Just over a hundred years ago, Britain’s foreign secretary Arthur Balfour signed a 67 word long statement that committed Britain for the first time to backing “the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people”.
Israel and its supporters duly celebrated “the anniversary of a foundational moment” in their nation’s history. Palestinian representatives, meanwhile, called on Britain to apologise for the declaration – because it set in train a process that eventually led to much of the Palestinian population being “uprooted from their homes and condemned to life in squalid refugee camps”.
It is true that at the time of its creation, in 1948, Israel served as a haven for a people who had so recently faced mass extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They deserved resettlement after what they had gone through. But Palestine? Had the pious words within the Declaration been honoured, i.e. “without prejudicing the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, then the situation would not be fraught. But they were not honoured, and the British could not keep the peace.
Balfour wrote the Declaration to raise money for the prosecution of WWI, but he gave inadequate weight to the fact that the land offered was already occupied. Some people believe that the present day Palestinians are descended from Jews left behind when their neighbours evacuated the area after the Roman invasion, and were converted to Islam at the time of the Prophet. (e.g they are historically Jewish). Correct or incorrect, it has all gone very wrong, and has been made very much worse by the advent of the Russian Jews, who have helped create a very right-wing and uncompromising (and corrupt) system (not me saying it – the President of Israel!)
Why mention this 100 year anniversary that has already passed by? This is the Epicurus blog, and Epicurus believed in moderation, discussion and compromise. Both sides in this dispute are stubborn and certain of their own rectitude. It is impossible even for people who are neither Jewish or Palestinian to have a civilized discussion on the subject, such are the passions aroused, especially among committed evangelical Christians. There has to be give and take. Trump’s intervention changes nothing, except to announce his partisanship., unhelpful as usual. The fact remains that the division of Jerusalem is perfectly possible, since both sides prize different bits of it. The problem is Temple Mount, squabbled over for centuries. The Palestinians have to accept the reality of the Israeli State, and share access to Temple Mount. And the Israelis have to stop taking more and more Palestinian land, give the Palestinians an idependent state of their own – and share Temple Mount. The rest of us are fed up with religion as manifested in that whole region. Yes, it’s tribal, but we have had enough of it.