The contested centenary of Britain’s ‘calamitous promise’

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The British pledge to establish a ‘Jewish national home’ in Palestine is being celebrated and condemned as a divisive anniversary approaches. By Ian Black

On the evening of Thursday 2 November, at an elegant but as yet undisclosed central London location, Theresa May will sit down for a festive dinner with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and 150 other carefully selected VIP guests. They will be celebrating the historic promise, made a century ago to the day, that the British government would use its “best endeavours” to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Security for the event will be tight and protesters will be kept well away. This is no ordinary anniversary.

That 1917 pledge – known to posterity as the Balfour declaration – had fateful consequences for the Middle East and the world. It paved the way for the birth of Israel in 1948, and for the eventual defeat and dispersal of the Palestinians – which is why its centenary next month is the subject of furious contestation. After 100 years, the two sides in the most closely studied conflict on earth are still battling over the past.

Related: How the Guardian and Observer covered the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918

Related: Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace

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