JERUSALEM — At last month’s gathering of the U.N. General Assembly, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas placed the responsibility for the 50-year-long Israeli occupation of his people squarely on the shoulders of the British.

“Yes, 100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people,” he said. That declaration, Abbas said, “paved the road for the Nakba of the Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land.” Nakba, or the catastrophe, is the term used by the Palestinians in reference to the 1948 war.

Abbas was referring to a letter from November 1917 sent by the British foreign secretary at the time, Arthur James Balfour, to Walter Rothschild, a British Jewish community leader, stating that the British government will support the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The words of the Palestinian Authority president were immediately mocked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the U.N. lectern less than an hour later. Netanyahu joked: “He's preparing a lawsuit against Britain for that declaration from 1917. That's almost 100 years ago — talk about being stuck in the past.”

“The Palestinians may just as well sue Iran for the Cyrus Declaration, which enabled the Jews to rebuild our Temple in Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. Come to think of it, why not a Palestinian class-action suit against Abraham for buying that plot of land in Hebron where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people were buried 4,000 years ago? You're not laughing. It's as absurd as that. To sue the British government for the Balfour Declaration? Is he kidding? And this is taken seriously here?” Netanyahu said.

Joking aside, a poll released this week by the Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies at An-Najah National University in Nablus of Palestinian attitudes to peace and their own leadership showed that the majority of Palestinians agree with Abbas.

Among the questions asked of 1,362 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank ages 18 and older was whether they “support or reject the call from President Mahmoud Abbas on Britain to accept the historical, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities relating to the consequences of Belfour Declaration including offering an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes and injustice committed against them?”

The majority, 75 percent, said they did. When asked whether they consider Britain responsible for the catastrophes that befell the Palestinian people, 79 percent said yes.

The survey also questioned Palestinians about their views on peace. Although most of those questioned said they support the various international initiatives promoting peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, whether organized by France or Russia, the majority of respondents were not optimistic that such efforts would prove successful.

The survey also questioned Palestinians on whether there was any future for the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the Palestinians more than two decades ago. Most, 74 percent, said they did not believe the Palestinian Authority should remain committed to the agreement, while noting that “Israel is not committed to it.”

The poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, also looked at Palestinian attitudes toward the postponement of their municipal and local council elections (supposed to be held in November), the boycott campaign against Israeli products, and the possibility of conducting presidential and legislative elections.

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