March 17, 2017 - The Legal Veracity of the Balfour Declaration
There is a concerted international effort underway to condemn the Balfour Declaration on its centenary, and thus to bring into question its basis – the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and its right to re-establish its homeland there. One aspect of that effort is to shed doubt on the document’s legal merit.
In response, Israeli scholar Alan Baker has penned a defence of the Balfour Declaration’s “legal veracity”. In “The Legal Veracity of the Balfour Declaration”, Baker points out that unilateral declarations are considered “binding as far as the government is concerned” under international law, and that status was recognized as recently as 2006 by the International Law Commission, which “determined that such public declarations create legal obligations to be respected by other states”.
“The legal effect of a declaration is determined by its content, the factual circumstances in which it was made and the reactions to which it gave rise,” Baker writes, and “a unilateral declaration binds the State internationally only if it is made by authority vested with the power to do so.” He concludes that these criteria were fulfilled in the case of the Balfour Declaration.
Unilateral declarations of this kind become obligatory once accepted by other nations, Baker continues. The Balfour Declaration meets this requirement, having been adopted in the San Remo Declaration (1920), the League of Nations mandate (1922), and in the charter of the United Nations (1945). “Having created legal obligations, such a declaration cannot be arbitrarily revoked.”
He concludes: “There can be absolutely no doubt that the 1917 Balfour Declaration was a legally binding document, properly issued by the authorized representative of the British government, conveying a clear intention regarding the rights of the Jewish People to territory of Palestine, and subsequently accepted and adopted by the international community in the framework of international treaties”.
“The Legal Veracity of the Balfour Declaration” can be viewed in full at the website of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (http://jcpa.org/legal-veracity-balfour-declaration/). Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of its Global Law Forum. He previously served as legal advisor and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.