The British government has said that it will not say sorry for the Balfour Declaration — the document signed in 1917 by Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour that signalled UK support for a Jewish homeland.
Calls by anti-Israel activists for an apology have intensified in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration later this year, with an online petition to the government attracting 13,528 signatures.
But the Foreign Office said this week: “The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement and one that the UK government will not be apologising for.
“We recognise the sensitivities many people have about the declaration and the events that have taken place in the region since 1917, and so the UK government will be marking the centenary in an appropriate and balanced manner.
“Our focus remains on encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to take steps which bring them closer to peace. We continue to support the principle of a Jewish homeland and the modern state of Israel, just as we support the critical objective of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State.”
Palestine was under British rule when the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour outlined the UK’s support in a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.
In the 1917 document, the British government declared that it viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and added that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, praised the government’s position, saying: “We welcome the government’s strong, principled stance on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and its clear message to any would-be party-poopers.”
Manuel Hassassian, head of the Palestinian mission in the UK, said unless the government reversed its position, the Palestinian Authority would take legal action.