Monday, October 30, 2017

That Labour Party's Unofficial Balfour Declaration

As we approach the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, let us recall the unofficial Balfour Declaration of 1944 when the British Labour Party adopted a platform position relating to Mandate Palestine, a surprising one if we consider today's Corbyn-led Labour Party.

The time is 1944 and the arena is the Labour Party's Conference and the decision was to transfer Arabs from Palestine to Iraq.

From a thesis I found:

[Labour MP Hugh] Dalton recalls in a sentence that clearly shows he understood the significance and thus likely reaction of the Foreign Office and the few Labour figures with knowledge and experience of the actually realities of Palestine and political Zionism, - the `informed quarters: '

`I all but tell them [Noel-Baker and Chaim Weizmann] that I have drafted a very hot paragraph for the Labour Party on post-war Palestine.' 327

Dalton's statement began by questioning the previous British policies, which had first allowed, then prevented Jewish immigration to Palestine as the government responded to sporadic violent events in Palestine and the responses of the various channels of pro-Arab and pro-political Zionist groups:

`Here,' we declared,`we have halted half-way, irresolute between conflicting policies. But there is surely neither hope nor meaning in a 'Jewish National Home' unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe.' 328

The overt proposal to allow the Jews to become a majority in Palestine, with all accompanying implications, was radical enough in itself. But it was the following section of the statement that contained the most significant aspects of Labour's Policy, as Dalton continues:

`Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs [Palestinians] be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. ' 329...

...Dalton reconciled this proposal - and presumably in an effort to allay his own dilemma of conscience - on the misguided assertion that:

`The Arabs have very wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small part of Palestine, less than the size of Wales. Indeed, we should examine also the possibility of extending the boundaries by agreement with Egypt, Syria and Transjordan.' 331

In the contextual magnitude of a ruined Europe, Dalton claims the section on Palestine cause barely a ripple within Labour or conference. But the Conservative, Oliver Stanley, said, this was `Zionism plus plus.' 332 

For Dalton what mattered was that what he called a `strongly pro-Zionist' statement became policy. In the numbing climate of the Holocaust however, Dalton states he had little trouble securing the approval of the NEC or the Cabinet: 

`I put this in my draft and persuaded my colleagues to accept it - Laski expressed most emotional gratitude.' 333

...Dalton's biographer Pimlott notes that six months after its publication, and while the section on Europe divided personalities in the party into bitter acrimony, the section of the statement on Palestine had an easy passage into Labour Policy:

`At the December 1944 Party Conference, this extraordinary declaration aroused no interest. Nobody raised Palestine, or the possible difficulties that disposing of `this small area' ... might involve. In the end the whole document was accepted by Conference without a vote.' 336

In conclusion, the Post-War Statement and its adoption as policy were arguably as significant as any other statement on Palestine by a British political party; and certainly as a statement of policy by Labour. By late 1944 and early 1945 - and in the wake of the Holocaust - the pro-Palestinian safeguards had been abandoned by Labour to the extent that as Pimlott says:

`It had become a kind of unofficial Balfour Declaration.' 337 

Footnotes:327 Pimlott, Ben [Editor] (1986 [b]: 720) The Second World War Dairy of Hugh Dalton 1940- 45, quoting, Hugh Dalton, Wednesday, March 8,1944, (London: Cape)  328 Dalton, Hugh (1957: 425-426)  329 Ibid., (1957: 426)  330 In the context of 1944 the proposal to transfer the Palestinians was not a unique or isolated practice and policy: significant Kurdish (1915), Turkish and Greek populations had experienced similar fates; and the partition of the Indian sub-continent into Pakistan and India in 1947 was to follow with the transfer of millions.   331 Childs, David (1992: 48) [Third Edition] Britain Since 1945: A Political History, Chapter 3, Colonial Retreat and Cold War, War in Palestine, quoting, Hugh Dalton, (1957: 425-426) The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931-1945, (London: Frederick Muller), (London: Routledge)   332 Pimlott, Ben (1985: 390) Chapter XXIII, Planning for Post-War, quoting, Hugh Dalton Dairies, April 28,1944   333 Dalton notes the extent of Harold Laski's gratitude: `Indeed, Laski had embarrassed and surprised me at the first meeting by saying how wonderful he thought it all was, and nearly weeping over my Palestine Paragraph, on which he afterwards wrote me a most emotional and effusive letter. ' Pimlott, Ben [Editor] (1986 [b]: 732) quoting, Hugh Dalton, Wednesday, April 5,1944...   336 Pimlott, Ben (1985: 390) quoting, Labour Parliamentary Archive Centre Records(LPACR), 1944, pp. 4-9,140  337 Ibid., (1985: 498) 

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