A Century After the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinians are Still Standing
Since British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour made his famous declaration that became the basis for the creation of the state of Israel, the country has expanded several times, swallowing Palestinian land and big chunks of its Arab neighbours.
No sane person in 2017 can deny that Balfour’s declaration was just a promise made to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain and a major Zionist figure. Balfour’s short letter to Lord Rothschild included a statement that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” but that was sufficient to bring about the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
This is a reality that cannot be denied and covered by slogans. Were it not for the Arab refusal to accept and deal with reality, Israel would not have had a chance to be created, let alone expand. With every move that followed Balfour’s declaration and up to Israel’s current plan to step up the colonisation of the West Bank, cut off Jerusalem from its Palestinian environment and spread chaos in the Arab world, the Arabs have disregarded the prevailing balance of power in the region and in the world.
Israel has succeeded in an unprecedented way in turning Balfour’s mere promise into a state on the majority of Palestinian land but has failed in its efforts to cancel the Palestinians. These proud people continue to prove daily that they exist on the political map of the Middle East and will never give up their legitimate rights.
The story of the Balfour Declaration is inseparable from that of the Sykes-Picot agreement. It’s a tale of opportunities wasted by Arabs and Palestinians and the story of the resistance of a population that refuses to give in despite mistakes by their leaders. At no time have the Palestinians and the Arabs been able to stop the Zionist project. They did the opposite and gave Israel multiple opportunities to grow and expand.
Some statistics are telling: At the time of Balfour’s declaration, the Jews in Palestine were less than 9% of the local population; from 1922-35, that figure rose to 22%.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have seen their dream dwindle slowly; from refusing to give up not a single inch of Palestinian territory, they’re now negotiating for their own state on 20% of Palestine.
Their problem has been an inability to distinguish between fantasy and tough reality, between what is possible and what is impossible and between what regional and international realities make possible or impossible. Other Arab countries have been of no help. They have encouraged their dream and fed the fantasy.
Israel has taken full advantage of Arab and Palestinian stubbornness to face reality. That stubbornness was behind the Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept the partition plan of 1947 and behind declaring war on the newborn Israeli state in 1948.
The Arab-Israeli war in 1967 was a scandal by all measures. The least one can say about the way Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser conducted that war was that it revealed his total ignorance of international politics and economic and military realities.
In the end, Nasser was just another army officer concerned only with the survival of his own regime. The Palestinian cause was just another excuse for oppressing the Egyptian population and for meddling in the affairs of the other Arab countries and destabilising them. Every regime destabilised by Nasser was a thousand times better than his.
What is left for the Palestinians a century down the road from Balfour’s declaration?
Well, they are still standing in a region where their cause is no longer the top priority. Before the Egyptian-Israeli accords of 1974, former Syrian President Hafez Assad conspired with Israel to keep the Golan Heights occupied, thus denying the Palestinians any chance of using that front.
To Israel’s delight, the Arabs decided in 1974 to declare the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and thus practically prevented Jordan from using UN Resolution 242 as the basis for demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank. It had been part of Jordan before being taken over by the PLO.
In 1994, the late Jordanian King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel to save his kingdom and bury the fantasy of an alternative country. Now Iran has hijacked the Palestinian cause and offered Israel another reason to rejoice.
In one century, the Middle East has changed and Israeli society has changed but the Palestinians are still with us. Israel is obviously refusing the two-state solution but in return can it metamorphosise into a democratic state rather than remain a racist state?
Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.
Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly