Their plea is one of a number of demands that form a so-called “Balfour Centenary Declaration,” which urges the UK government to do more to protect the interests of the Palestinian people. The declaration so far has more than 65 signatories, including members of Parliament and other prominent members of society.
The document was published on Tuesday just ahead of the 100-year anniversary on Nov. 2 of the Balfour Declaration, which was drawn up in 1917 by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, in which the UK gave its support to the idea of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine.
The document was seen as the first step toward the creation of Israel and has attracted much controversy. Some see the document as a cause for celebration as it helped paved the way for the Jewish people to be granted their own country after suffering centuries of persecution across Europe.
Others see the 1917 declaration — which took the form of a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a key figure in the British Jewish community — as the root cause for the displacement of Palestinians from their homes, their current suffering under Israeli occupation and wider instability across the Middle East.
Richard Burden, Labour MP, told press on Tuesday that the centenary should be neither a cause for celebration nor “a wake.”
“It is about unfulfilled promises and the reason we are here today is that it is not enough to just remember those unfulfilled promises, it is time to put them right. There are a number of things Britain can do and should do,” he said.
Specifically, Burden said the UK has failed to live up to the second part of the 1917 declaration, which pledged that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” He said that the UK still has “unfinished business” to deal with.
Burden is one of the many MPs that set up the Balfour Project — a group that aims to place pressure on the government to live up to its responsibilities. It hosted an event on Tuesday evening to highlight what the UK can do to address its “broken promise” to the Palestinians.
Vincent Fean, former consul-general to Jerusalem and ambassador to Libya, and currently advising the Balfour Project, said the event was to mark the centenary “not with pride and not with mourning.”
“There will be an acknowledgment of British responsibility and a commitment to do something to make life better for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. This includes the immediate recognition as Palestine as a state and the working towards equal rights for two states living peacefully side by side.
Philippa Whitford, Scottish National Party MP, said that recognition of Palestine is essential to redress the current imbalance of power between Palestinians and Israel and would help bring both parties back to peace negotiations.
“What holds back peace is what is happening in the West Bank. The wall is dividing communities and separating houses from gardens, villages from wells and chopping up the West Bank into something that cannot be used as Palestinian state,” she said.
“What we are seeing at the moment is conquest by concrete,” referring to the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “We have a responsibility because of Balfour to bring both sides to the table for meaningful dialogue and that isn’t going to happen when we have the current imbalance of power.”
“You can’t talk about a two-state solution and not recognize two states,” she added.
Other demands listed in the centenary declaration call for the UK government to “rigorously” uphold the Geneva Conventions, which Britain co-wrote and ratified after the World War II.
It also urges the UK to demand that there is genuine freedom of worship for all believers — regardless whether they are Jewish, Muslim or Christian — at the holy sites in Jerusalem, and that the government should encourage the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza on the basis of PLO agreements.
The centenary declaration also calls on the UK government to work with other European countries to safeguard the rights of Palestinians and Israelis, with “due and proportionate consequences” for anyone who breaches those rights, as well as incentives for those working to maintain them.
“It is way beyond time to bring about a peaceful and just solution for both populations and communities and that is what we all should be working toward,” said Whitford.