What are the 67 words that changed the course of Arab history?


The Balfour Declaration has had an immense impact not only on the Palestinians but also the broader Arab and Muslim world. The clear result was the formation of the State of Israel, and the loss of land and enduring occupation the Palestinians have suffered for the past several decades. The bitterness that the Balfour Declaration engendered has translated into chronic conflict between Israel and the Arab world. It also made the Arab and Muslim world very suspicious about the designs of former colonial powers, such as France and Britain, and indeed of the Western powers in general.

The Balfour Decalration propelled the Zionist movement to international prominence, and radicalised it further, with leading Zionists taking an increasingly hawkish stance on Palestine’s native Arab population. The interests of the British colonialism and international Zionism came together so well that one observer commented that if international Zionism had not existed, “Britain would have invented it”. One hundred years to the day British foreign secretary Arthur James Balbour wrote the infamous 67 words, the Palestine-Israel issues remains the most closely studied and most intractable conflict in the world.

The British reneged on their promises to the Arabs and Palestinians, leaving behind a legacy of betrayal. Historical Palestine was turned into the State of Israel, and the occupation continues to this day. But this has not stopped the UK from celebrating the centenary. Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London to mark the occasion. However, in perhaps a sign of the unease and embarassment, the ceremonies are being hosted not by the UK government but by the present Lords Rothschild and Balfour.

In an interview with Gulf News, John Bond, of the UK-based Balfour Project, “Although the British Prime Minister said she would ‘mark with pride’ the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the minister responsible for Britain’s relations with the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said he would mark it ‘with pride and sadness’. Many Members of Parliament have signed a Balfour Centenary Declaration, and they say ‘the centenary is the time to reconcile peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, consistent with the principle Britain claims as her own: equal rights for all under the law.”

Bond said the declaration pledged Britain’s support for a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jewish people “on the understanding that the rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ would not be prejudiced. The failure to uphold this second clause, for which Britain bears much responsibility, has caused conflict between Palestinians and Israelis ever since.”

Letter 1

As for the present Palestinian administration’s dealings with UK on the issue, Ahmad Al Deik, political advisor to the Palestinian foreign minister, noted: “Things have not, yet, been decided. We are studying many options, and we are not in a hurry to negatively impact Palestinian-British relations in the same way the British government is doing.” He told Gulf News that the British government holds the responsibility for the tension created because of its position, and the consequences.

The British government had refused Palestinian demands for an apology, and said it will go ahead with its plans to celebrate the 100 years of the declaration.

“This is a dangerous escalation,” Deik said. “They also responded to our demand to recognise the state of Palestine by saying this is up to bilateral negotiations” between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Letter 2

In terms of actual battles and wars, the Arab-Israeli conflict can be said to have gone on from 1948–73. But in reality, it continues to this day – in the form of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the invasions and incursions against sovereign Arab states, and assassinations and other hostile acts carried out by the Israelis against their Arab and other Muslim foes in the region.

The Palestinian mission to the UK issued a statement recently saying that Britain has unfinished business when it comes to Palestine. “It has a legal and moral responsibility which must be acknowledged. Restorative action must be taken to give back the Palestinians their basic rights and self-determination … A hundred years later after the Balfour Declaration, we hope and trust there will be a second declaration from the British Foreign Office, the Johnson Declaration which will finally honour the broken promise of his predecessor. It is time for the British government to make real reparations for the Balfour Declaration and make it right for Palestine.”

On November 3, 1918, a day after the one-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a delegation of the Muslim-Christian Association handed a petition signed by more than 100 notables to Ronald Storrs, the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration military governor. It read: “We have noticed yesterday a large crowd of Jews carrying banners and over-running the streets shouting words which hurt the feeling and wound the soul. They pretend with open voice that Palestine, which is the Holy Land of our fathers and the graveyard of our ancestors, which has been inhabited by the Arabs for long ages, who loved it and died in defending it, is now a national home for them … We Arabs, Muslim and Christian, have always sympathised profoundly with the persecuted Jews and their misfortunes in other countries … but there is wide difference between such sympathy and the acceptance of such a nation … ruling over us and disposing of our affairs.”

Palestine and Jordan in 1914

A 2010 study by Dr. Jonathan Schneer, specialist in modern British history at Georgia Tech, concluded that the Balfour declaration was marked by “contradictions, deceptions, misinterpretations, and wishful thinking”. As a result, it “produced a murderous harvest, and we go on harvesting even today”.


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