Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

6 January 2009

England should side with the Palestinians: the possibilities for an English foreign policy

The dividing lines seem clear: conservatives (small ‘c’) and the British establishment broadly support Israel’s actions in attempting to eradicate Hamas as a military force in Gaza, taking their cue from the pro-Israeli US position; socialists and British Muslims back the Palestinians and even Hamas, to a variable extent; the liberal intelligentsia sympathises with the Gazan Palestinians while also conceding that, maybe, Israel has little choice other than to act as it is doing – a position based on the firm conviction that the continuing existence of a separate Jewish state of Israel is sacrosanct.

But what should English foreign policy be in the matter? Clearly, this is a paradoxical question, as there is no such thing, formally, as English foreign policy. As we know, foreign policy is a reserved matter, so that even if there were a devolved English government along the lines of those that presently exist in the other nations of the UK, that government would not have an official position on the events in Gaza or any other foreign-policy matter. That didn’t stop the Scottish First Minister’s pro-Palestinian assessment of the events from appearing on the Scottish Government’s website on 3 January, however: “The Israeli Government’s response to the security situation is totally disproportionate, and appears to be a general punishment of the people of Gaza”.

I actually agree with Alex Salmond: I think the readiness of the Israeli government to kill and injure so many innocent Palestinian civilians partakes of their general oppression of and enmity towards the Palestinian people, and their fundamental denial of the concept of a dignified, self-determining nation of Palestine. Only thinking of the situation in these terms can make sense of how the Israelis think it can possibly be justified to slaughter so many people in pursuit of their security objectives: they see their security and the defence of their own civilians as so paramount that the loss of Palestinian lives simply does not weigh in the balance. But beyond the demeaning trade-offs between the number of casualties on either side (how can you set a limit on the number of (Palestinian) human lives lost that is ‘acceptable’ or ‘proportionate’ to the aim of preventing other (Israeli) lives from being lost?), this attitude is comprehensible only when set against what is ultimately at stake: defence of Israel’s right to exist as an exclusively Jewish state is predicated on the denial of the existence of Palestine and, as a corollary (if necessary), on the destruction of the existence of Palestinians.

Note that I referred to ‘Palestine’ and not a ‘Palestinian state’. The point of the distinction is that the heart of the conflict between Israel and Hamas concerns whether the territory currently occupied by the state of Israel should remain a Jewish state or should become a new nation state of Palestine. Hamas and its anti-Israeli backers throughout the Muslim world – particularly, Iran – want to create a new Islamic state of Palestine, replacing the present state of Israel. Hence, the Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s infamous declaration that he wished to wipe Israel off the map, while chillingly evoking nuclear annihilation to Western ears, probably refers mainly to this aspiration to replace the state of Israel with an Islamic Republic of Palestine. By attempting to neutralise Hamas as any sort of military force in Gaza, the Israelis are trying to deal a mortal blow to general Palestinian aspirations towards the creation of such a nation of Palestine. The Israelis are aiming to negate any concept that they should be negotiating with Hamas ahead of the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, as they doubtless suspect that he would have tried to cajole them into talks with an organisation they regard as a mortal enemy. Hence, if Hamas are taken out of the equation before President Obama can find his feet in foreign affairs, then only negotiations with the ‘moderate’ Fatah organisation leading towards the establishment of a two-state solution will be left on the table: a Palestinian state, separate from the Jewish state of Israel, and occupying a much-reduced territory to that of the Palestine that lives on in the hearts and dreams of the battered Palestinian people.

It’s easy to see why English people should naturally be inclined to side with the Palestinians. As I stated in a previous post, our aspirations towards the establishment of a distinct English nation, freed from subordination and assimilation to the UK state, are analogous to those of the Palestinians, even though the situation is clearly hugely different in other ways. We also share our patron saint St George with Palestine: the patron saint of suppressed nations, as I call him. The very fact that Palestine has a patron saint should tell us that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about much more than a fight for control of territory between Judaism and Islam, or between the West and Islam, for that matter. In a blog post on the subject today, Cranmer rightly reminds us that there is – or at least, was – a sizeable and ancient Palestinian Christian community, which is being persecuted and driven away from its ancestral homeland as much by Islamic hardliners as by Israel. And yet, Cranmer still persists in characterising the present conflict as just the latest manifestation of a mortal struggle between Judaism and Islam. Clearly, this is fundamental; and Cranmer does emphasise the way the religious conflict is wrapped up in beliefs about land ownership. However, more fundamental still is the struggle for nationhood: the fight to keep alive the idea and hope of a nation of Palestine that once occupied the territory now occupied by Israel. Hamas has hi-jacked those aspirations in the service of its own extremist Islamic agenda. But the Palestine to which the majority of Palestinians still aspire is not, I would suggest, a monolithic, Iranian-style Muslim state; but one in which there would be tolerance and protection of non-Muslim minorities, including the ancient Christian community.

And including Jews? Well, there’s the nub of the question. Is the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state the only way to protect the Jewish people that live there from a terrifying new Holocaust or dispersion as the vengeance and hatred of the Palestinian people and the Arab world in general is wreaked upon it? This nightmare vision is what ensures that the West continues to back Israel, as we never want to allow another mass persecution and extermination of the Jews to happen again. But is a two-state solution really the only one that could guarantee the Jewish people’s security, while fulfilling – in part, at least – the Palestinian people’s aspirations towards nationhood? The English experience and, as I would say, the natural empathy we should feel towards the Palestinians, could suggest the outlines of a different way out of the impasse. After all, it was Britain that laid the foundations for the present morass by sanctioning the creation of a state of Israel without a corresponding Palestinian homeland while it was administering the territory in the wake of the Second World War. So perhaps England, as distinct from Britain, is in a unique position to atone for the failings of Britain and find a way through.

What if, instead of a two-state solution, England were to propose and push for a two-nation / one-state solution: an integrated, single, federal state covering the present territory of Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories. The new Israel and Palestine would be divided into distinct self-administering nations, with re-negotiated land borders – e.g. the whole of the West Bank being incorporated into Palestine. Meanwhile, the city of Jerusalem could have a separate status as an international ‘free city’, rather like those of medieval Europe or, indeed, a devolved city-county like London. Effectively, then, Israel-Palestine would be divided into two nations plus a non-national city – Israel, Palestine and Jerusalem respectively – with governmental responsibilities being apportioned between the central state and the nations in rather the same way that they are presently between the UK state and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (a structure that should also be extended to England, of course). The new state of Israel-Palestine would have to be secular – neither Jewish, Islamic nor Christian – so as to ensure equal rights and protection for all faith communities. The non-denominational, international city of Jerusalem could become a shining beacon and symbol of the peaceful cohabitation of the three great faiths for which it has such a privileged and precious status. If necessary, Jerusalem could become some sort of international protectorate, with its security being assured by a rotating international force made up from traditionally Christian and Muslim nations alongside those with other, non-Abrahamic faiths. And the fact that there would be a single state would mean that Palestinians could consider the whole of Israel-Palestine as their ‘country’, even if only a part of it were technically their nation. They would be free to live and work throughout the territory; as, indeed, would Jews be in the new nation of Palestine. This would make good some of the humiliation of the Palestinian people and make them feel that not only their nation but their land had been restored to them – although part of the agreement might have to be that all individual disputes over land ownership were formally ended.

‘It would never work’, I hear my readers say. Well, the present situation isn’t exactly working, either; and the single- and even dual-state solutions that have been advanced so far have not come to fruition. The above single-state / dual-nation solution is attempt to reconcile the conflicting claims of Jewish security and Palestinian nationhood. And it’s reconciliation that is so desperately needed; not bombs.

In any case, my main point is not this particular proposal in isolation. This is merely an example – but hopefully, an intriguing one – of what a distinctive English foreign policy might look like. We wouldn’t have to be hide-bound to the legacy of British foreign policy stretching back over decades and centuries; and we wouldn’t need to slavishly toe the American line. We could go with our instincts, our sympathies and our flair for pragmatic compromise. And just think; if England were able to mediate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, just think how this could improve our relations with the Islamic world, and with the Muslim communities in our midst!

The possibilities, as they say, are endless. But it might require an independent English foreign policy, and indeed English independence per se, to bring them about. But the example I’ve just given is one where thinking outside the British box might enable England to play a wonderful role in international relations to which our genius for practical solutions and, perhaps, our Christian heritage suit us well.



  1. It is worth pointing out that Israel is already a secular state, and that one-third of its population are Arabs who have full citizenship – including MPs, at least one member of the Supreme Court, etc. Furthermore, although Arab Israelis have the option of not serving with the IDF many nonetheless do so. There will be Israeli Arabs in the armed forces attacking Hamas in Gaza right now.

    So in that respect the solution you suggest already exists.

    I am also pretty sure that Gaza was historically considered part of Egypt, not Palestine. And the West Bank was originally Jordan of course. The “Palestinians” didn’t do themselves any favours when they attempted an armed coup to take over Jordan hence their expulsion.

    This isn’t meant to excuse the driving out of non-Jews at the beginning of the Israeli State – nor indeed the equivalent expulsion of Jews from throughout the Middle East leaving them with only Israel to go to. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but too many years have now passed to do other than accept that it is too late to change this now.

    Do you remember the desperate attempts to come up with a deal in the dying days of Bill Clinton’s Presidency? Israel agreed to all the Palestinian demands save one – “the right of return”, i.e. the right to swamp Israel’s *democratic* state with hostile immigrants. And so because of this Yasser Arafat refused to deal.

    The real tragedy is that no solution that admits the continued existence of an Israeli State will be tolerated by the Islamists who have the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. In other words, there is no solution. Except perhaps one in which Egypt and Jordan take back their territory and start to police the “Palestinian” Arabs within. And who’d want to grasp that poisoned chalice?

    Comment by David B. Wildgoose — 6 January 2009 @ 4.05 pm | Reply

  2. Englans should side aside and let Israel and the Arabs to deal with their problems. The Britons already created much of that problem though their occupation and betrayiong their task to sepetare the Land of Israel between the Jewish people and the Arab Muslims invaders.

    Why people think that Palestinian Jews have no permission to settle and live in their Holy Land? Why do you favor the Apartheid policy to cleanse the Land of Israel of Jews?

    The Palestinian Arabs have already had their own national home in the East Bank. Just turn Jordan a democracy and the vast majority of Arab Palestinians will rule their state by their own. They need not a second state on the account of The Jewish Palestinians.

    There is one solution for the Paletinian problem. And the solution contains ONLY two states in historical Palestine, and NOT 3 or 4 states.

    Jordan, aka the eastern part of Palestine, should be the Palestinian Arab state which it’s Capitol is Amman. You have to remember that 85% of the Jordanians are Arab Palestinians, and the Kings’ family and his Beduins are Hashemite Beduin tribes from middle – western Saudi Arabia.
    Israel, the state of the Palestinian Jews, should control and dominant the western part of Palestine, and with its Capitol Jerusalem. The border between both states will be the Jordan River.

    Arabs and Jews will live where as they live today and the Arab refugees’ problem will be settled within the Arab Palestinian state with the help of other countries, including Arabs’ and Israel.

    Arabs in both states will vote to their national Parliament in Amman. Jews in both states (if Jews will move to live in now-Jordan) will vote to their national Knesset in Jerusalem. That will make sure that Israel will stay a Jewish state no matter how many Arabs will live inside the land. If military clashes and terror actions continue, Israel always can evacuate and transfer Arabs from west to east of the Jordan River, with or with out the Jordanian Palestinians approval.

    Comment by Abe Bird — 21 February 2009 @ 8.16 am | Reply

    • For the record, Abe, I’m not opposed to Jews settling in Israel-Palestine, so long as this is within recognised international borders and sustainable limits. I’m not even opposed to Israel defining itself as a Jewish nation or state, which is not how it is presently defined according to one of my commenters (i.e. it’s officially secular). However, I am opposed to proprietary claims over the Holy Land. You refer to Israel as “their [Palestinian Jews’] Holy Land”. Well, is it theirs and theirs alone? That’s the whole point, it seems to me; and that’s what the three great monotheistic religions have been fighting about for the last 1500 years or so. And besides, you and I both know that it’s not just ‘Palestinian Jews’ that have been settling in Israel: Jews from all over the world have the right to do so, which is completely unsustainable.

      Comment by David — 21 February 2009 @ 9.51 am | Reply

  3. As for 1948, and for now, there are 22 Arab nationalists Islamic states. One of these states, called “the Kingdome of Trans Jordan” until 1947 and Jordan since then, located on the big ‘half’ of historical and political Palestine. Most of Jordan soil sits on historical Palestine and most of the Jordanians (about 75% and some say even 85%) see themselves Palestinians Arabs. Most of the pre-1967 Palestinians terror organizations originated out of the ‘west bank of the Jordan (river)” originally the name given to the all territory west of the river. Same siblings and families live in both places. It is the same people as said always by Fatah and Arabs leaders, including Yasser Arafat (who tried to execute by force his political agenda in Sept.1970 and Jordanian forces battle the PLO terrorist organization, driving its members out of Jordan after the group’s violent activity threatens to destabilize the kingdom. The terrorists flee to Lebanon.), and by King Houssein and his brother Prince Hassan.
    The main obstacle for peace is then, while Israel agrees to withdraw from some parts of the “West Bank” (in its pre-1948 meaning aka Judea and Samaria), most of the Arab Palestinians want the WHOLE west bank, and I mean West Bank in its premier and original interpretation: All the West Bank from the Jordan river to the seashore including the state of Israel itself!!! One can see that if he looks inside the Arab leaders’ dialogue on the subject. The main outcome of this dialogue is their call to create “one state for two peoples” or “A state of all its citizens”. That is coverage for their real aim.

    Once Palestine (It’s a Roman and later British name for the land of Israel) had been already divided by the League of Nations in 1923 that handed the Eastern part to Hashemite Kingdom to rule the Arab Palestinians there, they fail to accomplish mission and hand the Western part back to the Jews. They failed their historic mission because of small local politics of the British. Now you say, that Israel should add and give the Jordanian 1948 occupied territories to the same people in order to create their 2nd Palestinian state. So, why then not to create a second Jewish Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria next to the second Arab Palestinian state there? Just to be even.

    I’m quite sarcastic because people in Europe projects their opinions with out digging the facts and lean on them, but fix their mind in reaction to the current Anti Israel motivated misguided and false headlines of what occurs Now. Israel pictured as the big and strong Goliath and small but blood shading Arab Palestinians as the weak and just. That attitude is even not actually meets the facts, less to say morally correct. Israel is the tiny entity that suffers from Islamic/Arab rejection since hers very beginning. Even Egypt and Jordan reflect that true through their official and non-official staff, academics and religion’s clerks.

    As for describing Israel as Jewish state I see a lack of knowledge of those who claim that Israel should be secular. When said a “Jewish state” it refers to the fact that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and it has nothing to do with religion. When one says that England (not Britain) is Anglican state it doesn’t mean that religion is above all. England is the land of the English and Britain of the Britain. What the Jews can do when ‘Jewish’ is a national and religious under the same umbrella?
    Israel is a secular state and ALL religions are tolerated with great concern to religious people of all kinds as needed, because Israel is a democracy and because of the very sensitive fact that Israel Land is the Holy Land, at least in the eyes of the two great religions on earth. But it has nothing to shade upon the ultra free society that exists in Israel.

    Comment by Abe Bird — 22 February 2009 @ 8.35 am | Reply

    • Well, Abe, I have to admit that you’re right with respect to my imperfect knowledge of the history. So on that level, I’m not qualified to speak. But I think the only way out of this conflict that can be conceived of in the present is for there to be some sort of two-state or two-nation solution: probably the former, as it’s the only deal currently on the table. What borders those states / nations should be within I’ll leave to the politicians and people on the ground to decide!

      I do, however, think that, in this conflict perhaps more than in any other, people of faith need to try to seek the will of God. Easier said than done; but I think God is for peaceful co-existence of all peoples and faiths, not dividing lines keeping them apart; and it’s that vision of reconciliation and peace that should guide the deliberations and actions of those working for a true and lasting settlement. And that also involves reconciliation in some form, which we have to hope that God’s Providence (alone) will bring, between the three great monotheistic religions on earth. I note you said only two, which I assume omits Islam. No peace without getting the Muslims on board!

      Comment by David — 22 February 2009 @ 3.16 pm | Reply

  4. “After all, it was Britain that laid the foundations for the present morass by sanctioning the creation of a state of Israel without a corresponding Palestinian homeland while it was administering the territory in the wake of the Second World War.”

    Arthur Balfour was born at Whittingehame, East Lothian, Scotland.

    “The Balfour Declaration of 1917: A statement of policy by the British government stating that “[the] government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” with the understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”

    Comment by M Anderson — 20 March 2009 @ 5.56 pm | Reply

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