The Absurdity of Suing Lord Balfour for Israel's Existence

Palestinians in a military exercise graduation ceremony at a camp organized by Hamas's armed wing, east of Gaza City, on July 22. Elliott Abrams writes that the Palestinian leadership is wasting its time and energy on suing a long dead British politician instead of trying in practical ways to improve the lives of Palestinians. Mohammed Salem/reuters

This article was first published on the Council on Foreign Affairs site.

The unseriousness of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) desire for peace with Israel was demonstrated in a comic manner this week. Here's a news item from the Associated Press:

The Palestinian president says he will sue Great Britain over the 1917 Balfour Declaration and its support for a Jewish national home in the Holy Land.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki made the announcement on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas at Monday's opening of the Arab League summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.

Malki said the suit would be filed in an international court. He didn't elaborate.

Perhaps Malki "didn't elaborate" because he recognizes, at some level, the lunacy of this approach. Is it to be the International Criminal Court, where perhaps they could seek a warrant to arrest Lord Balfour?

Problem: He died in 1930. Perhaps he has heirs whose property might be attached. In fact, he never married and had no children.

Or perhaps the PLO might try to attach all the streets named for Balfour throughout Israel, or the community there that is called Balfouria after him.

And this PLO approach might become a model. Perhaps Germans still unhappy with the Versailles Treaty might sue England and France. Like the Balfour Declaration, that was only a century ago, and Versailles was an actual treaty, not a mere "declaration."

If declarations are actionable in international courts, there will be a bonanza for lawyers. Every country in Latin America might sue the United States over the Monroe Doctrine, or perhaps every European country the Monroe Doctrine prohibited from intervening in this hemisphere might sue us. Lawyers could ponder the difference between a doctrine and a declaration.

But there is something more serious to ponder: that the Palestinian leadership is wasting its time and energy on this nonsense instead of trying in practical ways to improve the lives of Palestinians. Suing Lord Balfour, or, to be more exact, suing the United Kingdom over the Balfour Declaration of 1917 is a substitute for decent governance and the evasion of even an effort to provide it.

I imagine that Palestinians are fully aware of this and understand that this initiative is a form of bread and circuses. It's likely that they will not find this whole episode as ridiculous and amusing as we in the West do.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.