THE LEGAL STATUS OF JERUSALEM

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Secretary of State John Kerry

The Dome of the Rock (background) and the Western Wall below. Old City, occupied East Jerusalem.

  • Under international law, East Jerusalem (including the Old City and its holy sites) are not legally part of Israel.
  • Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the US and international community have refused to recognize the sovereignty of any country to any part of Jerusalem in the absence of a permanent Arab-Israeli peace agreement.
  • No country in the world, including the US, has its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.
  • During the June 1967 War, Israel militarily occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. Israel subsequently annexed East Jerusalem after massively expanding the city’s boundaries into the West Bank in a move that has been repeatedly condemned as illegal by the UN and international community.
  • There are approximately 330,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. They can travel inside Israel and vote in municipal elections but endure widespread systematic discrimination from Israeli authorities and face the constant threat of losing their right to live in the city if they travel abroad to study or work.
  • There are approximately 300,000 Jewish settlers living in the expanded boundaries of East Jerusalem in violation of international law and nearly 50 years of official US policy. While Palestinian residents of Jerusalem face discrimination from Israeli authorities in nearly every facet of life, including making it nearly impossible for them to build homes and other structures, Jewish settlers enjoy all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship and are encouraged by the government to steal Palestinian land and push Palestinians out of their homes.
  • In an attempt to separate and isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, Israel has built a ring of settlements around its outskirts. This ring has been reinforced by the wall Israel is constructing, which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice because most of it is built on occupied Palestinian land inside the West Bank and not along Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders.
  • Since 1993 and the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have been forbidden by Israel to enter East Jerusalem without a difficult to obtain permit. As a result, millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are prevented from entering the city to worship at their holy sites, visit family, conduct business, study, or receive medical care.

For more information about East Jerusalem and the West Bank, I direct you to

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides

The book is available for purchase here:

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BDS-ISRAEL’S OBSESSION

Benjamin Netanyahu recently addressed his cohorts at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urging them to defend Israel on the “moral battlefield” against the growing threat of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In Netanyahu’s simple-minded language, support for Palestinian rights and opposition to settlements equates to “delegitimization of Israel.”

The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society. (You can find more information about the BDS movement in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. BDS co-founder is Omar Barghouti.

He was due to travel to the US this month to receive the Gandhi Peace Award but the Israeli government recently arrested him, subjected him to multiple 12-hour interrogation sessions, confiscated his passport, accused him of tax evasion and is also considering revoking his residency permit.

In what was his first public statement since his interrogation began in mid-March, Barghouti condemned Israel’s McCarthyite witch-hunt against him and the BDS movement.

During the past year Barghouti has also been subjected to open threats by Israeli top ministers.

During a “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem last year, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that BDS activists “will know they will pay a price for it.” Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for spearheading Israel’s assault on the global BDS movement, added, “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”

During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for “targeted killing,” or “extrajudicial execution.” Israel is also considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.

The current obsession with BDS reflects a changing political environment for Israel. Israeli agents were able to subvert the human rights community in the 70s and 80s. Israel’s task is harder five decades later. The human rights community is more independent while social media and mobile phone cameras have allowed Palestinians and their supporters to bypass the Israeli gatekeepers. In the past few days alone, videos have shown an Israeli policeman savagely beating a Palestinian truck driver and soldiers taking hostage a terrified eight-year-old after he crossed their path while looking for his toy.

If the concealment of Israeli crimes at source is no longer so easy, the battle must be taken to those who disseminate this damning information. The urgency has grown as artists refuse to visit, universities sever ties, churches pull their investment and companies back out of contracts.

Israel is already sealing itself off from outside scrutiny as best it can by passing a law denying entry into Israel or the Occupied Territories to those who support BDS or “delegitimize” Israel.

These are but the first signs of the repression to come. Israel plans to create a database of Israelis who support BDS to mimic existing spying operations on BDS activists overseas. The information collected will help a “dirty tricks” unit whose job it is to tarnish their reputations.

Why is Israel so fearful of the BDS movement? Officials say the immediate danger is Europe’s labeling of settlement products, the first step on a slippery slope they fear could lead to Israel being called an apartheid state. The inexorable trend was illustrated last month when a United Nations commission found Israel guilty of breaching the international convention on the crime of apartheid.

Last week US supporters of Israel unveiled an online “boycotters map,” identifying academics who support BDS both to prevent them from entering Israel and presumably to damage their careers.

For the moment, the Israeli-engineered backlash is working. Anti-BDS legislation has passed in France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the US. This is precisely how Netanyahu wants to shape the “moral battlefield,” making it a reign of terror against free speech and political activism abroad and at home, leaving him free to crush the Palestinians.

A barrage of threats and repression has done nothing to temper Barghouti’s determination.

“As humans, we need permission from no one to pursue our inherent rights,” he said. “As human rights defenders, no degree of intimidation and bullying can deter us in our passionate, nonviolent resistance to injustice, inequality, colonial slavery and 50 years of military occupation.”

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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NORMALIZATION UNDER OCCUPATION

For the first time since it was first proposed in March 2002 in Beirut, the Arab Peace Initiative is taking center stage again. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.

At the time, Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend that conference in Beirut. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. I was in Israel at the time and literally came face to face with Ariel Sharon’s Merkava tanks as they prepared to invade Ramallah and other villages across the West Bank. That visit, my first of six trips to Israel/Palestine, was the basis for my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The Arab proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in 1967. Its major flaw was its lackluster attitude towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.

It was cautiously welcomed but then quickly overlooked by Washington at the time since Sharon had dismissed it as a ‘non-starter’. Subsequent Israeli leaders have hardly shown any interested either in bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the Arab or the Americans.

Why, then, is this Initiative, originally put forward by Saudi Arabia fifteen years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in the idea of unconditional normalization with the Arab world.

He told the daily Hebrew newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot’ recently that he sees “a real chance that, within five years, Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies.” Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab countries to break Israel’s regional isolation has been paramount in Israeli foreign policy since its inception in 1948. Since then, it has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts and ties with various other governments.

This explains Mahmoud Abbas’ recent reference to the Arab Peace Initiative. It is his way of saying that any normalization between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian channel, and specifically though his leadership in Ramallah.

Israel, however, likes the idea of renewed interest in the Arab Initiative because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to achieve normalization with its Arab neighbors without peace with the Palestinians.

Donald Trump, since his election, has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of a just solution to the crisis by pushing America’s support of Israel to new levels. He has assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel’s right wing, to supposedly broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As recently as a few days ago, Trump’s pick as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was approved by the US Senate. Even in the eyes of some Israelis Friedman is controversial because of his close association with extremist Jewish parties whose goal it is to seize as many Palestinian properties as possible in Occupied East Jerusalem and expel them.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to focus on advancing Israel’s position and standing in the region. For them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective policies.

The Palestinians’ fear is that Trump’s Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine and agree to normal relations with Israel.

Abbas, who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic, he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.

While the US administration may try to re-brand its approach to the conflict, what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals – in other words, normalization under Occupation.

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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SYRIA’S UNENDING NIGHTMARE

 

Syria’s minority population includes approximately 6% Christian, 3% Druze, 14% Alawite, 2% Shiite and 10% Kurdish. Then, there are the Sunnis who represent about 65% of the population, the majority of whom are secular-minded and just as afraid of al-Qaeda and ISIS as are the minority groups. If Bashar Assad were to call elections today, he would almost certainly get a majority of the votes in any free and fair election. That doesn’t mean people like living under a one-party or secret-police state. It just means that the rebel opposition turned to an extremist Sunni discourse that scares the minorities and secularists.

Why then was the US, until recently, so hell-bent on regime change in Syria? The idea of toppling the Assad regime and breaking up Syria into autonomous zones is not, in fact, a new idea. The plan first appeared in an article by the Israeli, Oded Yinon in 1982 entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.” Yinon, like other Israeli leaders after him, believed that for Israel to survive it must become an imperial regional power that “effects the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states.”

Henry Kissinger planed this same scenario for Lebanon post-civil war. It never came to fruition. It was also the plan for Iraq. Instead, we saw the US military’s “shock and awe” show that destroyed the country and contributed to the death of a million people.

After multiple failures, why then is the US so determined to continue on its futile, destructive warpath?

In the sequel to The Syrianthere is a conversation between Nadia and Hassan Jaafar in which they discuss the looming crisis about to befall Syria.

You heard the news,” Hassan said. “the US is funding opponents of the Syrian regime. Assad’s an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. His enemies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the regional Sunni powers. They want Assad out and they’ll use their jihadist proxies to do it.”

“I get that but why now? The Assad family’s been around since the early Seventies. Sure, they’re brutal dictators but so is every other regional player.”

“Apparently Assad rejected a $120 billion, 1,500 mile natural gas pipeline that would have linked Qatar through Syria to the European Union. Instead, he approved a pipeline running from Iran’s side of the gas field to ports in Tarsus and Tarsus and Lebanon, making Shiite Iran the major supplier of energy to the European market, not the Qatari Sunnis.”

It was Iraq replayed, thought Nadia—gas and oil reserves trumping tens of thousands of innocent lives. As a diplomat concerned with human rights she’d seen it all—the senseless slaughter of thousands, the suicide bombings and the sectarian violence.

Hassan didn’t wait for her to comment and so continued. “It’s actually a brilliant plan. The US and its European allies initiate an uprising using their jihadist surrogates. Assad overreacts to the foreign-made crisis, attacks Sunni strongholds held by the jihadists and ignites a sectarian civil war. The US blames Assad, call him a war criminal and demands he step down. They have no choice then but to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis.”

Hassan continued: “And according to a Pentagon report, the US won’t oppose a jihadist move across the Iraqi border from Mosul and Ramada into eastern Syria to form a caliphate because…”

“Let me guess. That’s the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.”

He nodded.

So, why is the US so hell-bent on its destructive warpath? It’s the oil, stupid.

 

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited President Trump last month their public talks centered on a one-state versus a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Their private discussions focused on a green light from Trump to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syrian territory that Israel has occupied since the June 1967 war.

 

Why would the US back an expansion of a war with Israel against Syria and its ally Russia over the Golan Heights, a war that has already cost over 440,000 innocent lives? Oil, huge, recently discovered reserves of black gold in the Golan Heights.

 

Unless there is some very careful thinking we could find ourselves in another war for oil and this one involving Syria, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on the one side and the US and Israel on the other side.

The Syrian is available for purchase here:

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THE UN’S MORAL FAILURE

 

The United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits… While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes. This is apartheid!

On March 15, 2017, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians. Using international law as its comparative criterion, the report came to a definitive conclusion that “Israel is guilty of apartheid practices.” The term Apartheid was used in the report as a descriptor of fact based on the evidence and the accepted legal meaning of the term.

Such was the immediate uproar from the United States and Israel that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a moment of moral failure, ordered the report’s withdrawal.

The head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, declared that she could not, in good conscience, do so and tendered her resignation.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, declared that “when someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N. it is appropriate that the person resign.”

Before making such statements I would urge the US’s Ambassador to the U.N. to look at the record of Israeli statesmen who have already condemned Israel as an apartheid state.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, famously said in a radio interview in 1967 that “Israel would soon become an apartheid state if it did not rid itself of the territories and their Arab population s soon as possible.”

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:: As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state. (2010)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. (2007)

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem: Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime … is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa. (2002)

Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel: In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state — in the hope that the status quo is temporary — is an apartheid state. (2013)

Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorial: The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side – determined by national, not geographic association – includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future. (2007)

Former Israeli admiral and Knesset member Ami Ayalon: Israel must decide quickly what sort of environment it wants to live in because the current model, which has some apartheid characteristics, is not compatible with Jewish principles. (2000)

Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair: In 1967 we enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day. (2002)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Yossi Sarid: What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid… What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself… The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk. (2008)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni: Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population. (2007)

Israel has successfully hidden its apartheid regime in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This has been done through imposing thousands of regulations and a civil administration that is run by the military. Dr. Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions in Jerusalem, calls the system ‘the Matrix of Control.” According to him it is composed of three layers:

Military actions which include using undercover units and collaborators who undermine the fabric of Palestinian society;

Creating “facts” on the ground: expropriation of land; construction of settlements; carving the occupied territories into areas which confine Palestinians in some 200 + islands; a massive system of highways for Israeli-use only; control over aquifers and exploitation of holy places.

The most subtle, bureaucratic and legal restrictions, which entangle Palestinians in a web, including: closures, work discrimination; entrance and travel permits restricting movement; displacement through exile, deportation and induced emigration; land expropriation; house demolitions, transfer schemes; a freeze on the natural development of Palestinian towns and villages; and restrictions on the planting of crops and their sale. All these come under bureaucratic controls. More details on the Matrix of Control can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

Over the entirety of its 65-year existence, there has been a period of only one year (1966-1967) that Israel has not ruled over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights simply because they are not Jewish.

An objective consideration of Israel’s behavior makes it hard to escape the brutal reality of Israel’s condoned apartheid practices.

The moral failure at the U.N., represented by the withdrawal of the report, is the result of Secretary General Guterres’s decision to acquiesce in a denial of reality—the reality of Israel’s practice of apartheid.

The other moral failure is the corrupted view of our politicians and international leaders who refuse to stand up for a people repressed and occupied for 50 years.

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ONE STATE OR TWO, PRESIDENT TRUMP?

 

ONE STATE OR TWO, PRESIDENT TRUMP?

 

When asked in his February 15th press conference about whether the US was still wedded to a two-state solution, Trump broke with longstanding orthodoxy and responded:

“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

This statement implies that President Trump is undeterred by Netanyahu’s refusal to commit to a two-state solution saying he didn’t want to focus on certain “labels.” Netanyahu had no trouble, however, reaffirming two conditions he’d consider for “peace:” Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel “must retain overriding security control over the entire Occupied Territories.”

This formula amounts, at best, to a Palestinian Bantustan under continued Israeli control. See my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides for more details on Israel’s military occupation.

Advocates of a two-state solution, including  all recent US administrations as well as many European governments, see this as a way to rescue Israel as a racist state that ensures its Jewish demographic majority through a battery of racist laws that they refer to as “peace,” meaning that Israelis have “peace” but the Palestinians don’t and won’t, ever.

Even before Trump’s remark, former Secretary of State John Kerry had already stated for the record that “the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” He proved the opposite by describing in detail how Israel’s settlements are “increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality.”

Kerry went on to say: “Currently, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

That Trump even mentioned a possible one-state option has opened the doors in Washington, D.C. to a broader debate. Republican Senator Bob Corker who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wondered, when questioning Trump’s nominee to be US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman “Are we helping the situation by continually talking about a two-state solution when having a military presence in the West Bank ad infinitum by Israel is really something different than a two-state solution?”

Such talk has been, until now, unheard of in the halls of Congress.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, too, pressed Trump’s nominee to acknowledge that “the US could never support a one-state solution, or any solution, where Palestinians are deprived of their full and equal legal rights.”

While I cheer these suddenly fearless Congressional leaders, I would like to refer them and their colleagues to a top secret memorandum written on June 4, 1947 entitled “A Plan for the Future Government of Palestine.  Even though this 70 year old memorandum was never approved at the highest levels of government many of its recommendations are still relevant to today’s policy debate.

Here are some of its proposals:

Palestine should become neither an Arab State nor a Jewish State but a single independent Palestinain State in which all its people of whatever religion or blood may live together in concord.

All the inhabitants of Palestine should accept the responsibilities and share the rights and privileges of a common Palestinian citizenship.

The government of Palestine should represent all Palestinian citizens and should protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Conversely, every effort should be made to foster the active participation of all Palestinian citizens in the government of their country.

The various Holy Places of Palestine, which are sacred to Christians, Jews and Moslems, should be forever safeguarded.

In light of these reasonable points I have a recommendation for both President Trump and our illustrious members of Congress: Dust off a copy of the 1947 State Department Memorandum and study it.

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THE BALFOUR DECLARATION, 100 YEARS ON

There are only a few documents in Middle Eastern history which have had as much influence as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration was sent as a 67-word statement contained within the short letter addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917. The declaration acknowledged the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. The statement of the Declaration read as:

 

“His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective, 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.”

 

The letter was addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a British banker and a Zionist activist, who drafted the declaration with the help of fellow Zionist Chaim Weizmann and others. The declaration proved to be in line with the wishes of Zionist leaders who hoped for a homeland in Palestine. It was designed to encourage the intense immigration of Jews from all over the world to Palestine.

As Balfour was a part of the liberal government under Prime Minister David Lloyd George, they schemed to form a public opinion campaign stating that Jews had undergone injustices for a long time for which the West was to blame. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the West to find and establish a Jewish homeland. Their motivation for achieving a separate homeland for Jews was motivated by fundamentalist Christians like Lloyd George, who encouraged the idea for two reasons; to depopulate their own lands of Jews and to fulfill the Biblical prophecy, according to which the return of the Christ will occur after the establishment of a Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land.

The Zionist from the beginning were determined to turn Palestine into a Jewish nation-state but, being sensitive to British politics, their leaders denied the allegation that Jews had as aim to constitute a separate political nationality. The word the Zionist proposed for what they intended to create in Palestine was “heimstatte” which roughly translated meant something less than a state but equating a homeland.” It was to be used “until there was no reason to dissimulate our real aim.”

Everyone knew the Palestinians would not be content with the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people usurping them much less be relegated to an Old Testament role of a suppressed minority to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, but few cared. The word Palestinian was not even mentioned in the Balfour Declaration. It used, instead, the curious circumlocution of “the existing non-Jewish communities,” and focused on Jewish aspirations and avoided any mention of the Palestinians. It went on to specify that nothing should be done that would “prejudice” their “civil and religious rights,” again without specifying who the “they” and “their” was.

It was not until 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, that an attempt was made to find out what the Palestinians wanted. President Woodrow Wilson sent a mission of inquiry, the King-Crane Commission, to find out. The British were annoyed by the American inquiry; they didn’t care what the “natives” wanted. Meanwhile, the British were becoming increasingly disturbed that the “heimstatte” actually meant more than the Brits had intended. When Winston Churchill became Colonial Secretary and was responsible for Palestine, he publically rebuked the Zionists for trying to force Britain’s hand and emphasized that in the Balfour Declaration the British government had promised only to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It did not commit Britain to make Palestine as a whole the Jewish homeland. (This is discussed in great detail in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The injustice done and the promises made were irreconcilable. So it is curious almost admirable the candor of Lord Balfour who in a statement in 1919 to his fellow Cabinet ministers admitted: “So far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers (Britain and France in their Sykes-Picot Accords) have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in letter they have not always intended to violate.”

Jump ahead one hundred years to a recent letter in the New York Times by the 5th Earl, Roderick Balfour in which he acknowledged that while one part of the Balfour Declaration, which gave Jews a homeland in Palestine had been fulfilled, the other, respecting the rights of the native Palestinian population, had not. He went on to say:

“In 1917, my forebear Arthur Balfour, as British foreign secretary, wrote the Balfour Declaration, a great humanitarian initiative to give Jews a home in their ancient lands, against the background of the dreadful Russian pogroms.”

The Earl continued: “We are conscious, however, that a central tenet of the declaration has all but been forgotten over the intervening 100 years: respect for the status of the Palestinian people.”

He went on to say that Israel’s inability to abide by UN resolutions to cease building illegal settlements and withdraw from the Occupied Territories is a key factor behind growing anti-Semitism around the world. The Israeli Prime Minister owes it to the millions of Jews around the world who suffer because of Israel’s internal politics, particularly as they pertain to the disenfranchised Palestinians, to change his policies.

The Earl insists the centenary of the Balfour Declaration cannot be properly commemorated without not only progress on a viable solution but a simultaneous push toward to declaring Jerusalem the internationally protected capital for all three Abrahamic faiths as it was always originally intended to be.

Israeli and Palestinian Voices is available here:

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