British newspapers today carry reports of a letter sent a week ago by Arthur Balfour, the foreign minister, to Walter Rothschild, a leading member of the British Jewish community. In the letter Balfour states that the British government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and promises that Britain will work to facilitate the achievement of this goal. British armies are currently advancing into Palestine, which means that it may soon be possible to deliver on Balfour’s promise.
Although written to a private individual, Balfour’s letter is intended for publication. Zionism, the idea that a Jewish homeland should be established in Palestine, has been attracting increasing support among members of the Jewish community across the world. The British hope that by declaring in favour of Zionism they will be able to boost Jewish support for the war effort in Britain and the USA. They also hope that this Jewish homeland will remain under effective British control, safeguarding the security of the Suez Canal and British interests in the Middle East.
Balfour’s declaration is only the latest in Britain’s promises regarding the disposal of Ottoman territories in the Middle East, following on from the Constantinople agreement with France and Russia, the promise to Sharif Hussein to establish an Arab state in greater Syria, and the Sykes-Picot agreement with France. Unlike the others, Balfour’s declaration has been made publicly.
As with the previous agreements, Balfour’s letter contains no suggestion that the current inhabitants of Palestine will have any say in the disposal of their territory. It does however say that the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” should be respected.
The Balfour Declaration as reported in The Times (Wikipedia)