After 100 years, there are real hopes for peace in the Middle East

This month is the centenary of the League of Nations putting Balfour Declaration into effect

August 01, 2022 15:16

One hundred years ago this month, at St James Palace in London, the Council of the League of Nations formally confirmed the Mandate for Palestine and defined its terms.

These terms expressly recognised the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.

As the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, said last week at a webinar arranged by UK Lawyers For Israel to mark the centenary, the Mandate “gives expression to the two undeniable pillars of Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic State – the ancient, unbroken connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and binding international decisions including the 1922 League of Nations Mandate”.

The president observed that it was on the basis of these twin pillars that his grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, tore up the 1939 White Paper at the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem and his father, Chaim Herzog, rejected the antisemitic “Zionism is racism” resolution at the UN.

The Mandate for Palestine charged Britain with putting into effect the Balfour Declaration in favour of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, without prejudicing the civil or religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.

The Mandate thereby transformed a unilateral declaration of intent by the British government – and a subsequent agreement in principle between Britain and its leading allies at San Remo, Italy, in 1920 – into a full, binding international instrument.

Key terms of the Mandate provided for facilitating Jewish immigration (under suitable conditions), encouraging Jewish settlement on the land and recognising a Jewish agency to advise and cooperate with the administration of Palestine. It also withheld these provisions in the territory east of the Jordan — which subsequently became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — but not west of the Jordan.

The rights and obligations defined in the Palestine Mandate were preserved in 1946, when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations, in accordance with Article 80 of the UN’s Charter. The International Court of Justice subsequently confirmed that rights and obligations under League of Nations Mandates continued, even if the Mandatory had left the territory, except where the purposes of the Mandate had been fulfilled. These purposes had been fulfilled where Israel had exercised sovereignty, but not in other parts of the Palestine Mandate territory.

Some have argued that the Palestine Mandate was illegitimate and that Britain and its allies were not entitled to authorise the reconstitution of the Jewish National Home there. But as Professor Steve E Zipperstein has shown, the Zionist proposal was welcomed by Arab leaders at the time. They foresaw great benefits from Jews and Arabs working together to create a new Middle East.

Emir Feisal wrote to Felix Frankfurter to “wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home”. To Sir Herbert Samuel, who would become Britain’s High Commissioner in Palestine, he wrote: “The mutual confidence between Dr Weizmann and myself and the perfect accord in our point of view has permitted a perfect understanding between us, and will maintain that harmony between us which is so necessary for the success of our common cause.”

British diplomat and subsequent Nobel Laureate Lord Noel-Baker later recalled “one of my colleagues took me to see the Emir Feisal in Geneva. … Feisal said that the arrival of European Jews with their energy and enterprise and modern scientific skills would be good for Palestine and good for the Arabs. It was that conversation which converted me to Zionism.”

Indeed, this vision was realised to a very considerable extent. Endemic malaria in Palestine was eliminated through efforts led by the Zionist settler Dr Israel Kligler. Enormous improvements were made under the Palestine Mandate in living standards, health, sanitation, education and commercial activity in what had previously been desolate and dangerous territory.

The Mandate for Palestine was also part of larger international arrangements which established Arab States in some 98 per cent of the Middle East territory liberated from the former Turkish Empire. In the grand scheme of things, Arab claims were well satisfied.

The recent Abraham Accords now hold out the prospect of renewing the fruitful cooperation across the Middle East envisaged by Dr Weizmann, Emir Feisal and others. Let us hope that leaders on all sides today seize the opportunities.

Jonathan Turner is Executive Director of UKLFI Charitable Trust

August 01, 2022 15:16

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