November 2016 marked the beginning of a year of celebrations leading up to the centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on 2nd November 1917. Named after a letter from Conservative Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, it promised the British Government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a home for the Jewish people.”
During this Parliament, we are marking a series of events and decisions that took place during and after World War One, including the Balfour Declaration, and I am pleased that we had to opportunity to celebrate and discuss this important anniversary during a debate in Westminster Hall on 16 November.
The Balfour Declaration is one of the most defining moments in the UK and Israel’s shared history and I am proud that the support Britain gave for a Jewish and democratic state brought to an end two millennia of Jewish exile and persecution.
Since the creation of the State of Israel, our two countries have had an enduring partnership – in trade, technology, medicine, academia and, most importantly, in our shared values of freedom, democracy and tolerance. Trade between the UK and Israel is at a record high, with bilateral trade increasing by 60% over the past 10 years. This is even more important today as Britain starts to negotiate its exit from the European Union and align itself as an open, free trading nation with allies and friends, such as Israel, across the globe.
This year we also mourned the death of Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s founding fathers and a tireless champion of peace. As a leading architect of the Oslo Accords, as well as all his work to promote peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbours, he left behind an immense legacy and one which we should work hard to honour.
The centenary of the Balfour Declaration presents a unique opportunity to revive the Middle East Peace Process which must be through direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians and I shall be pressing the UK Government to encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to engage in constructive dialogue with a view to achieving a lasting two-state solution.
Under no circumstances must we allow any attempts by those opposed to the state of Israel to delegitimise the Balfour Declaration and we must resist calls by the President of the Palestinian Authority for an apology for the Declaration.
I am strongly committed to the UK’s close and productive relationship with Israel and I am proud of the role that Britain played in establishing the State of Israel. We should now grasp the opportunity of this centenary anniversary to create a settlement that will achieve the lasting peace we all desire for the Middle East.