Decrying Balfour centenary, Abbas warns of one-state solution

Decrying Balfour centenary, Abbas warns of one-state solution

As Netanyahu heads to London to fete declaration, Palestinian leader blames UK for Palestinian suffering, says ‘celebrations must wait’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to London to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lamented the document, accusing it of setting in motion a process that led to a century of Palestinian suffering, and urging the British government to take steps to remedy it.

In an op-ed for the Guardian newspaper, Abbas reaffirmed his recognition of Israel, but warned that the Palestinian people will soon embrace a one-state solution and start demanding full equal rights of as citizens of Israel.

“The Balfour declaration is not something to be celebrated — certainly not while one of the peoples affected continues to suffer such injustice,” Abbas wrote. “The creation of a homeland for one people resulted in the dispossession and continuing persecution of another — now a deep imbalance between occupier and occupied.”

“The balance must be redressed, and Britain bears a great deal of responsibility in leading the way. Celebrations must wait for the day when everyone in this land has freedom, dignity and equality,” he said.

Having been signed, the Balfour Declaration cannot be undone, but the damage it cause “can be changed,” Abbas said. “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.”

Recognizing a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital “can go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people,” he said. Britain’s Labour Party has proposed to do just that in marking the centennial.

On November 2, 1917, UK foreign secretary Arthur Balfour informed British Zionists of London’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine. By doing so, he “promised a land that was not his to promise, disregarding the political rights of those who already lived there,” Abbas lamented. “For the Palestinian people – my people – the events this letter triggered have been as devastating as they have been far-reaching.”

Lord Arthur Balfour and the Balfour Declaration (Wikimedia commons)

In 1948, “Zionist militias” expelled more than 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland and committed “horrific massacres” in the process, according to the Palestinian president. “The occasion on which Israel celebrates its creation as a state, we Palestinians mark as the darkest day in our history.”

The Palestinians who stayed put during the War of Independence now “live within a system of institutionalised discrimination in what is now the state of Israel,” three million Palestinians in the West Bank suffer from “draconian military occupation-turned-colonisation,” and two million Gazans inhabit “an open prison subjected to regular destruction,” the Palestinian leader continued.

And yet, 30 years ago the Palestinians agreed to recognize the State of Israel, Abbas wrote. But since the two-state solution is becoming “increasingly impossible with every passing day,” the day on which Palestinians will embrace a one-state solution is fast approaching, he warned.

“Israel, and friends of Israel, must realise that the two-state solution may well disappear, but the Palestinian people will still be here. We will continue to strive for our freedom, whether that freedom comes through the two-state solution or ultimately through equal rights for all those inhabiting historic Palestine.”

Netanyahu is set to leave Wednesday evening for London to celebrate the Balfour Declaration’s centenary. On Thursday morning, he will hold meetings with Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, both of whom have stated that the UK will mark the document’s anniversary “with pride” but also sensitivity toward Palestinian grievances.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2017. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Later that day, May and Netanyahu will attend a privately organized dinner in honor of the Balfour Declaration. The event, hosted by Lord Rothschild at Lancaster House, will also be attended by family members of Lord Balfour, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog and other British and Israeli dignitaries.

On Friday, Netanyahu is scheduled to address the Chatham House. At the venerable think tank, whose formal name is the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the prime minister will deliver remarks and then answer questions from the audience.

He is also scheduled to take part in the market open ceremony at London Stock Exchange Headquarters in Paternoster Square and to meet with dozens of eminent British businesspeople.

Before returning to Israel on Sunday, Netanyahu is set to meet with UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and other leaders of the local Jewish community.

During Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu hailed the Balfour Declaration as a seminal document that greatly advanced the processes that ended in the creation of the State of Israel. “While the state would not have arisen without settlement, sacrifice and a willingness to fight for it, the international impetus was, undoubtedly, the Balfour Declaration,” he said.

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