A top member of Parliament for the UK’s Labour Party has said “the most important way” for the United Kingdom to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is to “recognize Palestine.”
In an interview published Monday with the Middle East Eye news site, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said the UK should not celebrate the declaration, which pledged Britain’s support for a Jewish national home, as there is not yet a Palestinian state.
“I don’t think we celebrate the Balfour Declaration but I think we have to mark it because I think it was a turning point in the history of that area and I think probably the most important way of marking it is to recognize Palestine,” said Thornberry. “The British government have said they will do, it’s just a question of when the time is right and it seems to me this is the time.
“We need to have two states, two viable states, two viable secure safe states. We must not forget that in the end that is the only solution,” she added. “We should measure everything we do against that.”
Thornberry issued harsh criticism of Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank, saying the Jewish state’s government has “lost its way” and is undermining a two-state solution.
“What are they now doing? Are they heading for a one-state [reality]? It seems on the face of it that they may be,” she said.
“And in that way they are letting down the Israeli people because you cannot have a democratic, Jewish one state in that area. So they will have to choose,” Thornberry added. “They are just going against the vision of [Israel’s first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion to have a democratic Jewish state and you need to have alongside it a secure viable Palestinian state.”
Thornberry is due to visit Israel in November.
She is set to attend a dinner in London this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrating the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, and said she would also go to a separate event with Palestinians to mark the anniversary.
The Labour MP was asked by party leader Jeremy Corbyn to attend the dinner in his stead after he decided to skip the event.
Although no reason was given for Corbyn’s absence, which was reported by the Sunday Times, the Labour chief has long been a staunch Israel critic and has been dogged by accusations of tolerating anti-Semitism in his party’s ranks.
While declining to comment on Corbyn’s decision specifically, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom said opponents of the Balfour Declaration are “extremists.”
“Those who oppose the Balfour Declaration are exposing themselves for the extremists they are,” Mark Regev told the Times on Sunday.
In the Balfour Declaration, which was issued on November 2, 1917, then-UK foreign secretary Arthur Balfour told British Jewish leader Lord Walter Rothschild that His Majesty’s government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
While Labour has been ambivalent about its support for the declaration, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Sunday he was “proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel,” echoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s comments last week saying she would celebrate the centennial “with pride.”
Johnson also reiterated the UK’s support for a two-state solution, saying pushing for such an outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been British policy.
“I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples,” he wrote.
The borders, he added, should be as they were before the Six Day War in 1967, with Jerusalem “a shared capital” and “equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”
“A century on, Britain will give whatever support we can in order to close the ring and complete the unfinished business of the Balfour Declaration,” he wrote in the Telegraph newspaper on Sunday.
Although Israel and the UK have geared up to mark the anniversary, Palestinian officials in recent weeks have stepped up calls for London to retract its support for a Jewish homeland in the area of the former British mandate, arguing that the land didn’t belong to Britain and that it therefore had no right to promise it to the Zionist movement.
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.