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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Britain must atone for Balfour Declaration, Abbas says

He says that Balfour 'promised a land that was not his to promise, disregarding the political rights of those who already lived there'

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has sent a clear message to the British government. Abbas Momani / AFP
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has sent a clear message to the British government. Abbas Momani / AFP

Britain must make amends for the suffering caused by the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian president has said.

Mahmoud Abbas outlined the personal as well as national impact of the 1917 statement by the British government. Mr Abbas was 13 years old when he was evicted from his birth place, Safad, 60km north of Nazareth, alongside the 800,000 others who were forcibly expelled in 1948.

“The occasion on which Israel celebrates its creation as a state, we Palestinians mark as the darkest day in our history,” he writes, adding: “The Balfour Declaration is not something that can be forgotten.”

A letter written by Britain’s then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917, set out that the British government stated its support for the establishment of a national home for Jewish people in Palestine.

The Balfour Declaration had far-reaching consequences for supporters of the Zionist cause and those living in Palestine. It is widely seen as the starting point of a chain of events that resulted in today’s bitter conflict.

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Mr Abbas says that Balfour “promised a land that was not his to promise, disregarding the political rights of those who already lived there".

The political leader did not hold back in his view of Britain's role in the situation. Writing in British newspaper The Guardian, he said London “bears a great deal of responsibility in leading the way” in redressing the imbalance caused by the letter.

“The physical act of the signing of the Balfour Declaration is in the past — it is not something that can be changed. But it is something that can be made right. This will require humility and courage. It will require coming to terms with the past, recognising mistakes, and taking concrete steps to correct those mistakes,” he writes.

Recognising that some in the UK wish to address these issues, he noted the efforts of the 274 MPs who voted in favour of recognising the state of Palestine and those who have petitioned the UK government to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

As The National reported earlier this week, 66 politicians, diplomats and people of standing have signed a redrafted version of the document, which urges the British government to recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-June 1967 lines.

“The centenary of the Balfour Declaration is the time to reconcile peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, consistent with the principle Britain claims as her own: equal rights for all under law,” it said.

Meanwhile, the UK government is holding a number of events to mark the centenary, including a dinner tomorrow with UK prime minister Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier. The leader of the UK opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, is refusing to attend and is sending his foreign affairs spokesman instead. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash tweeted yesterday that “we wished, at the very least, that Britain would not celebrate the ominous” document that led to disaster for the Palestinian people.

Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson has echoed Mrs May’s previous comments which appeared to defend the original Balfour Declaration.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he was “proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel”, while Mrs May said she would be “marking the centenary with pride” in the House of Commons last week.

“The Balfour declaration is not something to be celebrated … Celebrations must wait for the day when everyone in this land has freedom, dignity and equality,” Mr Abbas has affirmed.

Moving the debate forward, Mr Abbas wrote: “It is time for the British government to do its part.

“Concrete steps towards ending the occupation on the basis of international law and resolutions, including the most recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334, and recognising the state of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital, can go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people.”