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News
THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
How the Balfour Declaration gave rise to the State of Israel
Howard Grief
By: Howard Grief, (a Canadian trained lawyer who made aliya, explains Legal Rights and Title of Sovereignty of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel and Palestine under International Law

[..] The San Remo Resolution converted the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 from a mere statement of British policy expressing sympathy with the goal of the Zionist movement to create a Jewish state into a binding act of international law that required specific fulfillment by Britain of this object in active cooperation with the Jewish people.

Under the Balfour Declaration as originally issued by the British government, the latter only promised to use their best endeavors to facilitate the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. But under the San Remo Resolution of April 24-25, 1920, the Principal Allied Powers as a cohesive group charged the British government with the responsibility or legal obligation of putting into effect the Balfour Declaration. A legal onus was thus placed on Britain to ensure that the Jewish National Home would be duly established. This onus the British Government willingly accepted because at the time the Balfour Declaration was issued and adopted at the San Remo Peace Conference, Palestine was considered a valuable strategic asset and communications center, and so a vital necessity for protecting far-flung British imperial interests extending from Egypt to India. Britain was fearful of having any major country or power other than itself, especially France or Germany, positioned alongside the Suez Canal.

The term “Jewish National Home” was defined to mean a state by the British government at the Cabinet session which approved the Balfour Declaration on October 31, 1917. That was also the meaning originally given to this phrase by the program committee which drafted the Basel Program at the first Zionist Congress in August 1897 and by Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Organization. The word “home” as used in the Balfour Declaration and subsequently in the San Remo Resolution was simply the euphemism for a state originally adopted by the Zionist Organization when the territory of Palestine was subject to the rule of the Ottoman Empire, so as not to arouse the sharp opposition of the Sultan and his government to the Zionist aim, which involved a potential loss of this territory by the Empire.

There was no doubt in the minds of the authors of the Basel Program and the Balfour Declaration regarding the true meaning of this word, a meaning reinforced by the addition of the adjective “national” to “home”. However, as a result of not using the word “state” directly and proclaiming that meaning openly or even attempting to hide its true meaning when it was first used to denote the aim of Zionism, ammunition was provided to those who sought to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state or who saw the Home only in cultural terms.

The phrase “in Palestine”, another expression found in the Balfour Declaration that generated much controversy, referred to the whole country, including both Cisjordan and Transjordan. It was absurd to imagine that this phrase could be used to indicate that only a part of Palestine was reserved for the future Jewish National Home, since both were created simultaneously and used interchangeably, with the term “Palestine” pointing out the geographical location of the future independent Jewish state. Had “Palestine” meant a partitioned country with certain areas of it set aside for Jews and others for Arabs, that intention would have been stated explicitly at the time the Balfour Declaration was drafted and approved and later adopted by the Principal Allied Powers. No such allusion was ever made in the prolonged discussions that took place in fashioning the Declaration and ensuring it international approval.

There is therefore no juridical or factual basis for asserting that the phrase “in Palestine” limited the establishment of the Jewish National Home to only a part of the country. On the contrary, Palestine and the Jewish National Home were synonymous terms, as is evidenced by the use of the same phrase in the second half of the Balfour Declaration which refers to the existing non-Jewish communities “in Palestine”, clearly indicating the whole country. Similar evidence exists in the preamble and terms of the Mandate Charter.

The San Remo Resolution on Palestine combined the Balfour Declaration with Article 22 of the League Covenant. This meant that the general provisions of Article 22 applied to the Jewish people exclusively, who would set up their home and state in Palestine. There was no intention to apply Article 22 to the Arabs of the country, as was mistakenly concluded by the Palestine Royal Commission which relied on that article of the Covenant as the legal basis to justify the partition of Palestine, apart from the other reasons it gave.

The proof of the applicability of Article 22 to the Jewish people, including not only those in Palestine at the time, but those who were expected to arrive in large numbers in the future, is found in the Smuts Resolution, which became Article 22 of the Covenant. It specifically names Palestine as one of the countries to which this article would apply. There was no doubt that when Palestine was named in the context of Article 22, it was linked exclusively to the Jewish National Home, as set down in the Balfour Declaration, a fact everyone was aware of at the time, including the representatives of the Arab national movement, as evidenced by the agreement between Emir Feisal and Dr. Chaim Weizmann dated January 3, 1919 as well as an important letter sent by the Emir to future US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter dated March 3, 1919. In that letter, Feisal characterized as “moderate and proper” the Zionist proposals presented by Nahum Sokolow and Weizmann to the Council of Ten at the Paris Peace Conference on February 27, 1919, which called for the development of Palestine into a Jewish commonwealth with extensive boundaries. The argument later made by Arab leaders that the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine were incompatible with Article 22 of the Covenant is totally undermined by the fact that the Smuts Resolution – the precursor of Article 22 – specifically included Palestine within its legal framework.

[Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.]