Open Letter

From Afif Safieh

London October 30, 1997

The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP Prime Minister 10 Downing Street London W1

On Sunday, the Arab World will commemorate in sadness and pain the 80th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration issued on the 2nd November 1917, a policy which has resulted in 1948 in the dispossession and dispersion of the Palestinian people and has plunged the Middle East in an unending cycle of war, occupation and resistance. For a major power to offer an inhabited country to an international political movement was an unprecedented act in international diplomacy. Although the Palestinian Muslims and Christians constituted 94% of the population, they were referred to in this important policy statement as the “non-Jewish communities”. In a letter to Lord Curzon, Lord Balfour wrote: “in Palestine we do not envisage undertaking the consultation of the will of the present inhabitants”, adding that Zionism was, for Great Britain, of greater importance than “the desires and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now live in this ancient land”.

Different historians, in an attempt to explain the political environment in which the Balfour Declaration was formulated, resort to several factors:

1. the religious upbringing of Lord Balfour and a narrow, dogmatic and - one is tempted to add - fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament; 2. an attempt to please the British Jewish community who, though not enthusiastically pro-Zionist then, preferred to see East European Jewish immigrants channeled to Palestine rather than to the UK; 3. a feeling of gratitude to Chaim Weizman for his invention of an explosive that proved useful during World War I; 4. a conviction that a pro-Zionist commitment would help mobilise the American Jewish community to lobby in favour of the United States joining the allies in the war against Germany; 5. an evaluation that Zionism could divert Jewish fervour and energies away from revolution in Russia towards Palestine since the destabilisation of the Czarist Regime would deprive the allies of their second front against Germany (because of a difference in calendars, the November Balfour Declaration paradoxically took place in fact before the October Bolshevik Revolution had occurred); 6. a belief that a friendly entity close to the Suez Canal, a major artery in international navigation mainly towards the Indian Subcontinent, would be a major strategic achievement; 7. a willingness to break the Arab World’s geographic continuity at the point of intersection of the Asian and African continents preempting thus the possible emergence of a United Arab State. Prime Minister, I write to you today on behalf of “the non-Jewish communities” in Palestine, Muslims and Christians alike, whom Lord Balfour did not see fit to consult and whose lives have been totally disrupted since then and ended up in 1948 not only stateless but, for a majority of them, also homeless. Over 400 evacuated villages were immediately leveled to the ground so as to render the return of the refugees impossible. Prime Minister, I personally believe that a Palestinian State besides Israel, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as capital is not only a Palestinian right but a British ethical duty and a Jewish-Israeli moral obligation. Prime Minister, we, the Palestinian people, have a dream. A dream of a Blair or a Cook Declaration. A Declaration that takes the lead in spelling out sympathy for Palestinian sufferings and support for Palestinian aspirations.

I know, Prime Minister, that some cynics might say that Britain in this fin de siecle is not what it used to be at the turn of the century but I am sure that British public opinion will “view with favour” that Britain again “punches above its weight” especially for a cause they perceive as just. Prime Minister, I could have invoked a variety of geo-political and geo-strategic considerations, but I believe that the ethical dimension, on its own, ought to be sufficiently convincing. Please accept, Prime Minister, the expression of my highest consideration. Afif Safieh The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK Director of the Office of Representation of the PLO to the Holy See P.S. Enclosed you will find, Prime Minister, a letter that the eminent British historian Arnold Toynbee suggests that the Israelis should write to their Palestinian victims in a genuine quest for peace and reconciliation. I have read it for the first time in 1970. I still believe it to be relevant today.