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Arthur James Balfour and the Balfour Declaration

Highly recognised for his continuous support of the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration, Arthur James Balfour is one of the most prominent individual figures that contributed to the seemingly inevitable declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.


The Balfour declaration added a new dimension and even greater complications to the conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The declaration was issued on November 2nd, 1917 on behalf of the British government announcing its support in the formation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It is contained in a letter from the British foreign secretary and former Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour to a prominent British Jew, Lord Rothschild.

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There are 3 distinct parts in the declaration. First, it favours ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. By this declaration it became blatantly obvious that the British government, in which Balfour had a strong influence, recognised the Zionist contention that Jews had a claim to Palestine as a national home.


The impact of the first clause of the declaration is somewhat lessened by the second which recognises the ‘civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. Balfour intended to convince the Arabs that their rights would not be affected, thus the reason for the second clause os the declaration. All involved in this intricate declaration immediately saw that these two clauses could well turn out to be contradictory, which was exactly what transpired. It is found that this was the basic cause of Jewish-Arab hostility in Palestine until 1948. Instead of settling the aggression between Arabs and Jews, Balfour’s declaration had the reverse effect. Jews were somewhat grateful for Balfour’s intervention and support in the for the retaining of their ‘rightful homeland’, while the Arabs in Palestine despised the British government for allowing Balfour to intervene in such a manner.


Hebrews, now known as Jews, believe Palestine is their rightful “homeland” in accordance to their Holy Book, the Torah and their covenant with their God. This is where the conflict lies because Muslims believe that Palestine is their rightful land as is said in their Holy Book, the Qur’aan. Thus being part of the reason of the never-ending aggression between these two religious denominations and uprise of violence at the proposed declaration by Arabs.


This crucial affirmation of support by Balfour on behalf of the British government is often described as the first great achievement of the Zionist movement, and even as the foundation stone of the Jewish state. Even though this was seen as a great achievement by Zionists, it was also considered, by Arab Palestinians to be the utmost treacherous and betraying statement on behalf of the British government. Thus reflecting the influence and power Balfour exercised during the time of the issue of the Balfour Declaration and the way in which he chose to exert this power to support the formation a Jewish homeland in Palestine, a nation predominantly Arab.


Critics noted that while the ‘civil and religious rights’ of the Palestinian Arabs were to be protected according to Balfour’s wording of the declaration, nothing was mentioned as to their political and national rights. In other words Arab Palestinians feared that they were to be ruled by Jews with political rights, while they had none.
What is recognised here is that Balfour used his governing power to support the wishes of Jews and Zionists alike by issuing this declaration with a lack of consideration of the Arab inhabitants and their wishes and rights.


The third clause of Balfour’s Declaration is an acknowledgment of assimilated Jews for it says that their ‘rights and political status’ should not be prejudiced by the declaration.
In opposition to Balfour’s Declaration was Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the Cabinet at the time, and a man who was assimilated. He viewed Zionists as reflecting badly on their patriotism and believed that the Balfour Declaration intensified this problem. Montagu dismissed Zionism as ‘a mischievous political creed untenable by any patriotic citizen of the United Kingdom’. The majority of Britain opposed Zionism, hence the opposition to Balfour’s ideology and the opposition being the reason why the third clause was included in

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