Looking way beyond the current international furore about Herr Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Middle Eastern countries, 2017 is the centenary of the source of the whole problem: the Balfour Declaration. Dated 2 November 1917, it was written by AJ Balfour, British Foreign Secretary to Lord Rothschild and read:
“I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
This was not purely Balfour’s doing, it was a statement by the British Imperial State regarding territory over which they had absolutely no rights, other than what was being achieved by force of arms as part of the war against the Ottoman Empire. It followed an agreement reached between the French and British the previous year (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) which divided up the Middle East into spheres of influence and occupation among the WW1 Allies, also regarding territory over which neither Empire had any rights. So, the whole problem stems from an imperial arrogance rooted in nineteenth century attitudes.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, not least of which has been the Holocaust. The industrial murder of millions of Jews and others, on racial and political and eugenic grounds, by Nazi Germany with the active support of anti-Semitic governments and peoples throughout Europe, created what would inevitably be an unstoppable migration of Jews from Europe to Palestine. That in turn led to the creation of the State of Israel at the behest of the United Nations and a series of wars resulting in the present-day impasse.
The plan in 1947 had been to create a two-State solution to the problem of how this massive influx of Jews seeking security and a homeland could live alongside their Palestinian Arab neighbours, while to some degree not prejudicing ‘the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities’ (which included Christian, Muslim and secular Arabs). The situation 100 years after the 1917 Declaration is that a two-State solution has become an impossibility. Similarly, a one-State solution in which Jews and Arabs lived side by side in equality has become a political impossibility. More likely is a one-State solution in which Israel is essentially an apartheid State incorporating Palestinians as second-class citizens, alongside other Palestinians in a local version of what in apartheid South Africa were nicknamed ‘Bantustans’.
In the spirit of 1968, let us therefore ‘be realistic and demand the impossible’ – neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism. The only solution lies in a movement among both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews to create a No-State Solution in which all peoples in this disputed territory live together in harmony as co-operative neighbours, owning the land and the means of production in common without any form of threat to each other. In 2017, we must embrace the impossible as the only realistic course. The alternative is the continued cancer of barbarism, growing and spreading and infecting every society around the world. It is only one of many ‘impossibilities’ we must embrace.