Palestinians to sue over Balfour Declaration

President Mahmoud Abbas plans lawsuit over UK's support for establishment of Israel in 1917

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Palestinian officials are to sue the UK government over the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which set in place provisions for the state of Israel.

What was the Balfour Declaration?Writing in 1917 to leaders of the UK's Jewish community, the foreign secretary Arthur Balfour pledged support for the establishment of a "national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine.

The "Balfour Declaration", a milestone for the Zionist movement, formed the basis of the UK's mandate in Palestine, which led directly to mass Jewish immigration and the creation of Israel in the wake of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

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Yet almost a century on, the declaration remains highly divisive across the Middle East.

Israel's ambassador to London, Mark Regev, suggested the centenary should be marked with a "public celebration together with the British government". However, the Foreign Office has said it would "mark" the occasion in recognition of what is still a "live issue" in the region.

Do the Palestinians have a case?At the opening of this week's Arab League summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the UK of supporting "Israeli crimes" and said the declaration was "a fateful promise from those who do not own to those who do not deserve".

He also called on other states in the alliance to join the lawsuit, which will be filed in an as-yet-unnamed international court, says The Independent.

Threatening legal action over a 99-year-old document is "certainly a stretch, and it attracted more ridicule than serious analysis", says The Guardian.

The declaration has long been superseded by other decisions, including UN resolutions, but the lawsuit may be seen as "a symptom of desperation about the Palestinian cause at a time when the peace process is non-existent and hopes for an end to occupation and a two-state solution to the conflict appear moribund", the paper adds.

How has Israel responded?Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the lawsuit was part of an attempt to deny the Jewish people's "strong connection to our land".

He added: "This shines a light clarifying the root of the conflict is the refusal to recognise a Jewish state in any borders."

Speaking to Jewish newspaper Haaretz, Gilad Erdan, the Israeli public security minister, called the move "strange but not accidental", coming as it did 100 years since the declaration and 50 years after the Six Day War.

It showed the "only goal [of the Palestinians] is to de-legitimise Israel," he said.

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