I’ll start with a simple statement –
It is now a century since the Balfour Declaration was signed
The mass influx of refugees and migrants into Eastern Europe from the Middle East and North Africa and the subsequent impact of their moving towards North and West Europe is understandably raising huge concerns to the Governments of the Countries involved.
More importantly it has been seized on by the racist, fascist and xenophobic politicians as a means of setting people against people which is something that history should have taught us only leads to war and discord
Of course it is easy to look at the resettlement of the refugees and migrants as the major problem but with the numbers having now increased to over two and half million and rising the underlying issues that the region is experiencing cannot be ignored
Over the centuries the Middle East has experienced strife and war going as far back as the Crusades and the legendary Monks of War and the times of Judea.
History of the region when I was at school amounted to wondering at the ability of the Egyptians to built the pyramids, how Moses led the Children of Israel to the promised land and didn’t Lawrence of Arabia seated on a camel looked good in white robes.
OK the last one was Peter O’Toole – but he did look good.
What we do know is that the current issues and problems can be said to have probably started when in 1917 General Allenby ended the Turks 400 year rule of Palestine and it became a ‘mandated’ territory of the British Empire.
The problem from the very start was obvious with two very determined nationalistic claimants already living in the region.
It is amazing that anyone thought that a change in who was to be seen as the dominant ‘rulers’ was going to resolve the differences between them
The continuing claims and counter claims by the Arabs – the Palestinians – and the other claimants – the Jews – were exacerbated by the implicit obligations promised to them in the “Balfour Declaration”
For those who don’t know, Arthur Balfour was ‘one’ – if not ‘the’ – consummate political operator of the time
Balfour recognised that the WW1 was changing the old order and pragmatic enough to recognise that in Palestine the British Empire was going to find it impossible to satisfy the two protagonists.
As the British Foreign Secretary the Balfour Declaration was aimed at satisfying the competing interests and bring peace to the region.
What should not be forgotten is that it was made with the full support of the League of Nations and the U.K. Allies.
In brief the Balfour Declaration was a letter sent to Walter Rothschild which said
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country
If ever a statement/declaration has been interpreted and misinterpreted to justify claims, counter-claims and as justification for actions up to and including war then surely the Balfour Declaration is it
And how many times since when talks to establish ‘peace’ in the region have taken place has the phrase, “this is a once in a lifetime” opportunity been used
How many lifetimes have passed since the Balfour Declaration, more importantly how many lives have been lost over the past 100 years while both sides continue to refuse to move from what has become increasingly entrenched positions
There is little doubt that the Palestine – Israel issue has been the catalyst for mistrust between the Arab Nations and the West especially the USA and UK, but more importantly it has deflected attention away from the other conflicts most notably the lead up to the current conflict in Syria.
I’m not sure what those who supported the selection of Tony Blair as a Middle East envoy were thinking or even what they were expecting him to achieve by his appointment to a region where he is seen as a major instigator of the current problems.
I have even less idea of what the USA and UK were thinking by electing Donald Trump as President and appointing Boris Johnston as Foreign Sectetary.
I suspect the majority of people now believe that the Iraq Gulf War was based on if not a complete lie certainly on a very severe massaging of the facts and that the Tony Blair Government supported by the Conservatives unlawfully entered into the war.
What is even stranger is that one of the reasons given for the War was to bring about democracy in Iraq.
This from a parliament in which successive UK Governments refused to accept and acknowledge the democratically elected Palestinian government of the State of Palestine (the West Bank) and the Government of the State of Palestine (Gaza Strip) until the two unified in 2014.
What is not in question is that the UK supported the President Bashar al-Assad Syrian Government and that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, more commonly known as the jihadist group ISIL originated in post war Iraq and made very rapid military gains across the whole of the region bringing instability not only to Syria but the whole of the Middle East.
The end result as we now see is that over 8 million people have been internally displaced creating over 5 million refugees who are now being portrayed by the media and xenophobes as a European Problem and European Crisis.
Of course it’s a problem that needs to be resolved but surely those fleeing from the conflicts that our Governments are partially responsible for creating deserve to be given protection and security.
However only by bringing peace, security and stability to the Middle East will the refugee problem be solved and that will not be achieved by continuing policies of encouraging and supporting armed conflict
We may not want too and in fact the very thought of it may be abhorrent to many but peace following conflict has historically been achieved by sitting down with former enemies.
Are the United Nations – who appear to have become increasingly impotent as an organisation – and the leaders of the nations prepared to reach a peaceful compromise?
I don’t hold out any hope that they do or that it will take place during my lifetime
Which brings me back to my first statement –
After all the Balfour Declaration was first issued in November 1917 and look how that’s worked out.