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PM and Labour leader’s Balfour centenary statements highlight divide on Israel

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Prime Minister Theresa May said that Britain is “proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel” at a special dinner in London to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, attended the dinner on Thursday evening. In her speech, May said the Balfour Declaration “gave birth to a most extraordinary country… which finally opened the door to helping make a Jewish homeland a reality”.

Referring to Palestinian demands for the UK to apologise for the declaration, May said: “Some people suggest we should apologise for this letter, I say absolutely not. We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of Israel. We are proud of the relationship we have built with Israel.”

The Prime Minister discussed the chances of a peace settlement, saying: “There will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement, too.”

“But as we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence, we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them,” May added.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn released a statement yesterday and said: “the fact that this promise by what was then colonial Britain is celebrated by one side and commemorated as a disaster by the other reflects the continuing tragedy at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Corybn said that Britain’s historic role means we have a special responsibility to the Palestinian people who are denied their basic rights and that the UK should mark the centenary anniversary by recognising Palestine, increasing international pressure for an end to 50-year occupation, illegal settlement and blockade of Gaza.

Corbyn added: “As many Israelis and Palestinians believe, there can only be a lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of a negotiated settlement that delivers justice and security for both peoples and states.”