Celebrate the Balfour Declaration—But Don’t Overdo It

Citing Martin Kramer’s essay in Mosaic on the history of the Balfour Declaration, Gil Troy admits the historical importance of the document whose anniversary was celebrated yesterday. But he cautions his fellow Zionists against overselling its significance:

The Jews’ legitimacy as a nation doesn’t depend on one Balfour declaration from 1917—or many of them [as Kramer shows there were]. Jews didn’t need an international permission slip: not in 1917 or even in 1947 from the United Nations, and certainly not today. Such affirmations are welcome. They should help legitimize Zionism. But these documents are window dressing.

No such papers compare with the Bible. They don’t rank with 3,500 years of Jewish ties to the land, which make Jews, as the human-rights activist Irwin Cotler [puts it], the original aboriginal people, still reading the same Bible, speaking the same language, continuing the same culture, on the same land. . . .

I am touchy on this point because our enemies are using the Balfour centennial to reduce the Zionist claims to these 67 words of diplo-speak rather than 3,500 years of nationhood. . . . [D]id Great Britain or the United States need some Balfour-type permit? Like most countries, in the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence these nations seized the moment, emerging proudly, unilaterally, without anyone’s permission—simply asserting their national identities and resulting rights. . . .

Jews don’t need a Balfour green-light when authorities in Abu Dhabi won’t play Israel’s anthem [at an international Judo tournament]. The Israeli champion Tal Flicker started singing “Hatikvah” anyway, without anyone’s permission.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Balfour Declaration, Israel & Zionism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood