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The Arab League, and the Palestinian Authority are seeking an apology from Britain on the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. They declare the Declaration illegal, and want Britain to admit as much. For their part, Jewish organizations say the Balfour Declaration was legal and binding. But is this the right analysis? Have both sides let propaganda spin get ahead of themselves.

Arab position:

Palestinian Authority urges Arab League to help prepare legal file against UK government over nearly 100-year-old letter. — Jerusalem Post


The descendants of these victims, the Palestinian Arabs, are now threatening to sue the British government over this pernicious piece of paper… — The Statesman, 19 March 2017

Jewish position:

The legal effect of a declaration is determined by its content, the factual circumstances in which it was made and the reactions to which it gave rise. The historic circumstances… are all indicative of the intention that the Declaration would be considered binding. — Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Now, this debate evinces something more worrisome, particularly from the Jewish side. Allow me to draw an example from our own American history.

When I was a child, in the fifth grade, lo those many decades ago — when they still taught weighty material, along with the ability to think — we learned a rather astounding fact. The American Declaration of Independence was not the basis of our government. It had no present legal merit/standing.

The class was astounded?! What?!

Instead, our government is based on the Constitution.

I do not know what percentage of the other children grasped the import of the lesson, but it made sense to me. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of principle, of intent; not of governance. I wonder how many Americans understand that difference today.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence did have some contemporary weight. It was the statement of a Continental Congress that intended to wage war against Britain. It was the product, not the cause, of a determination for freedom that America’s representatives had just declared themselves to. It formally declared the reasons for that war. However, it was a declaration, a glorious declaration; but not a legal instrument of governance. In reality, the Congress could have voted for independence without such a declaration. Its legal weight was limited to committing, and endangering, the signers to an already voted-on policy. The Declaration was subsequent to a vote for independence, not the cause of it.

The Balfour Declaration does not even rise to the level of our Declaration of Independence. It merely states:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. –Balfour Declaration

The first thing we notice is that it is an opinion. Maybe a glorious opinion, but an opinion, nonetheless. It is a moral opinion, not even worthy of lawsuit.

Opinions are not illegal. Ponder that! For the Arabs to claim opinions are illegal is just astounding. They want to sue over an opinion.

The second thing we notices is how ill-defined the British government commits itself to that end. It says that the British “will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…”

Just what does “best endeavors” mean? War against Arabs, influence peddling for a Jewish state, or fundraising events for Zionism? It is legal gobbledygook. The truth is: it came to mean whatever the British wanted it to mean. And the British proved wily at redefining it, whenever they desired. The Balfour Declaration was British government doubletalk.

By way of contrast, our American Declaration of Independence strongly determined to wage war.

We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces [modern: proclaims] our Separation, and hold them [the British], as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” — American Declaration of Independence.

The Balfour Declaration was quite weak by comparison. Our American Declaration was a bold determination for independence. The Balfour Declaration merely mentioned a “a national home for the Jewish people,” which could be limited to merely an autonomous zone — an ambiguity the British later used — most notably when they severely limited Jewish immigration to Israel during World War II, with the White Paper of 1939, where they stated:

The Royal Commission and previous commissions of Enquiry have drawn attention to the ambiguity of certain expressions in the Mandate, such as the expression `a national home for the Jewish people’… His Majesty’s Government believe that the framers of the Mandate in which the Balfour Declaration was embodied could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country. — Jewish Virtual Library

The real binding instrument was the San Remo Mandate, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration to give it legal standing. It was the San Remo Conference of 1920, later confirmed by the League of Nations, that gave teeth to the Balfour Declaration, with the approval of an international body, not merely the British government. It was San Remo which authorized the Palestinian Mandate for a Jewish Homeland.

Apart from the San Remo Mandate, the Balfour Declaration would have risen no higher than Napoleon Bonaparte’s Declaration for a Jewish State in 1799, 1 Floreal. In fact, Napoleon’s Declaration is stronger and more glorious than anything Balfour wrote. Read the whole proclamation above. Unlike the British, Napoleon did not waffle. He promised to drive the Arabs to Damascus.

The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my head-quarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David’s city. — Mideast Web

So why is this important? Because the Arabs are trying to declare a 1917 opinion of the British government to be illegal.

Well, right or wrong: Opinions are neither legal nor illegal. They are just opinions; and frankly the Balfour Declaration was quite a waffling opinion at that. The British simultaneously promised full civil rights to the Arabs, which practically contraindicated the Zionism they claimed to be supporting.

What is more troublesome is that Jewish groups — who should know better — are trying to defend the Balfour Declaration, not only as legal, but as paramountly binding. Binding to what? The Balfour Declaration was a glorious moral statement, nothing more.

The Mideastern debate has become devoid of logic. One might expect this from Muslims crippled by a grounding in the idiocies of Islam; but Jews are studied in Torah [Hebrew: The Law], and should know better. The only Jewish response to this latest Arab idiocy should be to point the Arabs to San Remo and stop trying to defend the Balfour Declaration as a legal instrument, worthy of lawsuit. One should not legitimize a blatantly stupid posture.

Those who support Israel should remind that world that San Remo and the League of Nations gave legal standing to Israel, not the Balfour Declaration. One should not answer Arab drivel with counter-drivel.

My fifth-grade class would have understood this.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.

The Arab League, and the Palestinian Authority are seeking an apology from Britain on the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. They declare the Declaration illegal, and want Britain to admit as much. For their part, Jewish organizations say the Balfour Declaration was legal and binding. But is this the right analysis? Have both sides let propaganda spin get ahead of themselves.

Arab position:

Palestinian Authority urges Arab League to help prepare legal file against UK government over nearly 100-year-old letter. — Jerusalem Post


The descendants of these victims, the Palestinian Arabs, are now threatening to sue the British government over this pernicious piece of paper… — The Statesman, 19 March 2017

Jewish position:

The legal effect of a declaration is determined by its content, the factual circumstances in which it was made and the reactions to which it gave rise. The historic circumstances… are all indicative of the intention that the Declaration would be considered binding. — Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Now, this debate evinces something more worrisome, particularly from the Jewish side. Allow me to draw an example from our own American history.

When I was a child, in the fifth grade, lo those many decades ago — when they still taught weighty material, along with the ability to think — we learned a rather astounding fact. The American Declaration of Independence was not the basis of our government. It had no present legal merit/standing.

The class was astounded?! What?!

Instead, our government is based on the Constitution.

I do not know what percentage of the other children grasped the import of the lesson, but it made sense to me. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of principle, of intent; not of governance. I wonder how many Americans understand that difference today.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence did have some contemporary weight. It was the statement of a Continental Congress that intended to wage war against Britain. It was the product, not the cause, of a determination for freedom that America’s representatives had just declared themselves to. It formally declared the reasons for that war. However, it was a declaration, a glorious declaration; but not a legal instrument of governance. In reality, the Congress could have voted for independence without such a declaration. Its legal weight was limited to committing, and endangering, the signers to an already voted-on policy. The Declaration was subsequent to a vote for independence, not the cause of it.

The Balfour Declaration does not even rise to the level of our Declaration of Independence. It merely states:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. –Balfour Declaration

The first thing we notice is that it is an opinion. Maybe a glorious opinion, but an opinion, nonetheless. It is a moral opinion, not even worthy of lawsuit.

Opinions are not illegal. Ponder that! For the Arabs to claim opinions are illegal is just astounding. They want to sue over an opinion.

The second thing we notices is how ill-defined the British government commits itself to that end. It says that the British “will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…”

Just what does “best endeavors” mean? War against Arabs, influence peddling for a Jewish state, or fundraising events for Zionism? It is legal gobbledygook. The truth is: it came to mean whatever the British wanted it to mean. And the British proved wily at redefining it, whenever they desired. The Balfour Declaration was British government doubletalk.

By way of contrast, our American Declaration of Independence strongly determined to wage war.

We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces [modern: proclaims] our Separation, and hold them [the British], as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” — American Declaration of Independence.

The Balfour Declaration was quite weak by comparison. Our American Declaration was a bold determination for independence. The Balfour Declaration merely mentioned a “a national home for the Jewish people,” which could be limited to merely an autonomous zone — an ambiguity the British later used — most notably when they severely limited Jewish immigration to Israel during World War II, with the White Paper of 1939, where they stated:

The Royal Commission and previous commissions of Enquiry have drawn attention to the ambiguity of certain expressions in the Mandate, such as the expression `a national home for the Jewish people’… His Majesty’s Government believe that the framers of the Mandate in which the Balfour Declaration was embodied could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country. — Jewish Virtual Library

The real binding instrument was the San Remo Mandate, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration to give it legal standing. It was the San Remo Conference of 1920, later confirmed by the League of Nations, that gave teeth to the Balfour Declaration, with the approval of an international body, not merely the British government. It was San Remo which authorized the Palestinian Mandate for a Jewish Homeland.

Apart from the San Remo Mandate, the Balfour Declaration would have risen no higher than Napoleon Bonaparte’s Declaration for a Jewish State in 1799, 1 Floreal. In fact, Napoleon’s Declaration is stronger and more glorious than anything Balfour wrote. Read the whole proclamation above. Unlike the British, Napoleon did not waffle. He promised to drive the Arabs to Damascus.

The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my head-quarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David’s city. — Mideast Web

So why is this important? Because the Arabs are trying to declare a 1917 opinion of the British government to be illegal.

Well, right or wrong: Opinions are neither legal nor illegal. They are just opinions; and frankly the Balfour Declaration was quite a waffling opinion at that. The British simultaneously promised full civil rights to the Arabs, which practically contraindicated the Zionism they claimed to be supporting.

What is more troublesome is that Jewish groups — who should know better — are trying to defend the Balfour Declaration, not only as legal, but as paramountly binding. Binding to what? The Balfour Declaration was a glorious moral statement, nothing more.

The Mideastern debate has become devoid of logic. One might expect this from Muslims crippled by a grounding in the idiocies of Islam; but Jews are studied in Torah [Hebrew: The Law], and should know better. The only Jewish response to this latest Arab idiocy should be to point the Arabs to San Remo and stop trying to defend the Balfour Declaration as a legal instrument, worthy of lawsuit. One should not legitimize a blatantly stupid posture.

Those who support Israel should remind that world that San Remo and the League of Nations gave legal standing to Israel, not the Balfour Declaration. One should not answer Arab drivel with counter-drivel.

My fifth-grade class would have understood this.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.



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