moslem States in the world, and which must never cease to study the needs and wishes of its Moslem subjects and allies; and surely you have found that – at any rate I have been assured on this point by many Moslems since my arrival here – in the daily contact with the officers of this Administration in Palestine: that they make no distinction as between Arab and Jew, and that they endeavour in every way to render impartial, even-handed justice.

We regard this mater of such importance that we moved his Majesty the King to appoint Sir Herbert Samuel as High Commissioner. He has held very high office in our own country, and he has many years’ experience in our Parliamentary and Cabinet life. Therefore in selecting him we knew we had a trained and experienced man who would understand what ought to be done and what the full meaning and purpose of British policy was. Moreover, he is himself a Jew, and therefore we knew that in holding the balance even and securing fair treatment for all he could not be reproached for being hostile to his own people, and he would be believed by them when he said that he was only doing what was just and fair; and I think this appointment has been vindicated and justified not only by what has been done but by its results.

I do not think you have any need to feel alarmed or troubled in your minds about the future. The British Government has promised that what is called the Zionist movement shall have a fair chance in this country, and the British Government will do what is necessary to secure that fair chance. But after all it is only upon its merits that Zionism can succeed. We cannot tolerate the expropriation of one set of people by another or the violent trampling down of one set of national ideals for the sake of erecting another. If a National Home for the Jews is to be established in Palestine, as we hope to see it established, it can only be by a process which at every stage wins its way on its merits and carries with it increasing benefits and prosperity and happiness to the people of the country as a whole. And why should this not be so? Why should this not be possible? You can see with your own eyes in many parts of this country the work which has already been done by Jewish colonies; how sandy wastes have been reclaimed and thriving farms and orangeries planted in their stead. It is quite true that they have been helped by money from outside, whereas your people have not had a similar advantage, but surely these funds of money largely coming from outside and being devoted to the increase of the general prosperity of Palestine is one of the very reasons which should lead you to take a wise and tolerant view of the Zionist movement.

The paper which you have just read painted a golden picture of the delightful state of affairs in Palestine under the Turkish rule. Every man did everything he pleased; taxation was light; justice was prompt and impartial; trade, commerce, education, the arts all flourished. It was a wonderful picture. But it had no relation whatever to the truth, for otherwise why did the Arab race rebel against this heavenly condition? Obviously the picture has been overdrawn. And what is the truth?

This country has been very much neglected in the past and starved and even mutilated by Turkish misgovernment. There is no reason why Palestine should not support a larger number of people than it does at present, and all of those in a higher condition of prosperity.

But you will say to me, are we to be led by the hopes of material gain into letting ourselves be dispossessed in our own house by enormous numbers of strangers brought together across the seas from all over the world? My answer is; no, that will not be, that will never be. Jewish immigration into Palestine can only come as it makes a place for itself by legitimate and honourable means; as it provides the means by which it is to be supported. The task before the Zionists is one of extraordinary difficulty. The present form of government will continue for many years, and step by step we shall develop representative institutions leading up to full self-government. All of us here to-day will have passed away from the earth and also our children and our children’s children before it is fully achieved. The Jews will need the help of the Arabs at every stage, and I think you would be wise to give them your help and your aid and encourage them in their difficulties. They may fail. If they are not guided by wisdom and goodwill, if they do not tread the path of justice and tolerance and neighbourliness, if the class of men who come in are not worthy of the Jewish race, then they will fail and there will be an end of the experiment. But on the other hand, if they succeed, and in proportion as they do succeed year by year, such success can only be accompanied by a general diffusion of wealth and well-being among all the dwellers in Palestine and by an advance in the social, scientific and cultural life of the people as a whole.

These are words which I speak to you with great belief in their truth. I am sure if you take my advice you will not find in the future any difference in the life you have led in the past, or in the part you have played in your country, except an improvement. There will be more food, there will be more freedom, there will be more people, there will be more health among the people, there will be more knowledge, the fruits of toil will be more securely enjoyed, and the harvests will be more fully reaped by those who have sown them. Above all there will be a complete respect for everyone’s religious faith. Although the Arabs are in a large majority in Palestine and although the British Empire has accepted the mandate for Palestine, yet in a certain wider sense Palestine belongs to all the world. This city of Jerusalem itself is almost equally sacred to Moslem, Christian and Jew – not only those who dwell in this land, but those of these three religions who all over the world look to what is the holy centre of their faith. The Arabs of Palestine have therefore a great trust which we look to them to discharge and to help us (the British Government) in discharging, and just as in the spiritual sphere the profession of one faith does not mean the exclusion of another, so in the material world there is room for all. If instead of sharing miseries through quarrels you will share blessings through co-operations, a bright and tranquil future lies before your country. The earth is a generous mother. She will produce in plentiful abundance for all her children if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace.

A separate meeting took place that day between Churchill and Emir Abdullah in the garden of Government House. It was a fateful meeting for the Middle East. With T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) witnessing, Abdullah was installed as the Emir of Transjordan (east of the Jordan River), with the British Mandate controlling the west side of the river.

Churchill, Lawrence and Abdullah, March, 1921. (Library of Congress)

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THE BACKGROUND TO THE DRAFTING OF THE BALFOUR DECLARATION

Author: Barry Shaw

The stars were in perfect alignment at a time in history. Such moments are fleeting and must be grabbed before the opportunity recedes into the past.
One such moment was when David Lloyd George succeeded Herbert Henry Asquith as Britain’s Prime Minister in 1916. People assume that Lloyd George was a Welshman but he was born in Manchester. The alignment was enhanced with the appointment of Arthur Balfour to the position of Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s government.
Alignment and timing are all important in world affairs. Both men were raised on a late Victorian religious upbringing and the relevance of their Christianity on matters of principle. Both were nurtured on hymns and on the belief in the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land, an act that would herald the coming of their Messiah.
Although Jewish Zionist heroes such as Herzl and Weizmann were lobbying and organizing global and diplomatic support for the notion of reclaiming a national home in an ancient land, then called Palestine, it was, if truth be told, the influence of well positioned Christians that opened the political gates to that goal. It was the core beliefs of people like Lloyd George and Balfour that would drive a policy that has led us to where we are today.
Parts of Kenya on the border with Uganda had been suggested as a British protectorate for the Jews but this had been dismissed by Chaim Weizmann. He stated his case forcefully;
“Uganda will never be Palestine. We cannot possibly sell our birthright. It is like someone giving up one’s religion, giving up one’s self. We thank the British Government for its generous and magnanimous offer, but we cannot accept it, and we think the British Government is perhaps the only government which will understand the motives which lead us to refuse this offer.”
It was this rejection that prompted the first meeting between the Manchester-based Jew and Balfour who had been one of the proposers of the Uganda plan.
Balfour was curious to hear why Weizmann had rejected the African proposal. The conversation between them went on for some time until Dr. Weizmann said to Balfour, “Mr. Balfour, suppose I gave you Paris in place of London? Would you take it?”
“We have London,” Balfour replied.
“Mr. Balfour. We had Jerusalem when London was a swamp.”
Balfour was impressed by Weizmann’s stubbornness and determination that, for the Jews, a homeland could only be based in the land of their forefathers, even if it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Weizmann was not to meet Balfour for another ten years. In 1916 Balfour was First Lord of the Admiralty. Weizmann went into the meeting with great trepidation. He was concerned that the senior British politician would recall the abrupt ending of their last conversation. When he entered the office, Balfour greeted him with, “You know, Dr. Weizmann, if the Allies win the war you might possibly get your Jerusalem.”

Britain was at war and was contemplating opening up a new front in the Middle East against the Turks who had allied with the Germany.

By 1917 Arthur Balfour was Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s government and was persuaded by faith and by persuasion to inform his colleagues in the War Cabinet of his intention to submit an official letter on behalf of His Majesty’s Government that would be favorable to Zionist aspirations in Palestine. The reason he gave was that this would attract both American and Russian support behind Britain’s war against Germany and their Turkish allies. In this he was supported by his Prime Minister.
The stars were aligned at a moment in history for the Jewish people.
Balfour met with Chaim Weizmann and Lord Rothschild on June 19 and invited them to submit a declaration that would be acceptable to the War Cabinet for the British Government to declare its conviction and support of the Zionist aims for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

In my new book, ‘1917 From Palestine to the Land of Israel,’ I relate the background to the drafting of the Balfour Declaration which was to set British policy at a critical time in the Jewish struggle to claim Palestine as a national homeland.
A little known fact is that the early working of this document was done by a small team of Zionists based in Manchester. Simon Marks and Israel Sieff were born in Prestwich. They were joined by Harry Sacher who was a journalist at the Manchester Guardian. They gathered under the tutelage of Weizmann in Sieff’s home in Didsbury.
Their enthusiasm and intellectual input raised the spirits of Chaim Weizmann who wrote in his book Trial and Error; “They helped make Manchester, the city I had come to as a stranger, and had considered a place of exile, a happy place for me.”

Sachar began composing the document by writing, “The British Government declares that one of its essential war aims is the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish state.”
The group received advice from Herbert Sidebotham. Sidebotham was the military correspondent at the Manchester Guardian. He and its editor, C.P. Snow, were ardent Zionists and close friends of Weizmann. Sidebotham sent Sachar a memo pointing out that “by a Jewish state is meant a state composed not only of Jews, but one whose dominant national character shall be as Jewish as the dominant national character of England in English.”

Sachar told Nahum Sokolov, a prominent Zionist leader, “We must control the State machinery in Palestine. If we don’t, the Arabs will. Give the Arabs all the guarantees they like for cultural autonomy but the State must be Jewish.”

It must be mentioned there was a raging public argument in Britain between the Zionists and the anti-Jewish state Jews. One of the anti-Zionist leaders was the influential Edwin Montagu, a senior member of the government.
The fearful Montagu expressed his position against a Jewish state by arguing “When Jews are told that Palestine is a national home every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens.”
The narrow-minded lord went on, “When the Jews have a national home surely it follows that the impetus to deprive us of rights of British citizenship must be enormously increased.”
Leopold Amery, the War Cabinet Secretary threw scorn on Montagu calling him “a tame Jew who doesn’t want to be bothered with Zionism or national aspirations and only regards it as a nuisance to himself.”
The ignoble Lord Montagu accused the Zionist Organization of being run by “men of enemy descent or birth.”
The War Cabinet rejected Montagu’s argument by reminding him “that the existence of a Jewish State or autonomous community in Palestine would strengthen rather than weaken the situation of Jews in countries ere they were not yet in possession of equal rights.”
Weizmann responded to the clique of Jewish anti-Zionists by claiming they were “a small minority of so-called assimilated cosmopolitan Jews, most belonging to haute finance, who have lost contact with the development of Jewish life or ideas.”


The drafting of an original Zionist Organization proposal underwent several changes and redraftings. Lord Rothschild drafted a proposal in July 1917 which read;
“1. His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.
2. His Majesty’s Government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organization.”
There were further counter-drafts drawn up by Balfour in August and later amended the same month by Lord Milner. Milner changed the phrase “reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people” to “the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”
The Milner/Amery draft of October clarified the nature of the Jewish entity by calling it “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish race” but the word “race” was changed back to “people” in the final Balfour draft.
The final draft of the Balfour Declaration was drawn up and presented to Walter Rothschild, a leader of Britain’s Jewish community for transferring on to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, It read;
‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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.”
The letter was presented to Baron Rothschild on 2nd November 1917 and published in the press one week later.
The wording fell short of what the Zionist representatives wanted. Instead of the word “establishment” they wanted the word “re-establishment” to emphasize the continuity of the Jewish presence in Palestine and its history and heritage with this land. They had called for the inclusion of the word “state” but out of fear of opposition within the British Cabinet compromised with the inclusion of a reference to a “national home.”
Balfour said in 1918, he hoped that “Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a state.”
Prime Minister Lloyd George confirmed that when the Jews would be a majority in Palestine then “Palestine would become a Jewish Commonwealth.”
Leopold Amery, who had been intimately involved with the history of the drafting and was acutely aware of the political implications and purpose behind the release of the Declaration, when testifying under oath at the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry as late as 1946 to examine the political, economic, and social conditions in Mandatory Palestine with regard to the problems of Jewish settlement and immigration, said;
“The phrase ‘the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people’ was intended and understood by all concerned to mean at the time of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would ultimately become a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’ or a ‘Jewish state,’ if only Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers.”

This is where you, dear reader, are playing a vital role in living the essence of the Balfour Declaration.

Barry Shaw.
Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel is available from the author or from CreateSpace in paperback https://www.createspace.com/6830537 or from Amazon in Kindle format at:
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=1917.+from+palestine+to+the+land+of+israel


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The Secret Drafts of the Balfour Declaration

On November 2nd, 1917, a declaration that changed the course of history was published.

The document that would become the foundation of the state of Israel was sent in the form of a letter by Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild. Rothschild was to pass it on to the Zionist Organization headed by Dr. Chaim Weizmann.

The unpublished drafts of the declaration open a window to an entirely different and equally significant history.

As the Hebrew settlement in the Land of Israel kept establishing and expanding itself, the leaders of the Zionist movement realized they would need support from the world’s empires, specifically the British Empire.

When the British ousted the centuries old Ottoman presence in Palestine, Chaim Weizmann presented a draft for the founding of a state. This draft was a declaration sent to the then British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, on July 1917. The draft declared that Britain would recognize the Land of Israel as the land of the Jewish people.

The declaration did not leave the Foreign Office as it was drafted, of course. The declaration went through several rewrites by the Foreign Office. By early October 1917, the draft was processed by the War Office in conjunction with the Zionist Organization delegation.

It was in one of the final drafts of the declaration that the section regarding the Jewish people’s right to the land was omitted and the “Jewish state” became a “National Home” – an unprecedented legal and diplomatic term.

Before the declaration was officially presented to Lord Rothschild by Lord Balfour, the draft was presented to Jewish leaders of every political stripe, both Zionist and non-Zionist. One of these leaders was Sir Philip Magnus, a Reform rabbi and British politician whose opinion on the declaration was sought.

The British Rabbi and Politician, Sir Philip Magnus (1933-1842)

The National Library holds the draft of the declaration the War Office sent Sir Magnus. The differences in the draft sent to Sir Magnus and the final historic letter were slight, but significant. In the finalized version in which “His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People”, the earlier draft speaks of a “National Home for the Jewish Race”.

The draft of the declaration sent to Sir Philp Magnus. The draft is kept in the Philip Magnus Collection in the National Library

With this change the British government strengthened the Zionist position of Jews as a nation, rather than a culture and religion, which the word race conveyed strongly in the early 20th century.

Sir Magnus’ reply and draft changes are also kept in the National Library, offering a glimpse into the minds and opinions of Non-Zionist British Jews. Sir Magnus refused to distinguish between his opinions as a Jew and as British subject in a stroke of political brilliance. Sir Magnus made the claim that ever since the Roman exile, the Jewish people ceased being a political body and share only a religion and as such do not have a national aspiration in the Land of Israel.

Sir Magnus’ suggested changes, which were later incorporated into the final decleration, had more to do with the people of other faiths and cultures in the region. This is clearly stated in the final draft of the declaration as: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Sir Philip Magnus’ reply to the War Office. The letter is kept in the Philip Magnus Collection in the National Library

The original letter sent to Lord Rothschild by Lord Balfour is kept in the British Museum to this very day.


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10 things you may not know about Balfour

To mark this week’s 99th anniversary of the Balour Declaration, we reveal some fascinating facts about the most famous proclamation since the Ten Commandments

David Ben Gurion (left) signing the Declaration of Independence held by Moshe Sharet, with Eliezer

1. The Balfour Declaration is in the form of a letter dated 2 November 2017 from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild. It comprises just 67 words.

2. Lord Rothschild was asked to convey the letter’s contents to the Zionist Federation. This was because the letter could not be addressed to Chaim Weizmann, the main driver behind the Declaration, as Weizmann was not the most senior member of the Zionist hierarchy. Therefore, Lord Rothschild, as de facto head of the British Jewish community, was asked to pass the contents of the Declaration to the ZF.

3. The final letter, which was sent on 2 November, was the fifth draft of the historic Declaration. You can see the text of all five drafts at www.balfour100.com

4. A month before issuing the Declaration, the War Cabinet asked for the views of eight Jews, four anti-Zionists and four Zionists. Letters of support were submitted by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz, Lord Walter Rothschild and Zionist leaders Nahum Sokolow and Chaim Weizmann.

5. Chaim Weizmann was known to the British Government for his scientific work for the war effort from Manchester University, inventing a method to produce the synthetic acetone used to create cordite, a military propellant.

6. Arthur Balfour and Chaim Weizmann had first met in Manchester in 1906. They reacquainted their friendship in 1914 through Weizmanns work in the war effort.

7. The legendary editor of the Manchester Guardian, CP Scott, after the whom the Scott Trust is named, did more than anybody else to open doors for Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in his quest for British support for the Zionist enterprise.

8. In May 1918, Chaim Weizmann met the Emir Feisal – the single recognised Arab leader at the time – in Aqaba where they exchanged letters of mutual support. With T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as a middleman, the two continued with a series of meetings that led to a 3 January 1919 memorandum in which Feisal endorsed the Balfour Declaration. However, he was unable to deliver the memorandum due to Arab hostility. Imagine how the course of history would have changed had he been able to do so.

9. The Balfour Declaration was given legal effect and became part of international law at the 1920 San Remo conference where Britain was given a Mandate to administer Palestine and was required to implement the Balfour Declaration.

10. Winston Churchill (pictured) told the House of Commons in May 1939: “Either there will be a Britain which knows how to keep its word on the Balfour Declaration and is not afraid to do so, or believe me, we shall find ourselves relieved of many overseas responsibilities other than those comprised within the Palestine Mandate.”

11. In honour of the community coming together for this special anniversary, here’s a bonus fact… The Declaration was not published in the press until 9 November – a week after it was issued. The government intended that it should not be made public “until a favourable military situation had been brought about”. This was known by 8 November. However, since this was a Thursday, the news was delayed until the next day, a Friday, when it could be revealed in the Jewish Chronicle (a popular newspaper of the time).


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