Balfour Declaration (of 1917), is a declaration on the benevolent attitude of Great Britain towards the Zionist aspirations of the Jews. The Balfour Declaration was addressed to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild (see Rothschild, family) by Arthur James Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, on November 2, 1917. It was published a week later.
The Declaration reads: “His Majesty’s Government is supportive of restoring the national hearth for the Jewish people in Palestine and will make every effort to facilitate the achievement of this goal. It is understandable that nothing should be done that could harm the interests, both civil and religious, of non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status of Jews in any other country.”
Balfour’s name is closely linked to the Declaration, as he was an ardent supporter, but the final decision belonged to the War Cabinet, which approved it as a well-thought-out political act. Great Britain was the only one among the great powers that, even before the First World War, actually showed its sympathetic attitude to the Zionist movement. The pre-war connection of Great Britain with the Zionist organization was a prerequisite for the Balfour Declaration. The Zionists in England, led by H. Weizmann, enlisted, with the help of Lord Herbert Samuel, the support of Sir Mark Sykes, one of the most influential British government advisers on East affairs. The latter believed that it was crucial for Great Britain to establish itself in Palestine and that cooperation with the Zionists would strengthen the position of Great Britain as a member of the Anglo-French condominium in Palestine. The Anglo-French condominium was established under the Sykes-Picot agreement in May 1916, as part of the realization of plans for the partition of Palestine.
The change of government that took place in December 1916, thanks to which Lloyd George became prime minister, while Balfour became foreign minister. The decision on British invasion to Eretz Yisrael acted in favor of pro-Zionist politics, also promoted by Lord Milner, a prominent member of the Lloyd George War Cabinet. In early February 1917, Sykes opened negotiations with the Zionist leaders, which subsequently led to the Balfour Declaration.
The UK government began to take an active interest in the idea of a Jewish national hearth or a Jewish state in Palestine under a British protectorate. This interest was caused not only by the desire to help the Jews. It was clear for the British government that the persistent desire of the Jews to establish British control over Eretz Yisrael would make it easier for the British government to abandon the Sykes-Picot agreement and to replace the Anglo-French condominium provided for in this agreement with a single British rule over Palestine.
The expectation was added to these considerations after the February Revolution in Russia that the call for Russian Jewry’s national sentiments would gain his support for the Allies’ cause and thereby avoid the wave of pacifism that threatened the removal of revolutionary Russia from war involvement.
A favorable decision on the Palestinian issue was hindered by the anti-Zionist Jewish Joint Foreign Affairs Committee, consisted of representatives from the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association, two representative bodies of English Jewry, which were highly influential.
But when in June 1917, the Board of Deputies expressed a vote of no confidence in the committee by a majority of votes, there was a way to create a draft pro-Zionist declaration, which Balfour proposed to Weizmann to draw up for consideration by the British government. The draft declaration was introduced to the military cabinet in September 1917. Still, an opponent of pro-Zionist politics, a Jewish member of the government, Edwin Montague, ensured that the approval of the document was postponed, and it was decided to consult with US President Wilson. The Americans gave an evasive answer, and things ceased to advance. Only after Weitzmann’s appeal to Lloyd George the issue was put on the agenda and was again discussed in early October.
The government continued to hesitate, deciding to consult with President Wilson again and seek the opinion of prominent Jewish representatives – Zionists and anti-Zionists. This time, Wilson did not react negatively to the proposal. Influenced by the arguments of the leader of the American Zionists, Louis Brandeis, Wilson approved the proposed Declaration.
The issue debated by the British government in the autumn of 1917 was not whether it should contribute in the subsequent peace treaty to the fulfillment of Zionist aspirations; now the issue has been addressed in a narrower framework-should we immediately make a public pledge to help the Zionists and thus unite the world’s Jews around the allies.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Balfour, recommending the military cabinet to accept the Declaration and having achieved its final approval on October 31, 1917, emphasized mainly its propaganda significance.
On April 24, 1920, the Balfour Declaration was approved at the Allied Conference in San Remo, and July 24, 1922, was included in the text of the British Mandate on Palestine, supported by the League of Nations. The struggle for the practical implementation of the Declaration continued throughout all 30 years of British rule in Eretz Yisrael.
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