Yesterday in the House of Lords, Foreign Office Minister Rt Hon Baroness Anelay DBE reaffirmed that the UK Government “will mark the centenary of Balfour with pride”, underlining that “we are proud of our role in the creation of Israel”.
Minister Anelay confirmed that “the Prime Minister has extended a guest of Government invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit the UK on the centenary”.
She emphasised the UK’s support for a two-state solution, which will ensure that the Balfour Declaration is implemented in its entirety.
Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street in February 2017, when the two leaders discussed trade and bilateral ties, the Balfour Declaration centenary, Iran and regional developments.
Speaking in No 10 alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu, Prime Minister May said: “Prime Minister, I’m very pleased to welcome you here to No 10 Downing Street and particularly in the year in which we recognise the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration”. Following the meeting, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed that Prime Minister May “invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to attend events taking place in the UK to mark the anniversary in November, as a Guest of Government”, and that he also invited her to visit him in Israel.
In response to calls for the UK Government to apologise for the Declaration, Baroness Anelay made clear: “The Balfour Declaration was an historic statement and one for which the United Kingdom has no intention to apologise”. She emphasised: “We are focused on encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to take steps which bring them closer to peace”.
The Balfour Declaration was a letter from Conservative Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (as a representative of the British Jewish Community and for passing on to the Zionist Federation) on 2nd November 1917 promising support for the creation of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Israel.
It was the first official expression of Britain’s historic commitment to a Jewish State, and stated support for Jewish self-determination in Israel.
November 2016 marked the beginning of the year-long celebration of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was instrumental in the creation of the State of Israel and one of the most defining moments in the UK and Israel’s shared history.
In another oral question yesterday, Lord Leigh of Hurley welcomed the Foreign Office’s condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias, which stated “that, if things do not change in the future, Her Majesty’s Government will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel in the Occupied Territories and Palestine”.
He said that “at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday last week regarding Israel, Her Majesty’s Government expressed regret that neither terrorism nor incitement was a focus of that council’s meeting”. Lord Leigh continued: “Syria’s regime butchers and murders its people on a daily basis, but it is not Syria that is a permanent item on the council’s agenda. Since 2007, it has been only Israel—the one country in the Middle East that protects human rights for women and gays, among others”.
He went on to ask Baroness Anelay “what steps have been taken to encourage our European partners to adopt the same principled and even-handed statements?”
Baroness Anelay said that the UK is “in active discussions with like-minded partners to support the council in addressing the fact that there appears to be a disproportionate focus on Israel in the council, which we believe hardens positions on both sides”.
Baroness Anelay later emphasised that it is “incumbent on all those who believe in peace around the world” to combat terrorism and Islamist extremism, with Israel as an ally.
Read the full exchange here.