The Arab League has condemned the British National Library’s decision to give Israel permission to exhibit the original copy of the Balfour Declaration for a limited period of time in a museum in Tel Aviv.
The original almost 96-year-old document has never left British soil. It was originally given to Lord Walter Rothschild. The Rothschild family gave it to the British Museum, which later transferred it to the British Library.
"Upon the completion of the renovations and the opening of the new museum, it is intended that the original copy of (Israel's) Declaration of Independence will be displayed there, along with Lord Balfour's authentic writing table. The new museum is due to be dedicated in approximately two years. In the context of its opening, it is intended to exhibit the original copy of the Balfour Declaration as well as the correspondence that preceded the declaration between Lord Balfour and the then leader of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of the State of Israel," according to a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Arab League, for its part, said in a statement that the Balfour Declaration set the basis for a longterm conflict, claimed a lot of lives, and dispossessed the Palestinian people of alienable rights — a people who were brought up on this land from the dawn of history and established a civilisation on its soil and lived for decades in love and tolerance. Palestinians had control of 98 percent of the territories when the Balfour Declaration was issued.
The declaration, dated 2 November 1917, was a letter from the United Kingdom's foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, promising the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
"The declaration was opposed at the time by many Jewish figures, including Lord Montagu, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet. Montagu warned of the consequences of the declaration, which was followed by colonial policies and occupation that deprived the Palestinian people of their territories," the Arab League said in a statement posted on its official website.
Read here a transcript of the controversial Balfour Declaration:
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
"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."
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Arab League statement noted that since the day the declaration was issued, the Palestinian people were deprived of their right to self-determination and are still paying a heavy price in terms of lost land, people and resources. Israel continues to deny the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital on the borders of 4 June 1967, a right unanimously acknowledged by resolutions with the force of international law and the Arab Peace Initiative, which Israel has so far rejected.
The Arab League underlined that the international community and the British government that will deliver this controversial document to Israel have a historic, ethical, legal and political responsibility to lift oppression from the Palestinian people. This could be achieved through the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state on the borders of June 1967 with its capital in Jerusalem, and the implementation of all relevant international resolutions, especially UN General Assembly Resolution 194 that called for the return of Palestinian refugees.
Advocates for the Palestinian cause describe the Balfour Declaration as the promise of a gift "made by someone who does not own it, to someone who does not deserve it."