'We have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people'

Corbyn urges UK to mark Balfour centenary by recognizing Palestine

Labour leader, who chose not attend celebratory dinner with May and Netanyahu, calls for world pressure to ‘end the occupation, illegal settlement expansion, blockade of Gaza’

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/John Thys)
British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/John Thys)

Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday urged the UK government to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration by unilaterally recognizing Palestine.

In a statement issued to mark the anniversary, Corbyn noted that the British foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, in his letter 100 years ago “promised to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine while pledging that nothing would be done to prejudice the rights of its ‘existing non-Jewish communities’.”

“A hundred years on,” added Corbyn, “the second part of Britain’s pledge has still not been fulfilled and Britain’s historic role means we have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people, who are still denied their basic rights.”

Urged the opposition leader, “So let us mark the Balfour anniversary by recognizing Palestine as a step towards a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, increasing international pressure for an end to the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, illegal settlement expansion and the blockade of Gaza.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) poses with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in London on November 2, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Corbyn, widely regarded as hostile to Israel, chose not to attend a special Balfour centenary dinner in London on Thursday, which was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at which Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said she would “absolutely not” apologize for the Balfour Declaration which paved the way for the establishment of the “most extraordinary” State of Israel, while noting that the document’s vision of Jewish-Arab coexistence remained “unfinished business.” In his place, Corbyn sent Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry.

In a speech marking the centenary of the declaration, May was glowing in her praise of the Jewish state, describing it as a “true start-up nation” and a “a symbol of openness, as a thriving democracy; and a beacon to the world in upholding the rights of women and members of the LGBT community.”

Demonstrators hold poster as they gather in front of the British Consulate in east Jerusalem, on November 2, 2017, to protest on the 100th anniversary of Britain’s Balfour Declaration, which helped lead to Israel’s creation. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

In her address, the British prime minister also noted that “sadly, Balfour remains unfinished business – as his fundamental vision of peaceful co-existence has not yet been fulfilled.” She voiced support for a two-state solution, underlining that the Israelis and Palestinians would need to make compromises, on settlements and incitement, respectively.

“There will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal — including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement too,” she said.

In this photo from 1930, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour poses for camera. (AP Photo)

“But as we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them,” the British prime minister continued.

A top aide to Corbyn, Fabian Hamilton told The Times of Israel he did not know why Corbyn decided to snub the Balfour dinner.

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, tries to high-five with Labour’s Emily Thornberry after arriving for the declaration at his constituency in London, Friday, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“I don’t think we should read into this that he’s boycotting Netanyahu,” Hamilton argued, while also recalling that, when he was leader of the opposition, former prime minister Tony Blair chose not to attend dinners where he was not invited to speak.

This week, Thornberry suggested that the centenary of Britain’s commitment to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine should not be celebrated. The most appropriate way to mark the event, she told the Middle East Eye website, was “to recognize Palestine.”

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