After half a century of failed endeavors by the United States to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, maybe it's time to send that geopolitical hot potato back to the British.
It has been 100 years since Britain first declared its support for the establishment of "a national home for the Jewish people." The Nov. 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration was part of a British plan at the time to gain a mandate over Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Then, less than 10% of the territory's population was Jewish; today there is a Jewish majority in Israel and the Palestinians are still seeking a national home of their own.
On Thursday's anniversary of the declaration by British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting London for a commemorative dinner with British Prime Minister Theresa May, while Palestinians are holding demonstrations in front of Israeli missions around the world.
Both May and Netanyahu are in crisis mode – May, because of the resignation of her defense minister amid a growing sex scandal enveloping Westminster, and Netanyahu because of ongoing corruption investigations against him and his wife, Sara. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been struggling to bring together various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, with the hope of eventually creating a unity government that would restore Palestinian Authority rule in Gaza.
A two-state solution ... remains the "only viable solution" for peace.
For the international community, Middle East peace seems as far away as ever. But Balfour's centenary is a chance to focus on Britain's role, both past and present. About a year ago, Abbas asked members of the Arab league to help the Palestinians sue Britain over the declaration, according to the Israeli news website Ynet. Last August, Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, told a British foreign ministry official in Ramallah that, "Balfour became famous for his promise … to establish Israel on the land of Palestine. … I call for the current British foreign secretary to be famous for giving the Palestinians a promise called the ‘Johnson Declaration" that recognizes a Palestinian state," the news website Times of Israel reported.
The "Johnson" in question, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, defended Balfour's role in paving the way for Israel's creation. Yet, he did emphasize that a two-state solution, one for the Israelis and the other for the Palestinians, remained the "only viable solution" for peace.
In a piece in the Telegraph, Johnson also warned that a key condition of the Balfour Declaration, that the rights of non-Jewish communities would be protected, "has not been fully realized."
In the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday, the street artist Banksy organized a mock street party in front of the hotel he designed, the Walled Off Hotel, to mark the anniversary. A person dressed up as Queen Elizabeth stood in front of a new work by the artist, large letters engraved in the large concrete Israeli security wall that say, "Er, sorry."
Israel, meanwhile, criticized the Palestinian protests. "While the Jewish people fulfilled the Zionist dream, the Palestinians continued to pursue violence and incitement. I suggest to the demonstrators to read the history books and internalize the fact that their refusal to recognize Israel's existence will not help them, and will certainly not undermine our right to exist here," Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, was quoted as saying by Ynet.
From anniversary to anniversary, hope for peace fades: June marked the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; next year, Israel will celebrate 70 years of independence, while the Palestinians will mark the 70 same years from what they call the Nakba (or catastrophe). This week also marks the anniversary of the Nov. 4, 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, murdered for having made historic progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which would have led to territorial compromises by Israel.
With no peace in sight, something like a "Johnson Declaration" is sorely needed. History will decide what it says, and whether its author has even been born yet.