Boris Johnson has described how his 1917 predecessor – Lord Balfour – was “indispensable to the creation of a great nation,” but that Balfour’s caveat that existing communities be safeguarded had not been heeded.
Johnson, the foreign secretary, wrote in The Sunday Telegraph that there was “no contradiction in being a friend of Israel… and also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth”.
The former London mayor, a longstanding friend of Israel who once lived on a kibbutz, praised the country for “prevailing over what has sometimes been the bitter hostility of neighbours to become a liberal democracy and a dynamic economy”.
However, in comments that will enrage Jewish community leaders, he said Balfour’s “famous and crucial proviso” that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” had not been met.
“The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration, intended to safeguard other communities, has not been fully realised,” he wrote this week.
“I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, that is the vision of two states for two peoples.”
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Last week Board of Deputies’ president Jonathan Arkush reacted angrily when Britain’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Jonathan Allen, told a meeting in New York that there are “two halves of Balfour, the second of which has not yet been fulfilled,” adding: “There is unfinished business.”
Arkush said Allen’s comments were “unworthy, hostile, unbalanced, negative and evidently intended as criticism of the State of Israel,” but this week Johnson stood by the young British diplomat by making the same point.
In his article, Johnson quoted Israeli novelist Amos Oz, who once said the tragedy of the conflict is not that it is a clash between right and wrong, but rather a “clash between right and right,” before laying out his vision of a prosperous future.
This, he said, should be based on “fair compromise” as envisaged by another Briton, Lord Caradon, better known as Hugh Foot, who 50 years ago drafted UN Resolution 242, which enshrined the principle of land-for-peace as the route to a settlement.
Johnson said that, “in this time of anniversaries,” a fair compromise would create two independent and sovereign states, with borders “based on the lines as they stood on June 4 1967 – the eve of the Six Day War – with equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples”.
Security arrangements must, he said, “prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with all threats, including new and significant threats in the region; and, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty”.
Johnson, who has been the government’s most optimistic voice on Brexit, also found reasons to be upbeat about prospects for Middle East peace, saying Donald Trump was “evidently committed” to the goal.
He added that he was “also heartened that the new generation of Arab leaders does not see Israel in the same light as their predecessors… I trust that more will be done against the twin scourges of terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement”.