Britain Refuses Abbas’ Demand for Apology Over 1917 Balfour Declaration

Palestinian ambassador to Britain said a lawsuit would follow up unless Britain apologized, cancelled planned centenary celebrations and recognized the state of Palestine

On February 7, 2017, Abbas speaks at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris.
Stephane de Sakutin, AFP Photo

Palestinian leaders said on Tuesday Britain had rejected their request for an apology for a 1917 declaration that helped pave the way to the state of Israel, and they would pursue international court action unless London backtracked.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the 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 centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

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"The answer came in a written letter to the (Palestinian) Foreign Ministry that the apology is refused," Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to Britain, told Voice of Palestine Radio on Tuesday.

"It means the Queen and the government of Britain will not apologize to the Palestinian people and the celebration marking 100 years since the Balfour promise will be held on time."

There was no immediate comment from Britain's Foreign Office.

In the 1917 declaration, the British government said it viewed "with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". It also said "...nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."

Palestine was under British rule when Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour made the policy statement in a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

Palestinians have long condemned the document as a promise by Britain to hand over land that it did not own.

Hassassian said that unless Britain apologized, cancelled planned celebrations and recognized the state of Palestine, the Palestinians would go ahead with plans for a lawsuit.

"This is the only condition upon which we can close this file permanently," he said.

Israel declared independence in 1948, at the end of British Mandatory rule and after the UN General Assembly voted in 1947 in favor of a plan, rejected by Palestinian representatives, to partition Palestine into a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, territories where Palestinians now seek to establish an independent state. The last round of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations collapsed in 2014.