By Sunanda K Datta Ray
Oct 24, 2017
West Asia is at another crossroads as it approaches the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration supporting “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. The anniversary is particularly significant as the recent peace agreement between two Palestinian factions – Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, which is the main constituent of the Palestine Liberation Organisation — makes the possibility of a shared homeland seem slightly less remote.
Possession, not dispossession, lay at the heart of the declaration on November 9, 1917 by Arthur Balfour, then British foreign secretary. That alone can right a grave injustice and spare the world further bloodshed if it saves Palestinian youths from the clutches of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist outfits.
Today’s Israelis are loath to acknowledge any debt to the Balfour Declaration. They are right to the extent that London’s announcement alone would not have created Israel if militant Zionist organisations backed by the fortune of international Jewry had not acquired Palestinian properties, run illegal Jewish immigrants, and smuggled weapons for Jewish terrorist outfits like Hagannah, the Stern Gang and Irgun that contemptuously disregarded the Balfour Declaration’s pious commitment “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” (meaning indigenous Arabs).
Palestine was cleansed of Palestinians before the phrase “ethnic cleansing” was coined. Even some Jewish rabbis were horrified at atrocities like armed Zionists storming Deir Yassin village of 600 Arab men, women and children one night. The co-existence that Balfour proposed represented the essence of the two-state solution that the Oslo process recommended, and which is today the only answer to the Palestine stalemate.
Sadly, the British government itself set the precedent of betrayal by promising everything to everyone who could help Britain. The Sheriff of Mecca was promised all the Arab lands that the Ottoman sultans had ruled since 1517, with each of his sons king of a different brand new country, if they attacked Turkish installations.
“I am a Zionist”, Balfour had declared to curry favour with the billionaire Cousinhood (related Jewish financiers like Rothschild, Montefiore, Sassoon and Samuel), whose money sustained the war effort. Winston Churchill sought the advice of Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist chief, on manufacturing explosives. Britain believed the Bolshevik leaders were all Jews. Nevertheless, there was temporising. Jews were offered homelands in Cyprus, Egypt and Uganda instead.
Determination, strategic sense, money and Britain’s passive support (like looking away as men and weapons were smuggled into Palestine) helped Jews. There were other factors too. Kaiser William was anxious to get rid of German Jews. Moscow hoped for a socialist satellite. Above all, the Arabs were thoroughly disunited. Absentee landowners happily sold their estates to Zionist tycoons. When the Arabs did decide to fight, they squabbled over who was to be commander-in-chief, the honour going to Egypt’s corrupt and debauched King Farouk. Each Arab army was more anxious to seize territory for itself than to enable the Palestinians to stay where they were.
In recent years, the bitter enmity among the three main groups — Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah, which is active in Lebanon — has played into Israeli hands. When Hamas and Fatah ended their deadly rivalry in 2014 and formed a united government, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced it as a “vote for terror”.
The kidnapping and murder of three Jewish youths in the Israeli-occupied West Bank some weeks later provoked fierce Israeli reprisals and a war that killed over 1,500 beleaguered civilians in Gaza. It was the end of the unity government. Israel cannot have been displeased when Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup.
Now the world is applauding another peace agreement between the two groups. Under this, Hamas will give up its exclusive control of Gaza and join a unity government based in the West Bank along with Fatah. Egypt, to which the Gaza Strip belonged before Israel seized it, was responsible for brokering the agreement.
The security forces under Mr Abbas will now oversee the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which is expected to encourage Cairo to end its closure and allow goods and people to pass through and alleviate the humanitarian crisis of the enclave’s 1.8 million people, who are entirely at Israel’s mercy.
Gaza’s police force will be reorganised to include 3,000 Palestine Authority officers. At the same time, Hamas officials in Gaza are to be integrated into PA ministries. The sanctions imposed by Mr Abbas since the spring to tightly limit the entry of fuel, cutting Gaza’s electricity supplies to a few hours a day, will end.
It’s only a partial agreement, addressing civil and administrative matters. Contentious issues such as national elections, reform of the PLO, Hamas’s arsenal of weapons and the status of its armed wing are to be considered in late November. That’s when problems are expected to crop up. There are also fears that Mr Netanyahu might try to engineer another confrontation to sabotage the agreement. His strategy has always been to ensure that the West Bank and Gaza remain divided so that there is no pressure on him to negotiate.
The Balfour Declaration coincided with Vladimir Lenin’s coup in Moscow in November 1917. France and the United States endorsed the document. Russia, France and Britain have somewhat lost their international consequence, but the US still matters to Israel.
It can compel Mr Netanyahu to respect and work for a sovereign Palestine, which alone can save dispossessed Palestinians who have nothing left to lose from falling prey to terrorist organisations like Islamic State.