PM on Balfour centenary
'Palestinians are going backwards 100 years'

PM says Balfour paved way for international recognition of Israel, Arab refusal to accept Jewish rights root cause of conflict.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Netanyahu in Knesset (archive)
Netanyahu in Knesset (archive)
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took part in the festive Knesset session marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration Tuesday.

"The Balfour Declaration set a fire in the hearts of world Jewry and instilled a tremendous momentum in the Jewish Yishuv ... To be sure, without the dedication, sacrifice, courage, and land reclamation in our country, we would not have been able to realize our independence, but the Balfour Declaration prepared the international groundwork and supported Zionism in Europe, America, and in other parts of the world. It thus contributed greatly to the revival of our people," Netanyahu said in his speech at the event.

"Unfortunately, shortly after that, Britain reneged on what was promised in the Balfour Declaration. This was a great tragedy, because our lack of sovereignty before 1948 prevented the rescue of millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust," he continued.

The Prime Minister addressed the efforts of the Palestinian Authority and its allies to delegitimize the Balfour Declaration and force Britain to issue an apology for the declaration. "After the adoption of the Declaration, even in parts of the Arab world, the reaction to the Balfour Declaration was sympathetic, and [Emir] Faisal recognized the right of the Jews to reestablish their national home in the Land of Israel while establishing a unified Arab kingdom in the Middle East. He supported cooperation between Jews and Arabs on the basis of mutual understanding and brotherhood. However, the the Arab nationalists attacked the Balfour Declaration. The declaration provided cover for incitement and violence, not least with the encouragement of Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini."

"Whoever seeks to understand the Islamic world finds what we have seen here through the years , the moderates, like Faisal, and the extremists, like the Mufti. We are working to strengthen our relations with the moderate elements in the region, and as we have established peace with Egypt and Jordan, we are working to achieve peace with other Arab countries that stand with us. I can only hope that the Palestinians finally adopt this approach," Netanyahu said.

"When the Palestinian leadership calls the Balfour Declaration a crime and calls on the British government to apologize for it, they are not going forward, they are going back 100 years. The root of the conflict is the 100-year refusal to recognize Zionism and the State of Israel within any borders, no matter where they are drawn."

Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog said: "Let us not forget that the Balfour Declaration made sure to grant recognition to the Arab population living with us, to their civil and religious rights. Full equality between the Arabs and ourselves is mandated in our Declaration of Independence. At this time, the quest for full equality between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens in our country is the challenge of our generation, and must be achieved, to ensure the full realization of the Balfour Declaration and the Declaration of Independence."

"We are now struggling in this plenum over the nature of the state and how to prevent a dangerous blow to its democratic character. [We must find] the right balance between being Jewish and democratic," he said, adding that "we must insist on this principle more than ever before, as well as our duty to strive for full peace with our neighbors, first and foremost in order to preserve the Nation State of the Jewish people that the Balfour Declaration envisioned, and to ensure security and peace for future generations of our people."

"Despite all the difficulties we have suffered, and all the internal tension, our State of Israel is strong, democratic, vibrant and successful. Today, the majority of the Jewish people speak Hebrew and live here in the land of Israel. Great sadness will always be with us because of the fact that our state arose only after the Holocaust, and that the declaration was not implemented before the unspeakable disaster that our people experienced in the loss of the six million."