Israel has joined former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind in rubbishing Palestinian plans to sue the British government over the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

As British Jews prepare for a series of events next year to mark the centenary of the historic document affirming the UK’s commitment to a Jewish homeland, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki asked Arab leaders for help in a legal campaign targeting Britain. The Palestinians said the claim was on the basis that London was responsible “for all Israeli crimes”.

The letter to Baron Rothschild from then British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour gave the green light to the establishment of Israel, but al-Maliki said this “gave people who don’t belong there something that wasn’t theirs”.

Speaking to Jewish News, former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said: “This is a purely political initiative. It will have no legal force but might generate some publicity. No more, no less.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney said: “If [Abbas] really wants to hold someone to account for the lack of a Palestinian state, perhaps he should sue his Arab co-nationalists who rejected the UN Partition Plan that would have created one in 1947.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “After nearly 4,000 years of Jewish history inextricably tied to this land.’ There are people who still deny our strong connection to our land.” He added: “The Palestinian Authority do not object to the Jewish state, they object to the national home that preceded the Jewish state… clarifying that the root of the conflict is a refusal to recognise a Jewish state in any borders.”

The Palestinian Authority urged Arab countries to “help us bring a suit against the British government over the ominous Balfour Declaration which resulted in the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinian people”.

It is not clear where the Palestinian Authority’s lawsuit will be filed, but last year a Palestinian campaign group tried to sue the UK in an Egyptian court, while in 2008, a Palestinian youth group sought to do the same in the UK.

Saying there was “no legal or any other merit” in the claim, UK Lawyers for Israel chair Jonathan Turner said: “The Balfour Declaration was not a legal document and did not have legal consequences.”

Al-Maliki’s plea came in Mauritania on Monday, at the annual meeting of the Arab League, in the absence of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was “aware” of the Palestinian plan. The Palestinian mission in the UK declined to comment.