There are four milestones or signposts in British policy towards Zionism and Palestine, and the question which has now arisen is whether they all point the same way. The first of these signposts was erected when on the second of November, 1917, the late Lord Balfour addressed to Lord Rothschild the letter known as “The Balfour Declaration.” “His Majesty’s Government,” wrote the British Foreign Secretary, “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate achievement of this object.”
The year 1917 marked perhaps the most dreary and sombre period of war. It was the time when many hitherto unswerving despaired of victory of the Allies. It was the moment when most resolute elements of the British Government sought to enlist every influence that could hold allied the associated nations to their task. The Zionist movement throughout the world was actively pro-Ally, and in a special sense pro-British. Nowhere was this movement more noticeable than in the United States and upon the active share of the United States in the bloody struggle which was impending rested a large proportion of our hopes. The able leaders of the Zionist movement and their widespread branches exercised an appreciable influence upon American opinion and that influenceâ€”like the Jewish influence generallyâ€”was steadily cast in our favor. Throughout the world of allied nations, Jews (Zionist and non-Zionist alike) sympathized with the Allies and worked for the success of Great Britain and the close cooperation with Great Britain of the United States.
BALFOUR PLEDGE PRACTICAL MEASURE
The Balfour Declaration must, therefore, not be regarded as a promise given from sentimental motives; it was a practical measure taken in the interests of a common cause at a moment when that cause could afford to neglect no factor of material or moral assistance.
The second milestone was the acceptance in 1919 of the Palestinian Mandate by Great Britain upon certain express terms. Article two, the prime and fundamental article, states “the Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants in Palestine, irrespective of race or religion.”
The dual obligation, no doubt replete with difficulties, was deliberately accepted by Great Britain. Upon this obligation the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, surveying the problem ten years later made in 1929 the following pronouncement: Firstly, “that obligations laid down in the Mandate in regard to the two sections of the population are of equal weight.” Secondly, “that the two obligations imposed on the Mandatory Power are in no sense irreconcilable.” The two obligations are indeed of equal weight but they are different in character. The first obligation is positive and creative, the second obligation is safeguarding and conciliatory.
MANDATORY OBLIGATIONS BINDING
Our Mandatory obligations towards the Jews throughout the world who helped us, and towards Palestinian Arabs who were the conscript soldiers of our Turkish enemy are both binding and we are bound both to persevere in establishment of the Jewish National Home and in safeguarding the civil and religious rights of Arabs. Merely to sit still and avoid friction with Arabs and safeguard their civil and religious rights and to abandon the positive exertion for the establishment of the Jewish National Home would not be a faithful interpretation of the Mandate.
Lord Passfield is not stating the case truly when he writes in the new White Paper, “It is clear from the wording of this article that the population of Palestine, and not any sectional interest, is to be the object of the Government’s care.” The essence of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the intention of the Mandate in 1919 was that “the sectional interest” of the Jews in the establishment of their National Home was to be the object of the Government’s care and in the words of the article, the Mandatory Power assumed responsibility for bringing about the political, administrative and economic conditions which would secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home.
The third milestone is found in the Colonial Office dispatches and correspondence published in June, 1922. Here we have quitted the region of mandates and declaration, and the British Government is face to face with the inherent, though not insuperable difficulties of the problem. They have to set limits both of speed and method to practical year-to-year progress of the Zionist scheme. They have to offer to the Arab population definite and concrete assurances as to the sphere within which their civil, religious rights will be safeguarded. Instructions telegraphed on June 29th, from the Colonial Office to the officer administrating the Government of Palestine set this out in a simple summary, “Firstly, the Majesty’s Government reaffirm the Declaration of November, 1917, which is not susceptible to change. Secondly, a Jewish National Home will be founded in Palestine. The Jewish people will be in Palestine as a right and not on sufferance. But the Majesty’s Gov-
ernment have no such aim in view as that Palestine should become as Jewish as England is English. Thirdly, nor do the Majesty’s Government contemplate the disappearance or subordination of the Arab population, language or culture. Fourthly, the status of all citizens of Palestine will be Palestinian, no section of the population will have any other status in the eyes of the law.” (There are other points in the telegram but they need not be cited here).
STATEMENT REJECTED BY ARABS
This statement of practical policy required to fulfill the obligations of the Mandate and of the Balfour Declaration was inconsistently rejected by the Arabs and accepted only with extreme disappointment by the Zionists. Nevertheless, the Executive of the Zionist Organization passed a resolution assuring His Majesty’s Government that the activity of the Organization would conform to the policy therein set forth and in a letter conveying the text of this resolution. Dr. Chaim Weizmann wrote, “The Zionist Organization has at all times been sincerely desirous of proceeding in harmonious cooperation with all sections of the people of Palestine. It has repeatedly made it clear both in word and deed that nothing is further from its purpose than prejudice in the smallest degree of civil or religious rights or material interests of the non-Jewish population.”
On this basis, therefore, the Government of Palestine has been conducted for the intervening eight years.
PASSFIELD WHITE PAPER
We now come to the fourth milestone, namely the White Paper issued from the Colonial Office by Lord Passfield in the present month. The question which has to be judged is whether the new Declaration of the Socialist Government departs from the position established in 1922 which position was, however reluctantly, accepted by Zionists as an interpretation of the Balfour letter and of the Mandate. Here it should be said that the difference is largely one of emphasis. Lord Passfield is an aged minister worn with a lifetime of literary and sociological labors who has, as is well known, long been anxious to seek repose. It may well be that he has not given that intense personal attention and original effort to this White Paper that controversial delicacy and importance of subject required. No one, according to the Premier, was more surprised than the Colonial Office at the interpretation placed upon their document. The alteration of the emphasis of a few passages and phrases might easily have brought the balance of the statement into harmony with the balance achieved in 1922. This, we hope, may yet be done.
AT LEAST TWO DEVIATIONS
There are, however, at least two deviations of principle which must be remarked. The first has already been mentioned. Lord Passfield in basing himself upon the report of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations that the obligations laid down by the Mandate in regard to the two sections of population are of equal weight, has overlooked or ignored the fact that the obligations are totally different in character. Secondly, frequent use in Lord Passfield’s paper of Mandatory obligations “to inhabitants of Palestine, both Arabs and Jews” diverges fundamentally from the 1922 White Paper which following upon the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, recognized an obligation not only to the inhabitants of Palestineâ€”Arab or Jewâ€”but to the Zionist movement all over the world to whom the original promise was made.
“When it is asked,” says the White Paper of 1922, “what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine it may be answered
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.