The Palestinian Authority will begin a campaign in the coming days to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which will include protests in both Palestinian territories and Israel.
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The Palestinians are also planning a major demonstration in London for the first week of November, along with an official request to the British government to apologize for the declaration and recognize the State of Palestine based on 1967 borders.
>> Read Haaretz' full coverage of the Balfour Declaration centennial: Lord Balfour's modern-day descendants have a dramatic declaration of their own ■ Analysis // Britain downgrades the Balfour Declaration centennial ■ U.K.'s Boris Johnson defends Balfour Declaration: 'Proud of Britain's part in creating Israel' ■ Opinion // Balfour’s original sin >>
The demand will be presented by Palestinian Authority officials to the British consul in Jerusalem, who will also bring letters written by Palestinian children calling on British Prime Minister Theresa May to recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people, the repercussions of the Balfour Declaration and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and the establishment of a state within 1967 borders.
Senior PA and Palestine Liberation Organization officials presented an action plan on Tuesday in a meeting with ambassadors at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah. They also brought up the Palestinian demand that the British government take responsibility for the declaration and its consequences for the Palestinian people until present day. Israeli Lawmaker Aida Touma-Suliman of the Joint List attended the meeting, presenting the position of the Israeli Arab public. Suliman, who is also a member of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, remarked that protest activity would be held within Israel as well. She said a major demonstration is planned for November 7 in front of the British embassy in Tel Aviv.
Touma-Suliman stressed in a conversation with Haaretz that there is nothing wrong with her presence in such a meeting as a member of Knesset. “I was elected to the Knesset to represent the voters and to fight for principles and my party’s political program,” she said. “Parliamentary work and Knesset membership is a not a governmental role but rather a political stage and an arena for struggle. I will continue to make my voice and opinion heard on every stage.”
She said the Balfour Declaration deprived the Palestinian nation, which constituted 90 percent of the country’s residents at the time, of its national and political rights, giving the homeland to the 10 percent – the Jews. “Besides the fact that Britain had no right to the country, the declaration paved the way to my people’s Nakba,” she added, using the Arab word “catastrophe” to refer to the 1948 War of Independence.
Mohammed Baraka, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, concurred. “I don’t see anything wrong with Palestinian citizens of Israel expressing their opposition to the declaration, which had consequences for the entire Palestinian nation everywhere. There was no British Mandate in the country in 1917, and yet someone without a mandate awarded national rights to someone who didn’t deserve them and completely ignored the national rights of the Palestinians in the country, and the ramifications of this declaration continue until today, including the nation-state bill laid before the Knesset.”
Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who is responsible for Fatah’s external communications, told Haaretz that Britain cannot shirk its responsibility even after 100 years. “We will demand an apology from the British government and the British people,” he said. “Neither Europe nor Britain wanted to deal with the question of the presence of Jews in Europe then. There were those who decided to send them to the ovens and there were those who decided to pile the Jews onto boats and to send them to Palestine at the expense of another people. If the British really want to do justice – and they talk a lot about a two-state solution – then the British government should do the minimum and recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders.”
Palestinian Authority officials recently tried to lobby the British government not to organize celebrations to mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. They were surprised by the decision of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv to organize a celebratory reception marking the centennial on Wednesday at the ambassador’s residence, which was attended by dozens of invitees, including Knesset members.
“It’s a disgrace and insult to the feelings of millions of Palestinians,” Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, chairman of the Palestine National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Central Council. He said the PLO, the PA and civil society organizations would continue the struggle for British public opinion with the goal of “pressuring the government and its leader to recognize the wrongs caused to the Palestinians because of the Balfour Declaration and to demand an apology and recognition of the State of Palestine.”
The British Embassy in Israel rejected the criticism. “We are proud of the role the U.K. played in the creation of the State of Israel, and will mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with pride and respect,” the embassy said in response.
It referred Haaretz to a statement that the British prime minister made to the Parliament: “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the State of Israel, and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride,” May told the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions.
At the same time, she noted: “However, we also must be conscious of the sensitivities that some people have about the Balfour Declaration. ... We recognize that there is more work to be done.”
In the speech May also reiterated Britain’s commitment to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.