By Dr. Alex Joffe, Besa Center—
On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinians have launched a campaign calling for an official British apology and compensation. This effort illustrates the ways in which honor, internationalization, symbolism, and playing on Western guilt shape the Palestinian culture of denial, which impedes progress towards either a stable Palestinian state or peace with Israel.
A striking aspect of Palestinian culture is its resistance to the realities of the past.
On September 22, 2016, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN. He said, “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.” He went on to demand an apology from Britain. Abbas has had previously threatened to sue London for damages resulting from the declaration and the creation of Israel.
This storm against the past was also on display at a recent conference at University College London that brought together British Islamists and revisionist Israelis to demand that the British government apologize for the Balfour Declaration, with the ultimate aim of exposing “the illegality of the state of Israel while giving practical steps in campaigning towards an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
What do such efforts tell us about Palestinian culture and the prospects for peace?
The Balfour Declaration is a singular datum for Israelis and Palestinians alike. After lengthy negotiations between the British government and the Zionist movement, Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his famous statement on November 2, 1917. Balfour’s letter to Zionist leader Lord Rothschild, in which he stated that the Cabinet viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” was only one of a series of British wartime communications regarding the fate of the Levant. The correspondence between the British High Commissioner for Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, and Hussein Ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, and the secret Anglo-French agreement between Sir Mark Sykes and Charles Georges-Picot were no less consequential in the shaping of the contemporary Middle East.
It took the Arabs some time to voice their opposition to the Declaration. The British report on the 1921 Palestine riots noted that “The Mayor of Tulkarem talks about the Balfour Declaration, and, whether he has or has not a clearer notion of its import than other people, he certainly expresses his opinion about it very definitely.” Palestinian objections to Balfour are neatly captured by historian Bayan al-Hut: “This is a promise that was made by someone who had no right to give it to those who had no right to receive it.”
The British establishment itself was divided and began to respond negatively to Zionism and Balfour in the early 1920s. This reflected the fusion of the establishment’s traditional anti-Semitism with its growing realization that the League of Nations’ mandate for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration was an impossible encumbrance on an empire bled white and financially exhausted by war. This attitude was a pronounced undercurrent throughout the Mandate years. According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, one British official, Acting District Commissioner for the Galilee Blenkinsopp, used to circulate a “refutation” of the Balfour Declaration to his colleagues every year on November 2.
In the past, Palestinians have cast the Mandate as the illegitimate exercise of British imperialism, where, as al-Hut put it, “One people grant a second people what belong to a third people.” Nowadays, the opposition to the Balfour Declaration describes it as the beginning of “settler-colonialism.”
This innovation neatly saddles Britain’s carefully cultivated sense of post-imperial guilt with responsibility for “Israeli crimes,” including “complicity” in the supposed “cultural repression” of the Palestinians. At the same time, the approach promises to redeem the long-standing Palestinian sense of besmirched honor at having failed to “resist” Zionism.
But the current effort against Balfour also illustrates other standard Palestinian responses. For one thing, it unironically emphasizes Palestinian powerlessness and Arab weakness in both the past and the present. “Resistance” against the British Empire and the Zionists, both non-violent and violent, failed – and therefore, consistent with historical Palestinian practice, the issue must be internationalized.
The irony, however, is that Balfour’s wholly legal commitment, ratified by the League of Nations in 1920, is assailed much the same way the 1947 UN Palestine partition recommendation was condemned: as illegitimate and unfair. For Palestinians, internationalization must produce the result they want, despite the historical record of its rarely doing so.
There are other traditional elements in the campaign against the Balfour Declaration, not least the mistaking of symbolism for practical action. Presumably an apology would achieve a partial restoration of Palestinian national honor and comprise another step towards the complete eradication of Israel. However, despite vague talk from Palestinian activists demanding “compensation for Balfour” – which would be set against competing claims for compensation by Jewish refugees from Arab countries – it is difficult to see what direct value an apology would have in helping to establish a Palestinian state.
Demands for apologies and compensation have changed little since the UN’s Economic Survey Mission reported on a visit to Gaza in 1949: “In one of the camps, the refugees staged quite a demonstration. A large sign had been printed in English on which were the following, numbered as indicated: 1. Send us back home. 2. Compensate us. 3. Maintain us until we are refreshed. Just what they had in mind by ‘refreshed’ I leave to your imagination.”
The current Palestinian leadership’s sense of timing, and commitment to symbolism, deserves comment. Whereas from the 1960s onward Yasser Arafat navigated the Palestinian movement through the shifting currents of Third Worldism and the Cold War, today that skill is nowhere evident. Protests over the Balfour Declaration anniversary are emerging just as the Arab state system finds itself at its lowest ebb. Syria, Yemen, and Libya are effectively no more, Iraq is divided between an Iranian rump, a shrinking ISIS entity, and an independent Kurdistan (in all but name), and Lebanon is a Shiite-dominated shell. The Palestinian Authority is a pseudo-state that exists only thanks to foreign aid and Israeli security assistance.
The tone of the Balfour Declaration protests – “What is happening in Palestine is the biggest social injustice of our time,” as a conference organizer put it – is therefore not simply a lament for an era when Palestinians were ostensibly at the center of Arab and Muslims politics, but resistance to empirical reality.
The Balfour apology campaign is thus another element in the Palestinian wars against inconvenient historical facts that must be denied, attacked, rewritten, or otherwise assailed, rather than debated, conceded, or shared. This approach accounts for such extraordinary Palestinian claims as Arafat’s denial that there was ever a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; Saeb Erekat’s statement that the Palestinians are descendants of Epipaleolithic inhabitants, and thus the “real” indigenous population of the land; and the more consequential insistence that Jews are only adherents to a religion and not members of a nation.
Here “resistance” elides into stubborn fabulism. Reality must be made to conform on the basis of both religious ideology and fantastical invented elements. Palestinian examples must be set into broader contexts, from religious claims regarding perfidious and cursed Jews to plaintive historical claims regarding the Muslim discovery of America, the invention of flight, and, more darkly, Zionist attack sharks or the “conspiracy to destroy Islam.”
These concepts – redeeming fallen honor, perpetual victimhood, international responsibility, and achieving through guilt what politics and force of arms cannot – are cultural ideas, transmitted endlessly by Palestinian leaders and through their educational system and media. But they are also reflected in Palestinian politics. At every turn, negotiations get to a stage and then stop because compromise would preclude full “restoration” of what never was. Fighting century-old events and hoping to produce another outcome is consistent with this pattern. It is unlikely to build either a stable Palestinian society or peace with Israel.
Alex Joffe is an archaeologist and historian. He is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family
As I watch the Palestine , the Iran , Hezbollah, Hamas, the UN and all the rest against Israel I am not even worried. In Genesis Chapter 12, verse 3, “And I will Bless them that Bless Thee, , and and curse them that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the Earth be Blessed. Then go to Genesis chapter 17:19, And God said Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed: and thou shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish my covenant with him for a everlasting covenant and with his seed after him. Verse 20, As for Ishmael, I have heard f thee, Behold, I have blessed him , and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great Nation. Verse 21, BUT my Covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. Ishmael , the Father of the Arabs, did get the Blessing. The Ottoman Empire. They had the best mathematics and we still use Algebra, Geometry, Trig, Calculus, the had the most beautiful Architecture, the very Best Engineering, Ship Building, and their Metal-ology was superb, The best in the World. The Japanese trade with them and that is how they how they got technology for their swords and the folded lief. There is a Tower in India made of Iron that never Rusts. Look it up in Ripley’s believe it or not, So What happened? How do you loose a blessing like they had. Have any of you ever read Balaam and Balak? (Read Numbers 22, 23, 24, and 25 for the entire story. Very interesting): In the Pentateuch, the first five books of the old Testament that Moses wrote? Briefly, Balak was the king, Moses wanted to bring his people across Balak’s lands. Balak was afraid of Moses and his People. He hired a man named Balaam to stop Moses and put a curse on Moses and his people. Balaam could not do that because the Lord had blessed him and the people. So Balaam had Balak send all of his younger women to the men of Israel and commit adultery with them. (SIN) and that would take away the Blessing. The Lord had Moses kill them all. Satan brought Muhammad on the scene in Mecca. He started writing the Quran, but the priests in Mecca told him to Leave. Muhammad then procured a job in Medina as a Negotiator and moved to Medina and here is where he wrote the Quran, with Allah in it, and the Sharia laws. In 622 AD. Six hundred and twenty two tears after Jesus came. It was sin. Why? False God. Read Exodus Chapter 3, verses 6 and 14, then read Exodus Chapter 20 verse 3. h verse mentions “No other Gods Before Me” It took time, but the Ottoman Empire peaked out around 1600 AD, and was totally destroyed in WW1. The Australians charged the last main position of the Turks and wiped them out with a horse cavalry charge. Very impressive battle. Then the British broke up the Ottoman Empire and made the M[Nations you see today, including th place where Israel is which is where the Lord made it Originally from Canaan. In 1948 it became a Nation again , smaller than the what the Lord gave to Abram, but the location is the same. Incidentally, there never was a Palestine. The Romans called Judea Palenstinia, they reamed Judea. . But the population was Jewish, not Arab. Now read Matthew Chapter 24, start with verse 32, 33, and 34. The clock started in 1948 when Israel Officially became a Nation again. Old and New Testament says they will keep their promised land and they will prevail. It also states in prophesy that all nations will be against them, heir strongest ally, the US? Read Ezekiel chapter 39, verse 6 regarding how the fire and brimstone fall on the Isles living carelessly. That is the US. To very this look in Revelation Start with Chapter 17, Finish with 18. America has the Pacific Ocean on ne side, (West) The Atlantic Ocean on another side (East), and the Gulf of Mexico on the South. Does Chapter187 talk about the US? 18? In Chapter 18 what Nation on the Earth ,has riches as described in Chapter 18, and has commerce with all of the Kings of the World, all the Merchants of the world? Which super nation if it was totally collapsed would cause all the Ship masters of the world to weep because their ships would carry no more goods to and from? Which Nation . when they saw the smoke of her burning and stood off a far, would cause all the sailors of the World to weep? In one hour she is made desolate.
Its all there if you care to read it. My next book will be much more complete. Every candle burns down to the bottom and goes out. Now mat be excellent time to think about a good class on what is actually in the scriptures in the Bible. I suggest BSF, Bible Study Fellow Ship, which is None denominational, and International. Use your search engine an look up who they are and the location of the closest group to you. Age, race, What Church you go to, Man woman, It does not matter. Also there is no politics. Ephesians Chapter 6:11-17, Gods Armor is your only protection. With out it, you are lost. Don’t like what I say? Your choice. However the words O descried are not mine but the Lords.read them yourself then argue with him. I gave you all the references. Bless all of yoi.