House of Commons Library

The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration

Published Monday, October 23, 2017

A debate on the ‘Centenary of the Balfour Declaration’ has been scheduled for Wednesday 25 October in Westminster Hall at 2.30pm. The debate has been initiated by Dr Matthew Offord.

Jump to full report >>

2017 marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration as it became known, was a letter sent on 2 November 1917 by the then Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to the Jewish community leader Lord Rothschild. The letter expressed support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Many Israelis regard the Balfour Declaration as an historic step on the road to statehood, but others argue that the Balfour Declaration laid the foundations for future conflict in the region.

In July 2016, it emerged that the Palestinian Authority was preparing to sue the UK Government on account of the Balfour Declaration. Riyad al-Maliki, its Foreign Minister, claimed that the Declaration “gave people who don’t belong there something that wasn’t theirs.” News of the PA’s proposed lawsuit met with strong condemnation from supporters of the Balfour Declaration. Kenneth Jacobson, Deputy Director of Israel’s Anti-Defamation League, argues that such a move “will only play into the notion in Israel that the Palestinians will never reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence.”

In this centenary year there has been much discussion as to how this anniversary should be marked in the UK. In remarks made in September 2017, the Israeli ambassador to the UK Mark Regev said:

The Balfour declaration was important as it recognised the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. We mark with pride the role that Britain played in helping the establishment of the only true democracy in the Middle East.

Asked about her recent discussion with the Israeli Prime Minister on the subject of the Declaration, Theresa May told the House:

During my discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu on 9 October we discussed his forthcoming visit to the UK on the anniversary of the Balfour centenary. We are proud of the role we played in the creation of Israel, and will mark the centenary with pride and respect.

The Government is said to be planning to mark the event with a dinner, to which Prime Minister Netanyahu will be invited.

The Palestinian Mission to the UK has decided to stage an advertising campaign called ‘Make It Right’ to highlight Palestinian objections to the Declaration. Part of the campaign was to involve putting up posters across the London underground network, but these were blocked by Transport for London on the grounds of political controversy. A spokesman for TfL said the adverts “did not comply fully with our guidelines,” These guidelines refer to “images or messages which relate to matters of public controversy or sensitivity.

In a statement the Palestinian Mission to the UK characterised the move as an “attempt to suppress Palestinian voices and censor the Palestinian narrative” and commented further that they were “disappointed” that TfL wouldn’t run what they called a “modest advocacy campaign which aimed to raise awareness.” The advertisements will be displayed on taxis, which are subject to less stringent advertising rules.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi has composed a special prayer to commemorate the anniversary. The prayer will be recited in Orthodox synagogues around the country on November 4, the Shabbat closest to the anniversary. On the same weekend several pro-Palestinian organisations including the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the Stop The War Coalition, the Friends of Al Aqsa and the Muslim Association Of Britain, are planning a march through central London entitled ‘Justice Now: Make it right for Palestine.’

Commons Debate packs CDP-2017-0191

Authors: Julie Gill; John Curtis

Topics: International politics and government, Middle East

Share this page

Stay up to date

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.