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By recognising Palestine, Britain may also help proper the wrongs of the Balfour declaration | Avi Shlaim


If ever there was a time to re-examine colonial legacies and tasks, that is it. The theft of Palestine from the Palestinians is one such legacy. On 2 November 1917, the international secretary, Arthur James Balfour, issued his well-known declaration in help of “a nationwide house for the Jewish individuals” in Palestine. In 1917, Jews constituted 10% of the inhabitants, the remainder had been Arabs. But Britain recognised the nationwide rights of a tiny minority and denied it to the bulk.

In his 2014 biography of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson described the Balfour declaration as “weird”, “tragically incoherent” and “an beautiful piece of International Workplace fudgerama” — a uncommon instance of sound judgment and historic accuracy from the pen of Johnson.

The Balfour declaration enabled the Zionist motion to embark on the systematic takeover of Palestine, a course of the Zionists themselves initially described as settler colonialism, a course of which is nonetheless persevering with.

In 1917, solely 2% of Palestine was owned by Jews. In 1947 the UN proposed partitioning the territory of the British mandate in Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Beneath this plan, the Jews had been allotted 55% of the land though they nonetheless owned solely 7%. In the middle of the 1948 battle, the newly established State of Israel prolonged the territory beneath its management to 78% of Obligatory Palestine. This postwar establishment was confirmed within the 1949 armistice agreements concluded by Israel with its Arab neighbours, the one internationally recognised borders it has ever had.

Within the June 1967 battle, Israel accomplished the conquest of Palestine by occupying the West Financial institution and the Gaza Strip. By signing the Oslo Accord with Israel in 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organisation gave up its declare to 78% of Palestine. In return they hoped to realize an impartial Palestinian state on the West Financial institution and the Gaza Strip with a capital metropolis in East Jerusalem. It was to not be.

There have been many causes for the breakdown of the Oslo peace course of however probably the most basic was the relentless growth of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in flagrant violation of worldwide legislation. Settlements consolidate the colonial challenge past the inexperienced line, the pre-1967 border. By increasing these settlements, all Israeli governments since Oslo – Labour in addition to Likud – have demonstrated that they’re extra excited about land than in peace.

Having simply fashioned a new coalition authorities following a 3rd inconclusive election in a single 12 months, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud chief, has introduced his plan to formally annex about 30% of the West Financial institution, together with the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. There’s a majority within the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for annexation. If annexation takes place, it will depart the Palestinians with roughly 15% of historic Palestine. It might additionally hammer the final nail within the coffin of the two-state resolution to which the worldwide neighborhood nonetheless clings.

Assist for annexation comes from Donald Trump, Netanyahu’s buddy and shut political ally. In January 2019, Trump unveiled his much-vaunted “deal of the century”. This isn’t a peace plan however a US endorsement of each merchandise on Netanyahu’s want record. Unsurprisingly, it was hailed by Netanyahu and his rightwing cronies as a second Balfour declaration. It offers Israel a free move to annex roughly a 3rd of the West Financial institution with out having to barter with the Palestinians, not to mention make any concessions.

To the Palestinians, Trump’s plan affords a paltry reward of $50bn over 5 years in the event that they acquiesce in a “state” consisting of a group of enclaves surrounded by Israeli settlements and navy bases, with no territorial contiguity, no capital in East Jerusalem, no military, no borders with the surface world, and no management over their airspace or pure assets. They are going to solely be allowed to name this a state in the event that they meet a listing of circumstances decided by Israel. By any normal, this can be a grotesquely unfair and insulting proposal.

Netanyahu is inundated with protests towards annexation from leftwing Israeli political events, from a community of diaspora Jewish organisations, and from a bunch of 220 former Israeli generals and heads of safety companies who name themselves Commanders for Israel’s Safety. The principle arguments superior by these numerous teams are that annexation will likely be detrimental to Israel’s safety, that it is going to be troublesome and dear to police the prolonged borders, that it dangers igniting a 3rd Palestinian rebellion, poses a risk to the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, ends the prospect of normalisation with the remainder of the Arab world, and turns Israel “formally” into an apartheid state. Considerably, all these arguments are extra involved with Israel’s welfare and status than with Palestinian rights.

The identical might be mentioned of the group of distinguished British Jews describing themselves as “dedicated Zionists and passionately outspoken associates of Israel”. In a letter to Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to London, they warn that unilateral annexation “would pose an existential risk to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we all know it”. Concern for the wellbeing of the oppressor relatively than the oppressed is one other well-worn trope of colonial discourse.

The British authorities joined 10 European Union nations to warn Israel towards annexation, whereas 130 MPs signed an open letter urging Johnson to impose financial sanctions on Israel if it went forward with the transfer. The MPs are proper that motion is required; tepid expressions of disapproval have by no means deterred the Israeli authorities. Recognising Palestine as a state throughout the 1967 borders is one other manner for Britain to proper the wrongs of Balfour and find yourself on the correct facet of historical past.

Greater than a dozen European parliaments have recognised Palestine however just one authorities – Sweden. In 2017, Johnson, then international secretary, rejected Labour’s name for the UK to mark the Balfour declaration’s centenary by formally recognising the state of Palestine, declaring that “the second just isn’t but proper to play that card”. Absolutely as we speak the second has come.

Avi Shlaim is emeritus professor of worldwide relations at Oxford and creator of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.