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Middle East

Abbas seeks British apology for 1917 Jewish homeland declaration

© Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP | Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-09-22

Britain should apologize for its 1917 declaration endorsing the founding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and should recognize Palestine as a state, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

Abbas said that the Palestinian people had suffered greatly because of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain said it favoured the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine but that this should not undermine the rights of others living there.

“We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas said. “This is the least Great Britain can do.”

Abbas also called on the 193-member world body to exert greater effort than at any time in the past to establish a truly independent Palestinian state, as the 50th anniversary of Israel's "abhorrent" occupation approaches in June 2017, asking the UN to declare 2017 "the international year to end the Israeli occupation of our land and our people”.

Abbas said "our hand remains outstretched for making peace" but he questioned whether any Israeli leader is ready to make "a true peace ... that will abandon the mentality of hegemony, expansionism and colonization."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking a short time later at the annual gathering of world leaders, directly contradicted Abbas.

"This conflict has never been about the settlements or about establishing a Palestinian state," said Netanyahu. "It's always been about the existence of a Jewish state, a Jewish state in any boundary."

He also derided Abbas for focusing on the declaration and alluded to the possibility of the Palestinians suing Britain for it.

“President Abbas just attacked from this podium the Balfour Declaration. He is preparing a lawsuit against Britain for that declaration from 1917. That’s almost 100 years ago. Talk about being stuck in the past,” Netanyahu said.

The mutual recriminations in Thursday’s speeches underlined the low expectations for any revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As it happened, the only speech between the two Middle East neighbors was given by the prime minister of Norway, where the secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations took place leading to the 1993 Oslo accords.

Peace talks last collapsed in 2014 and there are few hopes for a resumption anytime soon in part because of Israeli anger at Palestinian attacks and Palestinian criticism of Israel’s construction of settlements on occupied land where Palestinians want to establish a state.

The Balfour Declaration, named for the British foreign secretary at the time, offered a more nuanced message than Abbas described in his speech.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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,” it said.

The British mission to the United Nations had no immediate comment.


Date created : 2016-09-22


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