Cameron's speech demonstrates everything that's wrong with international engagement with the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Shortly before David Cameron touched down in Israel yesterday, Israeli forces killed six Palestinians in the space of 24 hours. They included an 18-year-old student and three men in Gaza. The retaliation and consequent Israeli strikes those sparked look like they could be the start of a serious escalation in the Gaza Strip.
But when Cameron addressed the Knesset yesterday, the killings did not feature. Instead, he spoke at length of his ‘rock solid’ commitment to Britain’s ally. “With me,” he told the Knesset, “you have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable”.
The names of the dead were not the only absent detail. No mention was made of the 46 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since peace negotiations began in June; nothing was said of detention without trial or the demolition of Palestinian homes; and the word ‘occupation’ did not appear once.
Cameron did find a moment to stress Britain’s support for “the compromises needed” for peace, including, he said, a “halt to settlement activity”. He didn’t mention that settlements are illegal under international law.
A halt is not a compromise for Israel, but an obligation. Rather than criticising Israel for the systematic undermining a future Palestinian state, Cameron applauds the possibility that its politicians do the absolute least that should be expected of them.
There was room for condemnation in Cameron’s speech, but not for Israel. He found plenty of time to highlight Palestinian incitement and terrorism, slammed the “outrageous lectures on human rights” that Israel receives in the United Nations, and boasted of legislating against the Law on Universal Jurisdiction, which threatened senior Israeli politicians accused of war crimes with arrest abroad.
Any resistance to occupation was swept away with arrogance. “Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people,” Cameron said, “will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.” By that, he presumably meant the 170-plus Palestinian civil society organisations behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Cameron’s rhetoric is familiar: Israel, it exclaimed, is the victim of a double standard, unfairly singled it out for criticism compared to other, more condemnable, parties. But by implying unconditional loyalty, Cameron only demonstrated the hypocrisy of leaders like him, who are clearly happy to turned a blind eye to serious violations as long as the perpetrator is Israel.
It’s exactly this exceptionalism that makes resistance – through BDS, for example – essential. Cameron may be unimpressed by grassroots struggles, but by demonstrating that politicians won’t hold Israel to account he proves that they are necessary.
But refusing to recognise Israeli transgressions makes solutions seem comfortable. Cameron presented the two-state solution as an attractive economic option, almost a concession Israel might plump for.
However talk of peace that does not admonish Israel is talk that does not recognise Palestinian grievances and needs. It promises a peace in which one, more powerful side, gets away with countless crimes, then can force terms that degrade and constrain its weaker opponent; one that does not right wrongs, or enact justice, or allow scars to heal.
With Cameron’s approach, peace of any kind seems unlikely. If Israel is promised unerring international support, it is likely to approve a deal favourable only to itself – a stunted statehood that the Palestinians cannot accept.
And so the occupation will continue. Life will become increasingly intolerable for Palestinians, the injustices increasingly impossible for the world to ignore. A third Intifada will become ever more probable
Real friends of Israel would be advocates for accountability, not the impunity that makes it a threat to its own security. They would take their ally to task on unacceptable behaviour, not promise it unquestioning support.
With his sycophantic show, however, Cameron simply looks like he’s cosying up the stronger party. It’s a familiar strategy – but one that, in time, often proves embarrassing for those that choose power over principle.
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