U.K.'s Boris Johnson Defends Balfour Declaration: 'Proud of Britain's Part in Creating Israel'

Despite praise for the 'incontestable moral goal' behind the document that lent British support to the foundation of Israel, he said its spirit 'has not been fully realized'

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Koby Gideon, GPO

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended Sunday the Balfour Declaration, writing that he was "proud of Britain's part in creating Israel" in an opinion piece published in the Telegraph on Sunday.

The 1917 text will mark its centennial on Thursday. In the deceleration, penned by Britain's then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, the British government said it viewed "with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Lord Author Balfour poses for camera in 1930
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Johnson praised the document for its "incontestable moral goal: to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland," saying it was "indispensable to the creation of a great nation."

Nonetheless, he said that the document's stipulation that "... nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" had "has not been fully realized."

>> The history behind the Balfour Declaration and the UN partition that birthed Israel <<

Palestinians have long condemned the document as a promise by Britain to hand over land that it did not own. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an apology in an address to the UN General Assembly in September, but Britain plans to hold celebrations along with Israeli officials to mark the November 2 centennial of the Balfour Declaration.

Palestine was under Ottoman rule when Balfour made the policy statement in a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. Johnson noted the he was writing his article in the same room used by Balfour exactly a century ago.

U.K.: Boris Johnson and Netanyahu reminisce on Balfour Declaration at Foreign Office

Johnson also used the opportunity to reaffirm Britain's commitment to the two-state solution, writing that he has "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 called for a peace deal based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem "a shared capital" for both Israel and the Palestinians, alongside "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," Johnson wrote.

This article was amended on October 30, 2017. A previous version incorrectly stated that "Palestine was under British rule" at the time of the Balfour Declaration. British Mandatory rule began in 1922, some five years after the Balfour Declaration.