Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called on the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, saying their refusal to accept the Balfour Declaration lay at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at a Knesset ceremony marking the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, Netanyahu attacked the Palestinians for criticizing the document, which expressed the United Kingdom’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
“When the leaders of the Palestinian leadership call the Balfour Declaration a war crime [and] call on the British government to apologize for it, they are not going forwards, they are going backwards,” said Netanyahu.
“This is the root of the conflict, the 100-year long refusal to recognize Zionism and the State of Israel in any borders,” he added.
Ahead of the anniversary, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week wrote an op-ed lamenting the document, saying it set in motion a process that led to a century of Palestinian suffering and should not be a cause of celebration. Other senior PA officials have called on Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration.
In his speech, Netanyahu praised the Balfour Declaration’s role in building international support for a Jewish state, but said Britain’s “withdrawal” of support for it and the amount of time it took to found Israel following the document’s publication were a “great tragedy.”
“Our lack of sovereignty until 1948 prevented the rescue of millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust,” he said. “The tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it took 30 years to implement.”
Last week, Netanyahu traveled to London to mark the anniversary of the document, which he called a “great” event in world history.
Meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu said Israel was “committed to peace” and called on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
While criticizing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, May said the UK was “proud” of its role in Israel’s founding and emphatically refused to apologize for the Balfour Declaration.
On November 2, 1917, Lord Arthur Balfour, the UK foreign secretary at the time, sent a letter to the leader of the British Jewish community, Lord Walter Rothschild, in which he declared his government’s support for a Jewish state in the area then known as Palestine.
The short document stated that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, 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.”
It helped pave the way for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians, though, have roundly condemned the document as a major milestone in their eventual dispossession with the creation of the Jewish state.