What is the status of the Balfour Declaration in International Law?

  • The letter by Arthur Balfour was not merely written to Lord Rothschild in a personal capacity but reflected an international consensus, firstly amongst the allied powers in WW1 and later the permanent members of the League of Nations
  • Chaim Weizman in Britain, Nahman Sokolow in France and the Vatican and Louis Brandeis in the US all helped to build an international consensus on Zionism
  • According to international law and practice a Unilateral Declaration issued properly by an authorised representative of a state, for example a foreign minister, is binding on that State
  • The Balfour Declaration states: “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
  • Through Balfour, Britain declared that it would use its “Best endeavours to facilitate” a national home for the Jewish people – a positive obligation. While the Balfour declaration is not on the face of it a legal document, the Declaration which that letter made was legally binding on Britain
  • At the 1920 San Remo Conference the principal successful WWI allies came to agreements on the Mandates which would be formed. They agreed that the Mandatory for Palestine would be Britain and that Britain would be responsible for putting the Balfour Declaration into effect
  • The British Mandate for Palestine incorporated the Balfour declaration word for word. Britain had the moral right to rule Palestine only because the “civilized nations of the world” had conferred it “for the explicit and direct purpose of helping to build up the Jewish National Home”.
  • When the Balfour Declaration entered whole into the preamble of the League of Nations’ Mandate it acquired full legal standing in international law. The national home for the Jews in Palestine had become a legal commitment of the international community.
  • The allied powers made Britain “responsible for putting into effect the declaration”. Had the letter been secret, it would never have entered the preamble of the mandate.

The Balfour Declaration

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