Correspondent on Palestine Politics across the Pond

August 11, 2014

In Blog


Dear Professor Finkelstein,
On your website, a correspondent from across the Pond wonders about some “rumblings”. At the top, with the decision makers who matter, the rumblings from lower down do not translate into meaningful change. MP after MP stood to condemn Israeli “pirates” after the Mavi Marmara, but nothing altered in terms of British policy. This time, we are hearing all about Israeli “war crimes” from MPs:…
Your correspondent also mentioned the just-about-better-late-than-never comments of Labour Party and Opposition leader Ed Miliband on Protective Edge. Well, Miliband is totally reactive: he will say anything he wants if he thinks he will get him votes; there are too many instances of this, some really appalling, to warrant reviewing. Of course, hot-air-for-votes is true of virtually every single politician, so you will understand what my singling him out for this particular criticism says about him. I think the silly Galloway man described Miliband best: “An unprincipled coward with the backbone of an amoeba.” The guy’s lust for power is just insane.
Less than two months ago, Miliband said before Labour Friends of Israel that, if elected PM, he would go for even closer ties with Israel.
True, this was before Protective Edge, but give it some time once this latest massacre is over and it will be almost as though it never happened. Didn’t Prime Minister David Cameron call Gaza a prison camp? What difference has it made in terms of policy?
The instructive question is Why? Obvious and well-known enough, doesn’t need little old me: Brits dance to an American tune. It is for this reason that these rumblings will not translate into anything in terms of British policy: regardless of feeble public condemnation and perhaps stronger private misgivings, when it comes to the crunch, the key British decision-makers dance to the American piper. When the situation in the States changes, so will it change here.
Even European governments that aren’t permanently prostrate before Washington, say the Germans, fall into line when it comes to Israel, so you can be damn sure we will continue to do so. Let’s remind ourselves:
In a dramatic statement issued Tuesday evening, the 28 foreign ministers of EU member states called for the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. … German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his successor, Philip Hammond, helped to remove from the statement clauses that were critical of Israel.
Anyway, what was the reaction to Miliband’s watery consternation?
Take David ‘Gaza is a prison camp’ Cameron: he simply accused Miliband of “playing politics”. *  Miliband’s tepid, long overdue criticism was also too much for other members of the UK government. Chris Grayling, our Justice Secretary:
I don’t think it helps if we make strong comments that are going to put us in less of a position to do that [i.e. encourage a ceasefire].
Miliband’s comments were strong? No rumblings here.
Nor does taking a look at our foreign secretaries during this human disaster uncover any sign of hope.
Take that plain-speaking Yorkshireman, William Hague, recently reshuffled out as foreign secretary, replaced by the wretched Philip Hammond. Here he is, just after becoming foreign secretary after the May 2010 elections, during an exchange in the House of Commons after the Israelis boarded the Mavi Marmara and murdered people:
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The unauthorised boarding of a vessel in international waters by armed combatants is normally referred to as piracy. The Foreign Secretary is a Yorkshireman noted for his blunt speaking. Will he not use that word on this occasion?
Mr Hague: The blunt Yorkshireman has been converted into a Foreign Secretary who weighs his words carefully, dramatic transition though that may be. …
Ho ho ho! Ah, yes! Hague’s “famous bonhomie” ( How appropriate at such a time.
Middle East Monitor had, literally days before this risible pussy-footing, expressed “hope that William Hague has the moral and political courage to stand up for what is right and against what is wrong.” MEM was speaking in the context of how the Zio-lobby were gunning for Hague from the moment he started as foreign secretary because, like Cameron before entering government, he had dared to call Israel in Lebanon in 2006 “disproportionate”. Needless to say, the lobby needn’t have worried.
As mentioned, Hague’s abysmal period as foreign secretary is at an end; enter the Hammond. On 20 July, he was interviewed by the BBC’s ludicrous Andrew Marr:
Andrew Marr: One last, one last time …
Philip Hammond: … that make this area so unstable.
Andrew Marr: Is what is happening at the moment proportionate?
Philip Hammond: I have asked the Israelis to use every effort they can to minimise the loss of civilian life [… blah blah]
“One last time” was Marr’s third time of asking; Hammond refused three times to use even the word disproportionate. Apparently, however, something bad happened between 20 July and 2 August, because it was on the latter date that an interview appeared on the Daily Telegraph‘s website in which Hammond went as far as saying,
It’s a broad swathe of British public opinion that feels deeply, deeply disturbed by what it is seeing on its television screens coming out of Gaza. The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is simply intolerable and must be addressed – and we agree with them.
That something wasn’t, of course, that Hammond et al. had suddenly started giving a shit about “a broad swathe of British public opinion”—never hurts to pretend you do, though—but rather attacks on UN schools that led to a spike in US criticism. Where the master treads, the servant obediently follows.
As one UK political website noted,
The comments are the harshest from Hammond since the start of the conflict, during which he has tried to strike a centrist tone which would not offend Israel. They are noticeably more robust than statements from David Cameron, who even yesterday was placing the blame for the conflict at the door of Hamas.**
The Financial Times observed that
The intervention marks a shift of emphasis from the new foreign secretary, who visited Israel and the occupied territories days after becoming foreign secretary a fortnight ago. During that visit, Mr Hammond told Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister: “Britain has been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens.” He also warned the country it was losing support among western voters; but his overall tone was strong enough to win an endorsement from Mr Netanyahu, who welcomed his “moral clarity”. At the same time, asked if the Israeli incursion into Gaza was a war crime, Mr Cameron said: “What is certainly a war crime is launching unprovoked missile attacks on the sovereign territory of another country.”***
Hurrah for British moral clarity! Thankfully, I was able to read yesterday that the unyielding condemnation from British leaders has not damaged relations between us and the ‘Jewish’ state: “Last night, Binyamin Netanyahu thanked his allies, Britain and America, and ordered a pullback of Israeli troops.”
So really British policy will surely remain, short of Israel–Palestine becoming a major election issue here (it’s not on the radar:…), whatever the Americans are doing. The only real difference between here and the US appears, at least to me, to be that our guys at the top will give an empty nod to a general public that, despite the BBC’s best efforts, isn’t as misinformed as its American counterpart. Policy will stay unchanged, maybe they’ll revoke a few export licences.
As for the increasing sympathy in Britain for the Palestinians, about all you can say at the moment is that, if the US government ever decides to call time on its slavish support for Israel, there would be no public barrier to our government reflexively doing likewise. I mean, we re-elected Blair even after Iraq; are dead Palestinians at the hands of Israel going to become a game changer?
All of this has been so tediously predictable it’s scarcely worth bothering with. Chomsky refers to us as your attack dog, and we are glad to be of service. Overall, we’re still a very good doggy, eager to be patted.
No need for a reply to this. Merely the somewhat pessimistic musings of another British person disgusted by his government’s support for this horror show. The only note of optimism is that, as you know, polls are registering a decrease in sympathy for the Israeli position in the US, and who knows what the future holds. Perhaps miracles do happen.
* I saw a tweet from a Financial Times journalist about our prime minister that pointed out Cameron “playing politics” during Lebanon 2006 before he became PM. He said,
Elements of the Israeli response were disproportionate and I think it was right to say that, and I think the prime minister should have said that. I don’t think it should be seen as an unfair criticism of Israel. It is just a statement of the fact. Britain is a friend of Israel, yes, and a friend of the US, but in both cases, we should be candid friends and we shouldn’t be scared of saying to our friends when we think they are making mistakes or doing the wrong thing.
** One can only assume Cameron was taking the piss when he tweeted, on 28 July, “My very best wishes to Muslims across the country and around the world celebrating #Eid.”
*** FT article also mentions a poll: “Figures from YouGov show that in 2006, 20 per cent of voters sympathised more with the Israelis than the Palestinians, while 18 per cent felt the opposite. The polling company’s most recent survey shows just 14 per cent now sympathise more with the Israelis, while Palestinian support has increased to 23 per cent.”