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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

How does the Balfour Declaration stand as a legal document?

Filed under: International Law, Israel, Palestinians, The Middle East

The Balfour Declaration is an extremely important event historically. It was a very noble act of not of one man, not of just Lord Balfour but of the British war cabinet.

We have to remember that in 1917 Britain did not occupy most of what was known biblically as Palestine; it did not have title to give to the Jewish people, to the Arabs or to anybody. So, we have to look at the Balfour Declaration as a very important event politically. It certainly helped the Zionist movement move forward with its aims to establish a Jewish home in the Holy Land.

What happens next is the Paris Peace Conference, the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, after the end of the war, where the Allies, more importantly Five Nations, the principal powers, are receiving submissions from the Jewish people and from the Arabs.

The Arabs on February 6, 1919; the Jews on February 27. During these very important sessions with the principal powers, that is, the US, UK, Italy, France and Japan, the Arabs asked for independence for Arab territories that were under the Ottomans for centuries. The Jewish people ask for the recognition of their historical connection with Palestine, the right to reconstitute there what they used to have. They asked for the recognition of the Jewish people as a person in international laws, as a people in international law. They asked for the creation of a mandatory or the establishment of a mandate in respect to Palestine because they weren’t quite ready yet to establish a state, because the population was small compared to the Arab population, and so they urged the principal powers to set up a mandate in their favor.

 Following the presentations in Paris, we go to San Remo, Italy in April of 1920, where these powers gather for several days to deliberate, to make decisions. What are we going to do about the Arab claims; what are we going to do about the Jewish claims, and on April 25, 1920 the decisions are made. They say “yes” to the Jewish people: we will recognize your historical connection. We will establish a national home for the Jews in a territory called Palestine, and these deliberations result in a decision which in my opinion are binding international law, then picked up and put into the Treaty of Sevres in August of 1920, which completely transfers all the title to the principal powers so that they can turn around and give the rights to the Jewish people and to the Arabs.

 Then followed by the Mandate of Palestine, an international treaty where the very thing the Jews asked for in Paris – the recognition of their historical connection and the right to reconstitute – is granted, and the policy of the Balfour Declaration is injected, incorporated into the Mandate, Article 2 of the Mandate for Palestine, and becomes part of international law.