The Balfour Declaration

Jerusalem in prophecy

Jerusalem Old City at dawn. Image: Free Israel Photos, Creative Commons 3.0

Balfour Declaration: Summary

On November 2, 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared that the British Government was in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. This declaration layed the basis for the British Mandate for Palestine at San Remo in 1920. Article 2 of the Mandate provided for the eventual creation of a Jewish state once “political maturity” had been reached. The Mandate was formalized by the League of Nations in 1922 and transferred to Article 80 of the UN Charter in 1946. So the UN implicitly reaffirmed the 1922 Mandate and Article 80 preserved the mandated rights of the Jewish people. According to the final Mandate, the Jewish people have the irrevocable legal right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, link.

A caveat to the Mandate was that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This was not achieved, partly at least because there was no common ground between Arab and Jew (as in different language, culture and religion), link. Finally, increasing Arab aggression towards the increasing Jewish population led to war and today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

See also Zionism

Background to the Balfour Declaration

Jews and Gentiles work Together

Influential Christians: The mid-late 19th century saw a great move of God amongst leading Protestants and Jews. Protestant leaders like Bishop J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon taught about the restoration of Jews to their biblical homeland, as seen in Bible prophecy. As Bible scholars, they longed for the Second Coming of Christ, but they realized from prophecy that before that can happen the Jews must be drawn back ‘home’. Such Christian teaching greatly influenced the British Government of the time.

Theodor Herzel – an Influential Jew: Around the same time, Theodor Herzel (1860-1904) saw the antisemitism around him and the need for a Jewish State. Herzel, an Austrian Jewish journalist, is credited as the father of political Zionism since he was a secular, non-Hebrew speaking, cosmopolitan intellectual who proposed a secular/political solution to the Jewish problem.
So with the help of his friend Rev W. Hechler (an Anglican clergyman, crusader against antisemitism, and follower of Ryle and Spurgeon), they birthed so-called ‘political Zionism’. Because of his Christian beliefs, Hechler was one of the first so-called ‘Christian Zionists’ (see later).

Balfour Declaration
Arthur Balfour. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Weizmann and Balfour: The early 20th century saw more Jew-Gentile collaboration. Chaim Weizmann (a Jew and biochemist) came to England in 1904 and soon became a leader among British Zionists. In January 1906 Weizmann met Arthur Balfour (pictured), a UK politician and former Prime Minister, and persuaded him to look to Jerusalem for the Jewish capital and to Palestine for the Jewish homeland. Being an evangelical Christian, Balfour found the spiritual side of Zionism appealing. But he took no political steps in this direction until 1917, when he was British Foreign Secretary under British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Lloyd George, who had an evangelical upbringing, made the decision to publicly support Zionism. No doubt this was backed by most of the war cabinet in 1917 since most were evangelical Christians! That said, it seems there were also political motives. Lloyd George saw that British dominance in Palestine (a land bridge between the crucial territories of India and Egypt) was as an essential post-war goal.

The Balfour Declaration: Prompted by government support and Zionist leaders like Weizmann, Balfour wrote a public letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann. Rothschild was head of the English branch of the Jewish banking family. This historic letter became known as the Balfour Declaration. It reads:

His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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 [November 2, 1917]

This letter laid the foundations for the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine.

The Effect of the Balfour Declaration

The British Mandate for Palestine

The 1920 San Remo Conference met to decide the future of the former territories of the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire. It divided the old Ottoman province of Syria into two, and the southern half (Palestine) was ‘mandated’ to Great Britain. The British “Mandate for Palestine” was formalized by the Council of the League of Nations in 1922, link, link. The Council agreed that the Mandatory (the British Government) should be responsible for putting into effect the Balfour Declaration made by the British Government on November 2, 1917. Put simply, the mandate entrusted Britain with the temporary administration of Palestine until the Jewish community reached “political maturity”.

Palestinian Refugees

The Council also endorsed the Balfour Declaration statement protecting the existing non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. To quote:

… it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine …

So given legal protection in the Mandate, what went wrong? Why several major Arab-Israeli wars, and Palestinian refugees? A partial answer can be seen in the political, cultural and religious divide of the Jewish and Arab communities in the 1930’s and 1940’s, link. During the 1930’s, Jewish money poured in from Europe and America: equipment was purchased, factories opened, transport systems set up, and houses and hospitals built. Jerusalem was built in stone by Arab labor and Zionist money, and Tel Aviv expanded into a modern city. So Jewish society increasingly pulled away from both the Palestinian community and the surrounding Arab societies. Whilst Palestinian agriculture did indeed spread, villagers continued their traditional habit of isolating themselves from (now British) government and did not develop. Put simply, there was no common ground between Arab and Jew – as in different language, culture and religion.

Another reason is poor Arab leadership. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the leadership twice rejected the opportunity for a separate Arab state in Palestine, link. They also rejected the Jewish State declared in 1948 and immediately invaded Israel, thereby creating the Palestinian refugee problem, .

The Law Today

Balfour Declaration

Fig.1: The final 1922 League of Nations sub-division of Palestine. Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz. Enlarge

When the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946 the mandate was incorporated into Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. So this Charter implicitly recognizes the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’. Put simply, Article 80 preserved the mandated rights of the Jewish people, and still stands today. Palestine is still the mandated home of the Jewish people.

Article 25 of the Mandate enabled the Mandatory to change the terms of the Mandate in the territory east of the Jordan River. Britain, under Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, activated this option and cut away 77% of the original mandated area for the Jews and created a new country called Trans-Jordan, later called Jordan. The East Bank (excepting the Golan Heights) was therefore given to Britain’s Arab allies! The final 1922 mandate therefore redefined the boundary of Palestine as west of the river Jordan, including Judea and Samaria (an area now called the West Bank), and including the Golan Heights. The area east of the Jordan subsequently became Jordan.

As noted, the Golan Heights were included within Mandatory Palestine when the Mandate was formally granted in 1922, but Britain gave the area to France in the Franco-British Agreement of 7 March 1923, link. This is reflected in the final mandated territory shown in Fig.1. So, with the exception of the Golan Heights, the current legal position has been stated as follows:

The Jewish right of settlement in the whole of western Palestine – the area west of the Jordan – survived the British withdrawal in 1948. … They are parts of the mandate territory, now legally occupied by Israel with the consent of the Security Council [Professor Eugene Rostow ]

To date, the finalized Mandate is the last legally binding document regarding the West Bank and Gaza. All of western Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, including the West Bank and Gaza, remains open to Jewish settlement under international law.


Spiritual Significance of the Balfour Declaration:

Jerusalem’s Release from Bondage

The Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered and ruled over Jerusalem from 1517 to 1917 — a period of exactly 400 years. Is 400 significant? In the scriptures the number four hundred is sometimes associated with the subject of bondage, link. An often-quoted example is when the Israelites dwelt in Egypt for 400 years:

God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Gen 15.13, Acts 7.6)

In reality, the Israelites were only ‘enslaved’ or ‘in bondage’ in the latter years when they had become numerous (Exod 1.8-14). But they were certainly in bondage for 400 years in the sense that they were bound to Egypt and were not in their own land, link.

So was Jerusalem (and the Holy Land in general) in bondage under the 400 years of Ottoman rule? As with the Israelites in Egypt, the early stages of Ottoman rule seemed tolerable. It saw a rise in Jewish immigration, business, and scholarly activity. The Jewish community particularly thrived in the town of Safed, link. But with a gradual decline in the quality of Ottoman rule over the Holy Land, the country was brought to a state of widespread neglect. By the end of the 18th century, much of the land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to impoverished tenant farmers, and taxation was crippling. The great forests of Galilee and the Carmel mountain range were denuded of trees, and swamp and desert encroached on agricultural land, link. Moreover, during the 19th century the position of Jews worsened in Muslim countries, link, and in early December 1917, Djemel Pasha (the Turkish general) issued a proclamation ordering all Jews to leave Jerusalem.

So, as with the Israelites in Egypt, the Ottoman rule meant that the Jews were not masters in the land in which they dwelt – their God-given land at that. In this sense the Jews in the Holy Land were in bondage for 400 years. This period of history is surely part of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ when Jerusalem was to be ‘trampled by the Gentiles’ (Lk 21.24).

The situation changed in the 400th year of Ottoman rule, when General Allenby liberated Jerusalem from Muslim rule on December 11, 1917. Allenby had taken courage from the prophecy:

… the Lord of hosts come down to wage war on Mount Zion and on its hill. Like flying birds so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it; He will pass over and rescue it (Isa 31.4,5)

Jerusalem was indeed delivered by ‘flying birds’. Allenby used primitive aircraft to drop leaflets on Jerusalem saying (in Arabic) “Surrender the city! Allenby.” The city fell without a shot being fired. At that point in time Allenby assured the people that the occupying power would not inflict further harm on Jerusalem, its inhabitants, or its holy places:

Since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people, I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred

This was in accord with the Balfour Declaration of Nov 2, 1917. For the foreseeable future it seemed that Jerusalem had been liberated from ‘bondage’.


Current UK View of the Balfour Declaration

Boris Johnson’s View

A few days before the 2017 centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed his views on Balfour and the ensuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, link, link. Comparing his comments with the political facts, and with the biblical text (which is taken as truth) he is both correct – and mislead.

Johnson’s Favourable Comments towards Israel

To quote:

The Balfour Declaration was indispensable to the creation of a great nation … Israel has always stood out as a free society. Like every country, Israel has faults and failings. But it strives to live by the values in which I believe. Most of all, there is the incontestable moral goal: to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland. So I am proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel …

This is in accord with Bible prophecy. The God of Israel says:

Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons (Isa 66.8)

The past 100 years have seen millions of Jews return to Israel, and the sudden ‘birth’ of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Johnson also points out (and rightly so):

The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realised.

But here, who is at fault – Israel or the Palestinian leadership?

Johnson’s Disagreement with Political Facts and with the Bible

Johnson’s ‘solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows that of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia; namely to create ‘two states for two peoples’. He says:

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, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples … There should be two independent and sovereign states: a secure Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people, as envisaged by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 … The borders should be based on the lines as they stood on June 4, 1967 – the eve of the Six Day War

The Political Facts contradict Johnson:

  • the Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937 and 1938 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab state, but even this generous offer was rejected by the Arab leadership.
  • a UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that Palestine be divided equally into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Jerusalem was to be “internationalized”. The UN General Assembly adopted this plan as UN Resolution 181. The Jews accepted the UN resolution but, again, the Arabs rejected it.
  • The pre-1967 borders were based upon the ceasefire lines of 1949 – the so-called Green Line. This UN armistice line merely represented interim borders for Israel; “they did not purport to establish definitive boundaries” [Professor Judge Schwebel, former President of the International Court of Justice]
  • Palestinians officially want a two state solution, but long-term a recent survey showed that they want just one state – a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, link
  • Article 80 of the UN Charter implicitly recognizes the 1922 ‘Mandate for Palestine’ of the League of Nations. So the UN implicitly reaffirmed the Mandate in that Article 80 preserved the mandated rights of the Jewish people. This meant that the Jews could settle anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. To date, this is the last legally binding document regarding the West Bank and Gaza.

The Biblical Facts: Boris Johnson’s political views appear naive, to say the least. Perhaps he should have referred to the biblical facts. The God of Israel is expressly against a two state solution and those who attempt such a division of the land should note God’s warning:

I will enter into judgement with them … on behalf of My people Israel … they have divided up My land (Joel 3.2)

The true, biblical borders are clearly stated in Bible prophecy, link. They embrace Jerusalem, all of the West Bank and Gaza, and much of Lebanon and Syria. When it comes to non-Jews living in the land, the Bible instructs the people of Israel how they should treat them. Old Testament Israel was commanded to love foreigners (Deut 10.19) and to let them live normal lives amongst them:

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Lev 19.33,34)

This instruction is timeless and applies now and to future Israel. Sadly, as long as the Arab-Palestinian leadership is determined to eliminate the State of Israel, such peace is impossible.

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