Balfour: 67 words, and the Palestinian people denied their political rights

Balfour: 67 words, and the Palestinian people denied their political rights
This handout file photo taken in 1925 and obtained from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) shows (from left) British Gen. Edmund Allenby, former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and first High Commissioner of Palestine Herbert Samuel, in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2017

Balfour: 67 words, and the Palestinian people denied their political rights

Balfour: 67 words, and the Palestinian people denied their political rights

AMMAN: Most politicians’ and historians’ commentaries on the 67-word Balfour Declaration have focused largely on the first part of the letter sent by the former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to the Jewish Zionist businessman Lord Rothschild.
One of the most memorable lines about this infamous letter came from the Hungarian-born Jewish writer Arthur Koestler. With it, he stated eloquently, “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”
The short but influential letter by Balfour, which was later endorsed by the British Cabinet, also included this conditionality: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Johnny Mansour, a historian and lecturer from Haifa, told Arab News that the British and their Zionist friends wanted to stop the creation of a unified Arab country. “Britain recognized Jews as a people and Palestinian Arabs as communities, not as Arabs or Palestinians. The declaration didn’t talk about political rights but civil and religious rights.”
Mansour said that this is what Israel does now when it calls Palestinian citizens of Israel “Al-Wasat Al-Arabi” (the Arab community) a clear reference to Palestinians as a minority and not even a national minority.
Mansour said that the Israeli actions since the establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel do not even reflect the rights and sentiments of Palestinians, as badly as they were defined, in the Balfour Declaration. “Israel imposed military rule until 1966 and has prevented the development and expansion of Palestinian communities by not allowing Palestinian Arabs to have a say in town zoning plans.”
The Israeli policy of taking up only the first part of the Balfour Declaration continued after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. “By denying Palestinian national rights and by dividing the West Bank, especially the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem, into regional zones that its people control, Israel has clearly violated the conditional promise made by Balfour of protecting Palestinian communities,” Mansour argued.

This handout file photo taken in 1925 shows a copy of the Balfour Declaration. (AFP)

By using the term “non-Jewish,” Balfour inflated a population that was no more than 10 percent of the total Palestinian population at the time, while deflating and minimizing Palestinian Arabs into the category of minority groups whose civil and religious rights need to be protected. Balfour did not use the term “political rights” for what he called non-Jewish communities, but defended the “political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
One hundred years after Balfour’s support for a home (and not a homeland) for Jews in Palestine on condition that Palestinian Arabs also enjoy rights, little has been done to reverse discrimination against Arabs in Israel and the occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank (including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip).
Ben White, a Nazareth-based British author who has specialized in writing about Israel and Palestine, argues that Palestinian citizens of Israel “face systematic discrimination in law, and policy as well as in land and housing, family life and immigration demonstrate.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel reported that “the right to equality is not yet enshrined in law regarding most aspects of life.”
Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, elaborated that “equality cannot be recognized on the constitutional level since that would challenge “the inequality created by the complete identification of the state with only one group.”
While Britain has paid little attention to what Israel and Zionists have done following the Balfour Declaration, much can be said about what the UK has failed to do since then.
Ambassador Jonathan Allen, UK deputy permanent representative to the UN, admitted that there is what he calls “unfinished business” when it comes to the Balfour Declaration. “The UK understands and respects the sensitivities many have about the (Balfour) Declaration and the events that have taken place in the region since 1917,” Allen said in October.
“The occupation is a continued impediment to securing the political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine. And let us remember, there are two halves of Balfour, the second half of which has not been fulfilled. There is therefore unfinished business.”
The UK diplomat added: “We have witnessed an unacceptable acceleration of settlement activity throughout 2017, both in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. To date, Israel has advanced plans for over 13,000 settlement units — the highest number of units since 1992.”
The fact that 130 UN member states have recognized Palestine on the 1967 borders and that the British Parliament has voted in favor of Palestinian statehood has done little to change the policies of 10 Downing Street when it comes to recognizing Palestine.

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.