There’s a strong parallel between the Balfour Declaration and the Trump Vision. In both of the two historical circumstances -and the Trump plan is historical – a foreign state arrogated to itself the right to bestow to one people territory that belonged, through history and international law, to another. The United States,like Britain in 1917, awards itself the right to make a political disposition to which it is not entitled.
Britain must now acknowledge its historic responsibilities and present role, recognise Palestine and support a settlement in accordance with international law and UN Security Council Resolutions.
Over a century after the then Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, declared the support of the British Government for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, a foreign power that has no moral or legal right to do so again seeks to dictate the future of the region.
If implemented by Israel, the Trump Administration’s proposal, unveiled on 28 January, will perpetuate the conflict and doom any hope of a genuine two-state solution. Under international law, Donald Trump’s proposed Palestinian state will remain occupied territory, postponing further the Palestinian right to self-determination. This “state” has been accurately described as a series of “disconnected Bantustans” rather than a genuine sovereign state.
In close coordination with this Israeli Government, when it comes to the Palestinian territory which Israel occupied in 1967 Donald Trump has chosen to ignore decades of international law banning the acquisition of territory by force and the transfer by an occupying power of its civilians on to occupied land. In stark contrast was the strong global response, led by the United States, to Russia’s 2014 capture and annexation of the Crimea, which led to ostracism and sanctions that remain in force.
Half a century of UN Security Council Resolutions endorsed by previous US administrations, from UNSCR 242 of November 1967 through to 2334 of December 2016, condemning Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories, have now been cast aside by Washington as being of no consequence.
On the eve of Britain’s departure from the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unwisely lent his Government’s support to President Donald Trump’s proposal, which entails inter alia annexation by Israel of the Jordan Valley and most of the existing settlement blocs. In doing so, the United Kingdom finds itself uncomfortably in a tiny minority of states.
Worse, it is at odds with itself – and with logic. Mr Johnson spoke on a Wednesday. But, two days later, his Foreign Secretary was “concerned by reports of possible moves toward annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel”. Any such unilateral move, he said, would be “contrary to international law. Any changes to the status quo cannot be taken forward without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves”.
The Palestinian leadership and people will not agree to negotiate on the basis of Trump’s proposal for annexation by Israel of much of the territory previously designated as part of a future independent Palestinian state. Nor should they. To pretend that they should is just that: pretence.
When he was making the case for Brexit, Boris Johnson repeatedly asserted that as an independent state on the global stage Britain would be a force for good, consistently defending the rules-based international order and upholding core British values such as justice. By publicly backing this indefensible – and unworkable – proposal perpetuating the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, he has stumbled at the first hurdle.
The Balfour Project was formed to raise British public awareness about our country’s special responsibility for the injustice that the Palestinian people suffered as a result of British Government actions (and, indeed, inaction on crucial issues) during the Mandate period up to 1948 and subsequently, after the creation of the State of Israel.
It calls for peaceful co-existence in the Holy Land based on acceptance of the legitimate rights of Israel and Palestine and of individual Israelis and Palestinians, preferably through the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. Regardless of the eventual political outcome, the Project insists that the humanity of all the region’s inhabitants, irrespective of their ethnicity or creed, demands that they enjoy equal rights.
We call upon the British Government to use its influence to forestall the Israeli Government’s next steps, notably its intention to annex swathes of the West Bank, as already announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain has a duty to uphold UN resolutions and promote international law. It also has an additional historic responsibility as the former Mandatory power for Palestine.
Here, oft-stated British values and our national interest converge. Britain should now recognise the State of Palestine alongside Israel on the basis of the pre-June 1967 lines enshrined in international law, thus affirming the rights of both peoples – Israeli and Palestinian – to self-determination.
In so doing, Britain will signal to the world that any Israeli steps to annex Palestinian territories will be treated as null and void, and it will have lived up to its principles and values.
More immediately, Britain faces another test of its principles at the UN Security Council in New York next week, when the Council will debate the merits of the Trump proposal. If the resolution drafted is consistent with established Council policy, Britain must maintain publicly its past support for a two state solution based on UN resolutions and international law – and not hide behind procedural manoeuvring to duck the grave issues at stake.