Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital echoes Lord Balfour’s denial of Palestinian rights a century ago. Today, however, Palestinians are more empowered to challenge it.
During a debate in the British Cabinet regarding its policy toward Palestine in 1919, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour informed Lord George Curzon, another senior statesman, that the government was not interested in “consulting the wishes of the present [Arab] inhabitants of the country” to help formulate its decisions. The great powers were “committed to Zionism,” he said, and Zionism was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”
Balfour’s sentiments echoed throughout President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. Trump made no mention of the Palestinians’ history and belonging to the city, or the fact that over a third of its residents identify as Palestinian. He said that he would only support a two-state solution — and presumably, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem — if it was “agreed to by both sides.” The U.S. decision, he insisted, “is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”
The irony of Trump’s timing is not lost on Palestinians: last month marked the centenary of Lord Balfour’s infamous letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent Zionist activist, which promised British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Like Trump’s announcement, the Balfour Declaration was the outcome of several aligning interests and efforts, including the Zionist movement’s intensive lobbying, state officials’ evangelical Christian beliefs, and the imperial power’s strategic goals for the region. It not only prioritized Zionist claims over Arab rights, but elevated the Zionist movement from a nascent organization into a major political force.
In contrast, Britain actively interfered in Palestinian Arab affairs and repressed local resistance to its rule. Divisions and misjudgments within the Palestinian leadership mired its ability to mobilize effectively against the colonization of their lands. Arab rulers paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but abandoned and betrayed it for their own political ambitions. Remarkably, these realities remain as true of 2017 as they were of 1917.
It is too soon to tell whether Trump’s proclamation will have a similarly profound mark on the conflict; but in many ways, his speech has...Read More