Balfour Declaration at 99 Years

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Balfour Declaration at 99 Years

November 2nd marked 99 years since Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, sent a letter on behalf of the government to Zionist leader Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild assuring him that “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”


This letter, known as the Balfour Declaration, revealed British double-dealings during wartime with an eye to strategic and nationalist concerns, including an effort to avert the influx of Eastern European Jewry into the UK. For Arthur Balfour, Zionism stirred Protestant aspirations for a Jewish "return" to the Holy Land and appeared to settle the so-called "Jewish Question" by directing the waves of eastern European and Russians Jews fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms toward Palestine rather than their preferred destinations of Western Europe and North America.

The Declaration was the pinnacle of endorsing Zionism at the time, affording it the opportunity to gain substantial ground in government which, by 1919 during the Paris Conference, led to its inclusion in the League of Nations Mandate, entrusted to the UK, over Palestine:  

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

The present reality strongly contradicts these words, not least because the unavoidable contradiction between supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine and, simultaneously, self-determination for an overwhelmingly Arab people was not a concern for Balfour, who attended the conference and wrote in a memo:

“The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the 'independent nation' of Palestine…
For in Palestine, we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”

The contradiction was, thus, easily settled by the Foreign Secretary: British dominion over Palestine was never intended to facilitate independence and self-determination for Palestinians. In fact, Balfour wrote to Prime Minister Lloyd George in February 1919 during the proceedings of the Conference that “in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination.”

“Everything that has followed in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this decision” to endorse a Jewish homeland in an Arab country by “the greatest power of the age,” Journal of Palestine Studies Editor Rashid I. Khalidi wrote in Resurrecting Empire. It would be hard to argue against the judgment that Palestinians and Israelis continue to live – along greatly asymmetrical conditions – in the shadow of the Balfour Declaration and all its attendant consequences.

As part of our November Special Focus – The Balfour Declaration, we are making available* articles from our Journal of Palestine Studies archives retracing the history and consequences of the Declaration.

We are also highlighting a Special Issue of Jerusalem Quarterly, Palestine in World War One,

In addition, we are offering a discount on an exceptional book, The Palestine Deception, 1915–1923: The McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, the Balfour Declaration, and the Jewish National Home, by J. M. N. Jeffries (Edited by William M. Mathew). Jeffries, formerly a war correspondent in Europe and the Middle East, working for Britain’s largest-selling newspaper, the Daily Mail, was sent to Palestine in 1922 by its owner, Lord Northcliffe, to report on its developing political and economic affairs. His articles Britain’s duplicity in its dealings with the Arab population of Palestine — arguing that clear, written pledges of Arab political independence, offered in 1915–16 as a means of gaining Arab military support in the war against Germany and her Ottoman ally, had been decisively contradicted by the terms of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, thus "The Palestine Deception.”

Also, we highlight maps from our Before Their Diaspora project showing Zionist military operations, as well as land ownership and population distribution in 1945 and 1946, respectively.




Colonialism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Teaching History in Mandate Palestine

Author: Elizabeth Brownson

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring 2014), pp. 9-25


Dividing Jerusalem: British Urban Planning in the Holy City

Author: Nicholas E. Roberts

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Summer 2013), pp. 7-26


War-Time Contingency and the Balfour Declaration of 1917: An Improbable Regression

Author: William M. Mathew

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Winter 2011), pp. 26-42


From Law and Order to Pacification: Britain's Suppression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39

Author: Matthew Hughes

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Winter 2010), pp. 6-22 


The Hebrew Reconquista of Palestine: From the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution to the First Zionist Congress of 1897

Author: Walid Khalidi

Zionist Military Operations Outside UN Partition Lines

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Autumn 2009), pp. 24-42


Was Balfour Policy Reversible? The Colonial Office and Palestine, 1921-23

Author: Sahar Huneidi

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter, 1998), pp. 23-41


The Unregarded Prophet: Lord Curzon and the Palestine Question

Author: David Gilmour 

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Spring, 1996), pp. 60-68


The Invention of a Tradition: The Question of Arab Acceptance of the Zionist Right to Palestine during World War I

Author: Charles D. Smith

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1993), pp. 48-61


Britain in Palestine, 1838-1882: The Roots of the Balfour Policy

Author: Alexander Scholch

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 39-56

Zionist and Palestinian Land Ownership 1946


Zionism and Imperialism: The Historical Origins

Author: Abdul-Wahab Kayyali 

Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1977), pp. 98-112