The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been among most notable longstanding conflicts in world history, mainly because its controversy centers on the sovereignty over the land known as Palestine but currently occupied, in large part, by the Jewish people as Israel. Both sides have proved uncompromising – Palestinian Arabs, whose population include Muslims and non-Muslims (Christians and Judaists), claim that Palestine has been their homeland for so many years, while Jews support their claim for the establishment of Israel over Palestinian lands on account that such form what they call the Promised Land. With no solution currently in sight, both Palestinians and Israelis remain at war against one another, sparking an international concern that has since involved numerous other nations wanting to secure peace in such a strategic part of the Middle East.
Given the long-standing fight between Palestinians and Israelis, highlighted by the events such as the diaspora, Arab-Israeli in 1967 and current fallouts concerning the Palestinian-occupied territories of Gaza Strip and West Bank, it is important to learn more about the historical underpinnings of such a conflict. The Jewish people, having been scattered around the world prior to the establishment of Israel, most remarkably having suffered the Holocaust under Nazi Germany during the Second World War, have their calls for their right to self-determination justified after having suffered several years of persecution, hence their desire to establish their own nation on the Promised Land, occupied by Palestine. Palestinians, on the other hand, are startled to encounter what, for them, an invasion of their homeland by Israelis. Yet, apart from the Promised Land premise, what could have fuelled the Jewish people to take over Palestine and establish Israel there?
This study seeks to elaborate on one of the touted causes of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict – the Balfour Declaration. Fueled by the ideology of Zionism, the Jewish people in both the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) who have supported the Balfour Declaration had the genuine belief that the UK government recognizes their call to form a Jewish state in Palestine. Consequently, of course, Palestinian Arabs vehemently rejected the Balfour Declaration – a grudge that still stands firm to this day as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to lack necessary resolutions. A review of the existing literature seeks to shed light onto the circumstances that point to the Balfour Declaration as a justification by the Jewish people, on their part, to occupy Palestine and as a matter of misunderstanding by the Palestinians, who remain firm in holding onto their right to sovereignty over their own land.
The Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration first emerged in 1917 in a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, then Foreign Secretary of the UK, to a leader of the British Jewish Community, Baron Walter Rothschild. Henceforth called the Balfour Declaration, the letter made Jewish communities in both the UK and US believe that the UK government supports them in the initiative to create a state for them in the Middle East, particularly in the land occupied by Palestine. One could therefore already determine that desires to create a Jewish state – a precursor to Israel, in the Middle East, where the Jewish people point the Promised Land to be, have been present prior to the Second World War.
The influence of Rothschild among the Jewish people not only in the UK, but also in the US, has been instrumental in spreading the word about the Balfour Declaration. Thus, when Rothschild declared his support for the Balfour Declaration, the idea of creating a Jewish state in the Middle East gained heavy support from Jewish communities in both the UK and the US. Balfour, specifically, determined that while he supports the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East, safeguards necessitating the safety, wellbeing and rights of non-Jewish people in Palestine – the Palestinian Arabs, have to be in place. Nonetheless, such was widely perceived by Jewish communities in both the UK and the US as a recognition of their desire to have their own nation in the Middle East, pointing Palestine as the location of their Promised Land. Other nations that supported the Allied forces also indicated their support for the Balfour Declaration. Yet, misunderstandings started to ensue when Palestinian Arabs, which considers Palestine as their own nation, heavily rejected the Balfour Declaration. Palestinian Arabs that time widely believed that the UK supported them in the form of a mandate from the League of Nations – a precursor of the present-day United Nations (UN), since they fought alongside the Allies against the Ottoman Empire, then fighting for the Germans, during the First World War. In totality, the Balfour Declaration served as an article thought to have emerged to deceive both the Jewish people and Palestinian Arabs, having come in contact together for the first time and was inevitably followed by a series of conflicts over Palestine. As more and more Jewish people came to settle in Palestine, Palestinian Arabs grew to see them as a threat for the establishment of a Palestinian nation, hence the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that continues to ensue today.
Prior to, and following the Balfour Declaration, it is crucial to note that there have been numerous attempts to partition the disputed land occupied as Israel by the Jewish people and deemed as Palestine by Palestinian Arabs, all of which have been in vain. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, which ran as an antecedent to the Balfour Declaration, served as a clandestine agreement by the UK and France as their attempt to determine the areas of the Ottoman Empire they will place under their control should it collapse alongside Germany during the First World War. The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, agreed by Emir Faisal of Syria and Chaim Weizmann, later President of the World Zionist Organization, came after the First World War as an attempt to foster cooperation between Arabs and Jews, with the view to creating a Jewish state in Palestine and an Arab state comprising of a larger region, both within the Middle East. Both the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement collapsed without any gains for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Did the Balfour Declaration mean to appease the Jewish people in their desire to establish their own nation, or did it only result to fomenting an almost-irreconcilable conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jews? One could only answer that question through a close perusal of the foregoing facts from the existing literature. Firstly, the desire of the Jewish people to have their own nation articulated through Zionism is overwhelming, such that the Balfour Declaration, in itself a letter that could have been taken out of context as it has been magnified, has emerged as a justification for them to assert their claim over Palestine, their Promised Land. Secondly, Palestinian Arabs have long contended that Palestine has predated the Balfour Declaration as their nation, albeit only officially recognized briefly through a League of Nations mandate provided with the help of perhaps the most ambiguous agent throughout the entire issue, the UK. Thirdly, the failed agreements before and after the Balfour Declaration – the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, both served to provide an impetus into a deeper understanding on the divisiveness of a Jewish diaspora on a land that has long been populated by Palestinian Arabs. At best, the vagueness of the Balfour Declaration and its contribution to the creation of Israel – a development-turned-reality initially deemed outrageous by many Palestinian Arabs as they protested against the gradual arrival of Jews in Palestine, all contribute to the grudges that formed in between. Given the foregoing circumstances, one could therefore gain insights on why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to concern the world right now.
The Balfour Declaration stood as among the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over territorial control on Palestine, now known as Israel. Why peace between Palestinian Arabs and Jews at present stands as a desired outcome that remains to be out of sight is best explained by the historical entanglements surrounding the Balfour Declaration, itself being a cause for its vague contextual perusal by Jews in the UK and the US wanting to establish their own nation. In such a case, it is necessary to become prudent in classifying all historical details behind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through using the Balfour Declaration as a cause behind all the trouble in order for further studies to highlight more about its importance in the present context.
Gillon, D. Z. “The Antecedents of the Balfour Declaration.” Middle Eastern Studies 5, no. 2 (1969): 131-150.
Laqueur, Walter (Ed.). The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict. United Kingdom: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1969.
Stork, J. “Understanding the Balfour Declaration.” MERIP Reports 13 (1972): 9-13.
Schneer, Jonathan. The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. United Kingdom: Random House, 2010.
“Zionists and New Palestine.” The Times (United Kingdom), May 31, 1920.