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memri
November 2, 2017 No.
7160

Article In Saudi Daily 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' On The 100th Anniversary Of The Balfour Declaration: Lamentations Won't Help, It's Time To Take Stock And Learn From Our Mistakes

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, on November 2, 2017, Sudanese journalist Othman Mirgani, a columnist with the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, criticized the Arab and Palestinian lamentations about the declaration. He called for soul searching to examine why Israel has garnered achievements while the Palestinians and the Arabs have arrived at their current circumstances. He wrote that the Palestinians have missed opportunities, misunderstood reality, and fallen into internal squabbles and that they should unite and define their objectives, as the Israelis did, in order to achieve their goals.


Lord Arthur James Balfour and his declaration (Image: Aljazeera.net, October 26, 2017)

The following are translated excerpts from the column.

"In Arabic, the words 'Balfour Declaration' are never mentioned without the accompanying adjective 'accursed.' That declaration, whose hundredth anniversary is being marked today, was certainly an accursed and catastrophic event for the Palestinians, a disaster for the Arabs, and a turning point in the history of the region, which ushered in along with it calamities, wars, and nakbas. The story of the declaration is well known and the few lines of the British missive, that included a promise to use their best endeavors to facilitate the realization of the Zionist dream to establish a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, has practically been memorized word for word by many in the area, specifically among the Palestinians.

"On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, one could compose a lament that would join the long line of lamentations written about it over the years, but is that what is required? Will it change anything in reality?

"Many voices were heard demanding that Britain apologize for the declaration[1] and what it led to for the Palestinians and the region, something that Britain's governments [for generations] have refused to do up to this moment. This time, these demands were accompanied by an outpouring of fury following the decision by Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May to celebrate the 100th anniversary as a festive event, to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited. In response to the demand for an apology, May said that she will celebrate the event with full pomp and that she is proud of the role played by Britain in the establishment of [the state of] Israel. This provocative step was met by a storm of fury from among the Palestinians and criticism within Britain...

"It may be that May's celebration says much about her way of thinking and her position, but it says much more about the current situation of the Arabs, for Britain is not the only entity that is aware that the Palestinians have lost their way, and that the Arabs are weak, and that understands the balance of power in the region. In the context of her realistic outlook, May doesn't feel that she is likely to be hurt by vaunting the [Balfour] declaration or [Britain's] role in the establishment of [the state of] Israel. Further, she sees no reason to apologize. The bitter and more terrible truth is that even if Britain deigned [to publish] an apology, it would not change any part of the bitter reality, since this reality will not change by means of an announcement, but by means of [true] will, that is not present today.

"Instead of [composing] lamentations, there is a need to stop and take stock of ourselves, to examine the situation that we have arrived at over the hundred years since the Balfour Declaration and to seriously investigate the reasons [for it] in the hope of learning from the past. What has Israel achieved and where is it now and what have the Palestinians and the Arabs achieved with respect to the [Palestinian] issue, when there isn't a [single] Arab pronouncement that doesn't describe it as 'fateful,' 'central' or with other expressions that have already become empty of real content?

"There are those who will say that Israel is supported by the superpowers, which is true and indisputable. However, the Arabs have also been supported by strong allies over the course of their history and the Palestinians have received broad support in the international arena, more than Israel has enjoyed. In my estimation the difference is that the Israelis remained focused on their goals and concentrated all their abilities on achieving them, while the Palestinians and the other Arabs were scattered in every direction and overwhelmed by internal disputes, which no one can say were caused by Israel.

"More than others, the Palestinians must do some soul searching in light of a long list of opportunities that they have missed, erroneous readings [of reality], and [internal] divisions, that reached the level of warfare, settling of scores, and assassinations. Despite all the statements and slogans heard time after time [that the Palestinian issue] is 'at the very top of the Arab agenda,' in the long run the issue will remain theirs [alone]. So the way they [the Palestinians] relate to the issue, the role of their leaders with respect to the issue, and the [extent of] their willingness to work together to achieve their goals, are what will constitute a catalyst or an impediment for them, or for all those who support them and express solidarity with their rights. There is insufficient space here to engage in a discussion about all the missteps [that were taken], or to undertake a comprehensive historical survey of the violent disputes and the many divisions that have hurt the Palestinians and their cause, but it is enough to point out what has transpired since the Oslo Accords, or the dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement during the years following the Hamas takeover of [the] Gaza [Strip] that harmed the Palestinians. The Palestinians have paid a heavy price in every way as a result of this dispute, until recently they signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo following Arab efforts at mediation, and pressures resulting from the situation in the region. Many fear that this agreement won't last very long, based on the positions and [opposing] concerns of the parties and Palestinian history, which is rife with divisions.

"The anniversary of the Balfour Declaration could be an opportunity for self-criticism, an examination of all the mistakes of the past that have contributed to where we are now. The Palestinians, more than anyone else, must pause and understand that they have a pressing need to unify the ranks and define their objectives, especially because there are those who are gambling on peace, and calls are intensifying for what is being referred to as 'the deal of the century!'"[2]

 

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1329, Palestinian Campaign To Sue Britain, Demand Reparation For Balfour Declaration, March 21, 2017.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 2, 2017.