Britain heads for Israel sell-out at the UN
The prospect of Britain backing the Palestinian UN bid shows just how deep anti-Israel feeling goes at the Foreign Office
Just a few weeks ago I spoke to a senior Israeli official who waxed lyrical and enthusiastic at the prospect of Britain playing the "responsible adult in the room" when it comes to international discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians. I liked the concept, but I can't say I was optimistic.
When all is said and done, British foreign policy over the Israel-Palestine conflict has been designed over years and decades to please peoples and governments that would really rather Israel didn't exist at all. This has produced what is best described as an anti-Zionist subculture inside the Foreign Office (FCO). Subcultures, as opposed to policies, are not easily overturned.
It looked as though I was going to be proved right all too quickly as the Foreign Office initially dithered over Israel's recent response to rocket fire from Gaza. But then out came the Prime Minister and even the Foreign Secretary with statements expressing a clear recognition that Hamas had started it all.
Sure, that wasn't, how shall I put it, rocket science. But even getting the British foreign policy establishment to state the blindingly obvious counts as something of an achievement when it comes to Israel.
The FCO must have been seething.
And now, it appears it's time for revenge. If reports in the British press are to be believed Britain may be about to reverse its oppositional policy position on the Palestinian bid to get enhanced status as a non-member observer state (like the Vatican, for example) at the UN General Assembly in a vote on Thursday.
As with so many matters concerning Israel and the United Nations its importance is as much symbolic as substantive, and when you boil it all down it amounts to just another piece of Israel bashing, though it could also have some very damaging implications.
The Palestinians have been pursuing the UN route for recognition of statehood in order to bypass direct negotiations with Israel. Their hope is that when talks subsequently resume, they will effectively be able to present Israel with a fait accompli on issues such as borders.
They would also like to be able to hound Israel through international kangaroo courts on "war crimes" allegations, but it is unclear whether they will ultimately be able to use their new status to do that.
The bottom line is that the move makes negotiations with Israel much less likely, and no serious and objective analysis of the key players and their policies could conclude otherwise.
Indeed, the proposal is so blatantly anti-Israeli that it would be no surprise at all if Israel (and possibly the United States as well) took substantial retaliatory measures.
This could entail annexing settlement blocks, stopping financial transfers to the Palestinian Authority or even scrapping the Oslo Accords, the very basis of most people's idea of a potential peace agreement. After all, if the Palestinians are allowed to take unilateral measures to secure their interests, why shouldn't Israel do likewise? That, at any rate, is how the Israelis are likely to see it.
Which brings us back to Britain's position. Ultimately, the UK can do nothing to stop the motion from passing. The UN has a built in anti-Israeli majority. But British, and wider European, backing for it would provide the kind of international legitimacy that it would otherwise lack.
Given the harsh realities of the global deligitimisation campaign against the Jewish state, it is likely that Israel will actually attach quite a significant degree of importance to how Britain and its European partners decide to play this. If we make the mistake of supporting the move, the Israeli response is likely to be that much stronger.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu still looks likely to hold on to his job after the January elections, this might well emerge as a major obstacle to serious talks for the foreseeable future. Of course, other factors could intervene. But the Palestinian move at the UN is certainly a net negative for the peace process.
I was under the impression that British policy was at least formally aimed at enhancing that process rather than placing obstacles in its way.
So it may be a good time to give the clowns at the FCO a few days off so some serious people can look at this issue soberly and calmly.
Britain should vote no to the Palestinians' diversionary tactics at the UN. If we do vote in favour, never again do I want to hear British officials garbling on about being friends of Israel, or Israeli officials talking about Britain being the "responsible adult in the room".
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