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2 november 2017, 100 years is not a long time in politics

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Contrasting accounts this morning on the flagship today programme (1:32:25 and 2:36:35), with an eloquent ambassador making a compelling case for a palestinian state and a deputy foreign minister dismally refusing to admit the west bank is occupied at all. It's a long way since we were in touching distance of a two-state solution. Meanwhile, the excuse for a now-rare news item on israel is that its 100 years since the balfour declaration, which I happened to write my dissertation on. Tolerant, prosperous and open, england (as everyone then called it) had a sizeable jewish community, growing rapidly before ww1 due to polish/russian immigration like my grandparents. Zionism though was very much a minority sport amongst them and indeed world jewry. Yet, an eclectic group of marginal lobbyists somehow managed to get the greatest power on earth to give such a boost to its epochal quest that it's a leading news item a century later. Balfour is still seen in israel as the first great cornerstone of the state, with kudos for it generally given to the chemist chaim weitzman. Oh for the days when manchester-based lobbyists could turn government policy. In fact, balfour had form, having already offered the zionists uganda in 1903, which herzl accepted, splitting the movement. By 1917 david lloyd-george was pm, a devout sunday school-goer who supposedly learnt more about the geography of palestine than wales. The declaration though was not an altruistic gesture but hard-nosed pragmatism, granting something thought to be of no consequence at a moment of supreme national weakness to a group of people who were considered as having wildly-disproportionate influence on the two countries the foreign office saw as central to the country not losing the war, russia and america. The resulting 67 words did have consequences, giving international benediction to the concept of a jewish homeland which was then followed through with the british mandate there. As time wore on it became more burden than bounty to london and they eventually withdrew both their backing for balfour and then rather chaotically from palestine itself, facilitating israel's own declaration, of independence, so drawing a clear arc drawn from one declaration to another.