The Palestinians and British Perfidy: The Tragic Aftermath of the Balfour Declaration of 1917

Book review

C.W.R. Long; reviewed by Trevor James, last updated: 12th December 2018

The Palestinians and British Perfidy: The Tragic Aftermath of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, C.W.R. Long, Sussex Academic Press, 2018, 307p, £75-00. ISBN 1845198961978.

One of the hazards of modern-day British politics, an experience shared by politicians in both of our main political parties, is to express a view or opinion on what might be described as the ‘Palestinian problem’.

The title of Richard Long’s book – The Palestinians and British Perfidy – may seem rather pejorative in tone, and therefore very controversial, but his by-line explains the direction of his thinking – The Tragic Aftermath of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. This book, therefore, takes us to the heart of the modern-day dilemma which confronts politicians and commentators on Palestinian issues.

In the late 19th Century there had been a widely held view that the provision of a Jewish national homeland would be a positive opportunity to offer to the various displaced Jewish communities around the world. Madagascar and the Argentine, for example, had been proposed in some quarters, and the Russians had actively considered the Crimea as a possible location. However, in the late 19th Century Jewish settlers, frequently refugees, had begun to arrive in Palestine, with the full understanding that they were, in effect, returning to their spiritual homeland.

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire being a likely outcome of the Great War, consideration was being given to the future governance of the various elements of that Empire in what we might define as the Near and Middle East. In the midst of these deliberations, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 emerged.

The promise of a Jewish National Homeland in Palestine was not in itself a promise of a Jewish National State, but many of the Zionist participants in the settlement regarded that as their objective. The British, in being allocated the mandate for Palestine, had a strategic interest in that region because it was believed that control of Palestine was a valuable strategic alternative to the Suez Canal and Egypt, should other nationalists present a challenge to the British route to India. It was that sense that drove British policy until later on it became apparent that India was approaching independence and that, therefore, British interests there would cease.

Whilst these two parallel manoeuvres were being pursued, and the flow of Jewish settlers continued to grow, no one had fully addressed the issue of the approaching one million indigenous Arabs in Palestine and how they were to be embraced by either of these processes.

There is a persuasive coherence to Richard Long’s analysis. What he does is to depict the chain of events which eventually led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the beginnings of the still-to-be-resolved future of the indigenous Arab population.

This book is a valuable contribution to the debate on how to provide a positive future for the indigenous Palestinian people. It has been a challenge since 1948 and it continues to this day.