British Prime Minister Theresa May joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London to speak of their shared pride in the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel at the Balfour Centenary Dinner.
The Balfour Declaration was the first international recognition by a world power of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in their ancestral land. It formed the basis of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine in 1920.
Mrs. May in her speech on Thursday night said Britain was proud “of the relationship we have built with Israel” and called for “renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
After reminding critics the time had come to acknowledge the past, the British leader canvassed the chances of a lasting Middle East peace settlement. She said:
There will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement, too.
But as we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence, we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them.
For his part, Mr. Netanyahu, who is on a five-day visit to London, said:
Israel is committed to peace, I’m committed to peace. A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept a Jewish national home and finally accept a Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion, peace will be achievable.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israeli policy, declined an invitation to attend the dinner. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry went in his place.
Manuel Hassassian, in effect the chief Palestinian diplomat to the UK, decried the UK government’s approach, saying it should apologise for the Balfour Declaration, not celebrate it.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he said: “The 67-word letter meant the destruction and destitution of the Palestinian people [and] bringing the Jews from Europe to Palestine – that is a crime against humanity. That is how we look at the Balfour letter.”
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