Palestine and the West: A century of betrayal

For the Israeli right, the Trump plan is a diplomatic triumph akin to the Balfour Declaration. For Palestinians, it is just the latest act of western treachery

Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University Author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2014) and Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (2009).

Avi Shlaim writes in Middle East Eye, 17 February 2020:

Noam Chomsky described settler-colonialism as the most extreme and sadistic form of imperialism. The Palestinian people have suffered the unique misfortune of being at the receiving end of both Zionist settler-colonialism and western imperialism for the last century.

The first and most crucial betrayal was the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It committed the British government to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, provided nothing was done to “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

In 1917, Jews constituted less than 10 percent of the population of Palestine, while Arabs were 90 percent. Yet Britain chose to recognise the right to national self-determination of the tiny minority and deny it to the undisputed majority. In the words of Jewish writer Arthur Koestler: “One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”

A colossal blunder

The Balfour Declaration was a classic European colonial document. Its author, then-Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, personified the colonial mindset: the national rights of the inhabitants of the country were not of the slightest interest to him.

“Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad,” he subsequently wrote, “is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” There could hardly be a more striking illustration of what Edward Said called “the moral epistemology of imperialism”.

Palestine was not lost in the late 1940s, as is commonly believed, but in the late 1930s. Britain played a crucial, but still unacknowledged, role in the Palestinian tragedy

From the point of view of British interests, the Balfour Declaration was a colossal blunder – one of the worst strategic errors in its imperial history. From the Zionist perspective, however, it represented a dramatic breakthrough on the road to statehood. It paved the way for the systematic Zionist takeover of the country, a process that has continued relentlessly to the present day.

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