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British government won’t apologize for Balfour Declaration

The British Government has issued a statement saying it does not intend to apologize for the 1917 Balfour Declaration through which Britain announced it favored “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Last week’s British statement was made in response to a petition that was published on the United Kingdom government website by the Palestinian Return Center organization.

Toward the end of the First World War, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a short letter to Lord Rothschild which the Israeli government describes as representing the “first political recognition of Zionist aims by a Great Power.” The letter is known as the Balfour Declaration.

Addressing Lord Rothschild on Nov. 2, 1917, Balfour wrote:

Dear Lord Rothschild, 

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. 

“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.” 

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation. 

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour 

The Palestinian petition, brought as the 100th anniversary of the declaration nears, is entitled “UK Must Apologize for the Balfour Declaration and Lead Peace Efforts in Palestine.” It calls on Britain to “openly apologize to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration.” It claims “the colonial policy of Britain between 1917 and 1948 led to mass displacement of the Palestinian nation.”

In response, Britain has asserted it does not intend to apologize. “We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel,” the U.K. statement affirmed.

“The Declaration was written in a world of competing imperial powers, in the midst of the First World War and in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire,” the government explained in its statement. “In that context, establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution. Of course, a full assessment of the Declaration and what followed from it can only be made by historians.”

The U.K. statement goes on to say the Declaration should have called for the political rights of non-Jews in Palestine, especially the right of self-determination. However, it continues, the “important thing” is to look forward to security and justice for Israelis and Palestinians. According to Britain the “best way to achieve this” is through a two-state solution.

The U.K. government also responded that should the petition garner 100,000 signatures it will be debated in Parliament. The deadline for the petition is May 3. There were 13,568 signatures by the last week of April.

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Karen Faulkner
Karen Faulkner recently completed a Master's degree in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She made Aliyah in 2006 and lives in Jerusalem.

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