Dominic Raab has visited Israel for his first trip as Foreign Secretary. By all accounts, he was made very welcome, despite the UK’s craven abstention at the UN over extending an arms embargo on Iran, a country where they arrest our ambassador, burn our flag and chat ‘Death to Britain’. Quite the dilemma we faced in that vote.
According to the Foreign Office, Raab met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 16th year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. He was keen to 'reinforce UK commitment to preventing annexation and pursuing a negotiated two-state solution’.
‘Annexation’ is what we call now-suspended plans for the application of Israeli law to Israeli communities in Israeli-held territories which the international community knows would remain Israeli in a two-state solution. Speaking of which, the Foreign Office delicately glides over the question of why it feels the need to prod for renewed negotiations. Israel has just agreed to forge bilateral relations with the United Arab Emirates and other Arab or Muslim countries are expected to follow. Netanyahu may be relieved that the Palestinian Authority doesn't appear to be interested in peace but, cynical demagogue though he is, he’s not the cause of their rejectionism.
Yet the UK’s public statements on Israel and what the Foreign Office calls ‘the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ remain equivocal, philosophically listless and hemmed in by the self-imposed pretence that this is a matter where neutrality serves the UK’s interests or is, in fact, right. It is perfectly possible to support dignity and statehood for the Palestinians without affecting objectivity between them and a long-standing trading partner with key markets that regularly furnishes us with intelligence and security assistance.
I have previously noted the Prime Minister’s woolliness on international relations and security and tried to explain why it was essential that he develop a global agenda of his own. Since then, he has been somewhat distracted thanks to our friends in Beijing but, as that matter and others have only confirmed, the world does not go away when the UK keeps its head down. The Prime Minister is leading us out of the EU but has not yet told us what our role in the world will be post-EU. He holds the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher and yet, Brexit aside, his international positions aren’t all that distinct from those of the last Labour prime minister. There is nothing in Boris Johnson’s foreign policy that Brussels could object to. There is very little Sir Keir Starmer could object to. You can’t object to a mumble.
That Boris isn’t a proper Conservative doesn’t matter all that much to me. It’s the one thing I like about him. But it should probably matter to Conservatives, unless they have made peace with the idea of being in power but still having to play by their opponents’ rules. It certainly seems to matter to Douglas Murray and in a conservatism contest between Douglas and Boris, Douglas would win before the PM could order Maurice Cowling for Beginners from Amazon. His Tory-lite popular liberalism, however, may be Boris's saving grace: he might be convinced to get a little radical. Actually, I’m suggesting something really radical: a policy on Israel that is actually pro-Israel.
The UK needs a new foreign policy for the entire Middle East, one that includes withdrawing from the failed Iran deal, supporting the weakening of Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon, and recognising a sovereign Kurdistan. For now, though, I will focus on Israel and the Palestinians. Much of what I will suggest cannot be achieved without first reforming the Foreign Office. I don’t mind a government department being activist; I would just rather it was activist in our favour. As things stand, you could swap the staff at the FCO with that of SOAS and both institutions would be hard-pressed to notice. If Dominic Cummings wants to shake up the Civil Service, he might want to start here.
What would a pro-Israel foreign policy look like? It might involve some of the following:
- Affirm that the Jewish people are indigenous to the Land of Israel and that the establishment of the modern State of Israel was a just and lawful resumption of sovereignty over a homeland from which they had been expelled.
- Recognise Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel and relocate the UK’s embassy there. Affirm that Jerusalem is a sacred city to three great faiths and that its openness and accessibility to all, something only realised with Israeli governance, must continue.
- Recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The Golan was acquired in a defensive war of survival, is of strategic importance to Israel, and transferring it to Syria risks turning it into another killing field.
- Join the United States in declaring that ‘the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law’. The blanket assertion that all voluntary civilian settlement of disputed territories is illegal is a standard applied solely to Israel.
- Stop referring to Judea and Samaria (‘the West Bank’) as ‘the Occupied Palestinian Territories’. These areas have never been part of a Palestinian state and should be referred to as ‘disputed territories’ over which Israel and the Palestinian Authority both assert a legal claim.
- Beef up the forthcoming anti-BDS law by emulating statutes in a number of US states which deny public contracts to organisations involved in boycotts of Israel. Taxpayers’ money should not contribute, even indirectly, to harming one of our most reliable allies.
- Lobby for the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to be extended to include Israel. Israel’s intelligence-gathering capabilities are well-known and closer cooperation would benefit the UK.
- Condition continued aid on the abolition of the Palestinian Authority’s pay-for-slay policy and an end to incitement in PA-controlled media, schools and all public spheres.
- Support the abolition of UNRWA, a roadblock to peace that prolongs Palestinian dispossession by encouraging rejectionism. Palestinian refugees should be served by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and that, and to Palestinian charities, is where the UK’s annual UNRWA contribution (£34.5m in 2020) should go.
- Explicitly recognise the Palestinian people as a distinct nation and affirm their right to self-determination. Impress upon Ramallah the urgency of resuming talks to secure peace, mutual recognition and statehood. Publish a policy statement automatically recognising the State of Palestine from the moment a final status peace agreement is signed by both parties.
This would not be a popular Middle East policy but it would be an actual Middle East policy, rather than the reheated leftovers from decades of failed dogma. It would also mark the beginnings of something sorely needed: a confident foreign policy for a global Britain.