Extended summaries of the talks at the Durham conference.

Brief summary of Dr Peter Shambrook’s talk
‘A Lapse into Clarity’

Dr Shambrook offered his interpretation of the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, a series of letters in 1915-16 between the British High Commissioner in Cairo, and Sharif Hussein of Mecca, an important spiritual and temporal Arab leader.

In the correspondence, the British offered independence to the Arabs in return for the support of the Sharif in the Allied war effort. But crucially, did McMahon include Palestine in the area offered to Hussein? The latter understood that Palestine was included, and rebelled against the Turks in June 1916 on that basis. The British maintained that it was not included. Following the war, the British view prevailed, and the Arabs felt deceived.
Dr Shambrook argued that the Foreign Office records of the 1920s and 1930s clearly show that McMahon, ‘given the urgency of the hour and in order to keep the Arabs onside, temporarily “lapsed into clarity” in his letter to Hussein (24 October 1915), and included Palestine in the regions promised.’ He suggested that denial of a pledge given was not in a government’s – or a nation’s – best interest. On the other hand, an acknowledgement, however belated, would not be a sign of weakness, but rather of civilization.
The talk – A Lapse into Clarity

Brief Summary of Dr William Mathew’s, talk
Balfour 1922-23: Fragile commitment and Zionist Response

Dr William Mathew is an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of East Anglia.
His talk focused on the implementation of the Balfour Declaration just five years after its issue. British troops were in control of Palestine, Jewish immigration was increasing, and there was ‘mounting opposition to the pro-Zionist policy – in the press, in parliament, among military and colonial officials and resident Jewish communities in Palestine, and, among the Arab majority population’. The British government’s commitment was wavering, Zionists increased their pressure on the government, and Winston Churchill, the Colonial Secretary sought to resolve the issue once and for all.
Dr Mathew made three main points:
The Balfour Declaration was, from its issuance through to its implementation in the Palestine Mandate of September 1923, a fragile and uncertain official commitment, unsupported by any parliamentary vote, and presented without consultation with the resident population of Palestine.
By the summer of 1922, it was clear that if long-term political confirmation was to be secured, a decisive rescue operation was needed. It fell to Winston Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, to rescue it in parliament by including it as a minor item in a much wider Colonial Estimates bill.
In the general context of post-war confusions, Zionist leaders felt it necessary to resort to two particular courses of action: a) the rapid establishment of facts-on-the-ground, political as well as territorial, in Palestine, to serve as effective insurance against backpedalling in London; b) relentless lobbying in both London and Jerusalem.
The lesson he drew – widening the focus to the whole general history of European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries was that ‘the systemic combination of power and insecurity can be lethal in relation to the rights of politically exposed and racially disparaged societies’.

The talk: Balfour 1922-23: Fragile commitment and Zionist Response

Summary – Sir Vincent Fean’s talk
‘There is a constructive role for the UK in bringing about a just peace’

Sir Vincent Fean, who retired last year as the UK’s Consul General in Jerusalem, said he believed there is a constructive role for the UK in bringing about a just peace.
The Balfour Declaration helped bring about Israel, and Israel was here to stay, and its right to exist in peace and security should not be questioned. However, the second clause of the Balfour Declaration, ‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’, indicates that there is ‘unfinished business’.
The occupation of Palestinian Territories is wrong, he said, withholding peace and security from the Palestinians. The pendulum has swung too far away from peace and justice. There is urgency because of the growth of settlements and the closure of Gaza. We should to tell Israel with humility, as friends, where it is going right, and where wrong.
The UK is a member of the UN Security Council and the EU. We should work with France on a framework for peace. The UK and France should recognise the State of Palestine, albeit under occupation. That would help to preserve the outcome of two states. Then both states should be held to account for their actions. The UK should be part of a coalition of the willing in Europe to give teeth to International Humanitarian Law, enforcing consequence for violations of it on all sides. He urged people to speak out and lobby their MPs.
The talk: There is a constructive role for the UK in bringing about a just peace

Summary – Senior Rabbi Danny Rich,

Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism in the UK,

introduced himself as a working rabbi who likes to listen and to work on his own prejudices! His starting point was his belief that Britain could and should have a role in contributing to a peaceful relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
He emphasized that a number of basic assumptions needed to be accepted.

1. Occupation is illegal and immoral, and Israel should withdraw from the Occupied Territories.
2. A country’s right to exist should not be challenged and it is not right that Israel’s right to exist should be questioned.
3. There are two competing narratives, and there is no point in either denying the validity of the other’s narrative.
4. Violence and extremism are invariably wrong, particularly when violence is perpetrated on civilians, and especially children.
5. Competing ‘victimhoods’ will not lead anywhere.
6. We shouldn’t judge individuals or peoples or nations on their governments’ records.

He said that what is happening is demeaning to Israelis and to Palestinians. But the one thing we mustn’t do is to lose hope. He believed that the decency of the average Palestinian and the average Israeli would triumph over the stupidity of their leaders.