Friendly Fire: Britain and Israel
David Cameron assures us of his 'unshakeable commitment' to Israel's security. Why then does he not see the obvious Islamist threat emerging from the Arab Spring and Hamas?
David Cameron has had an unusually busy week, contending with local and constituency elections, a referendum, the fall-out of the Bin-Laden assassination, plus his usual round of ministerial meetings and official engagements.
But all that does not explain his bizarre analysis of the unusually turbulent Middle East when he met visiting Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu in London this week.
After reciting the familiar mantra of Britain’s “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security, Cameron went on to seamlessly warn that unless Israel sat down with the Palestinians to negotiate a peace deal, Britain will recognise Palestinian statehood when it is declared at the UN in September.
In Cameron’s view, the “Arab Spring”, the killing of Bin-Laden and the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement has opened up opportunities not only to defeat terrorism but also to expand democracy, spread liberty and freedom, and, not least, provide a unique opportunity to make progress at the negotiating table. If only.
If Cameron’s assessment were indeed true, Israelis of all political hues would already be initialing treaties and rolling out red carpets for dignitaries who would be preparing to descend on Jerusalem for a full-blown peace ceremony. Sadly, they are not.
We are not standing on the brink of a liberal-democratic Middle East. On the contrary, the “Arab Spring”, where successful, is most likely to the replacement of corrupt autocratic dictatorships with corrupt Islamist-led dictatorships.
While the Israel-Palestinian conflict has not formed a significant part of any of the middle-class protest movements, populist anti-Israel rhetoric is certain to be the centrepiece of new regimes which seek to consolidate their power and bind the old wounds. It is highly unlikely, for example, that Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel will survive into the next regime.
David Cameron need not take my word for this. Amr Moussa, outgoing head of the Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister who is tipped to succeed Hosni Mubarak, placed the issue high on his nuanced agenda in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday (May 6).
He asserted that the Mubarak regime’s attempts to heal the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had “led nowhere” and that Egypt now needs policies that “reflect the consensus of the people”. He also acknowledged that it was inevitable that September’s parliamentary elections would produce an administration led by an Islamist bloc, with the Muslim Brotherhood – which lamented Bin-Laden’s death – in the vanguard of that bloc.
Moussa now denies that Mubarak nominated him to head the Arab League in 2001 to deflect a possible leadership challenge. Rather, he says, his removal from political life in Egypt was the result of his disagreement with Mubarak over Egypt’s policy towards Israel.
Indeed, Moussa’s popularity in Egypt during his tenure as foreign minister was reflected by the runaway Egyptian pop hit of the ‘90s, “I Hate Israel (I love Amr Moussa)”, sung by the popular artist Shaaban Abdel Rahim.
Meanwhile, the interim Egyptian administration has opened the Rafah border with Gaza and initiated moves designed to improve relations with Iran. So much for David Cameron’s vision of an Israel-friendly, liberal democratic sun rising over the Arab Middle East.
Nor is the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation between the feuding elements within the Palestinian polity likely to bring peace closer. The contrary is true. And Cameron should know this. The dominant party, Hamas, is not only avowedly opposed to the existence of Israel (it says so in its manifesto), but is also formally regarded as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, including Britain.
Has Hamas undergone a Damascene conversion? Unlikely. The leader of the Hamas administration in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, was not only a disciple of Osama Bin-Laden, but he was also one of the few Arab leaders (with the Muslim Brotherhood) to publicly lament his killing.
Bin Laden, said Haniyeh, was an “Arab holy warrior” and he called for “God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs”. He went on to assert that US policy was “based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood”.
Hanyieh was not alone in lamenting the passing of Bin Laden. Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, issued similar sentiments, labeling the killing a “catastrophe” and denouncing the US Navy SEALs as “gangs of heretics”.
It went on to warn that jihad fighters would not be deterred from following the death of the “shahid” (martyr) Bin Laden: “We say to the American and Israeli occupier: the [Islamic] nation which produced leaders who changed the course of history through their Jihad... is capable of restoring the glory of Islam and the flag of Allah’s oneness, Allah willing”.
David Cameron might consider Britain, as he frequently declares, a “strong friend” of Israel. But it is a strange friend that attempts to coerce the object of its affection to adopt a position of vulnerability to those who, by words and deeds, are committed to causing its death and destruction.
Small wonder, then, that Israelis regard Europe with the most profound suspicion and resolutely deny it a place at the high table of Middle East diplomacy.
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