When Arthur James Balfour wrote his famous letter of 2 November, 1917, promising, ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,’ it is likely that he didn’t realise he’d just lit a match to a firework factory.
But presumably he did know that the government had made two other conflicting promises. The Hussein-McMahon correspondence of 1915 had Britain promising the Arabs – including those in the large area of land known as Palestine – independence. Meanwhile the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement had also seen Britain and France split the territory between them; no independence.
Oh perfidious Albion! What a tangled mess we made. Britain has always shown a smiling face to whichever side it’s faced in this conflict, but in this day of social media we can see everything. Every lie, every promise, every threat.
So when David Cameron warned or pledged (take your pick) that he was thinking about the issue of ‘recognising a Palestinian state’ as soon as the war in Gaza was over, no one in the region was either gnashing their teeth nor rejoicing. There isn’t much the Palestinians and Israelis agree on, other than neither side trusts Britain.
While pro-Palestinians see Israel as a British colonial invention and are convinced the UK helped arm the Zionists ahead of what became the first Arab/Israel war in 1948, the Israelis remember desperate Jews being turned away from Palestine in the 1930s amid the growing Nazi menace and how after the war homeless Holocaust survivors were interned in camps in Cyprus. They also remember how the Brits banned anyone from selling them arms and, upset the Arabs hadn’t defeated the fledgeling state, it took nearly a year for the UK to recognise the state of Israel.
Cameron’s new plan, without even the vaguest idea of who will lead this newly peaceful state of Palestine, not only echoes the two-faced policy which worked so badly 100 years ago, but without the backing Israel or the Palestinians, smacks of colonialism. And we are no longer a colonial power.
Worse, it looks like a reward for Hamas. Surely we aren’t saying that the terrorism of 7 October was in any way justified? Israel left Gaza in 2005. That was the perfect opportunity for the start of a new state of Palestine; instead, Israel has only had war and rockets as thanks for leaving.
Of course, in an ideal world there would be a two-state solution with Israel living in peace with prosperous Palestinian neighbours. I’m sure there are some people in the Palestinian territories who agree. There are in Israel – Netanyahu and his cronies aside. But even most of the peace camp in Israel, some of whom were murdered on 7 October, can’t contemplate a two-state solution knowing how withdrawing from Gaza turned out.
The most intractable problem is that the Palestinian leadership has shown again and again and again and again that they have no interest in living in peace with Israel – or even accepting its existence. Every opportunity for peace with Israel has been rebuffed.
The Hamas charter has always vowed to wipe out Israel and on 7 October they showed how they would relish murdering, raping and torturing Jews as they did it. The Fatah-run West Bank is seen as more moderate – and the police forces work in an uneasy tandem – but the area houses thousands of militants while its leader Mahmoud Abbas is an unrepentant antisemite as well as being weak and corrupt.
Witness how no one here is marching for ‘peace’ or ‘two-state solution’ on the regular Saturday pro-Palestine marches; they are taking their lead from what they understand of Palestinians. They want a ceasefire and then they want more ‘resistance’. Until Palestinians stop being taught that Jews are on their land and need to be sent packing, there cannot be peace.
The news that employees of UNRWA had taken part in the 7 October massacre is just the start. Through its education programmes, the organisation has encouraged four generations of people to demand a return to a ‘home’ that most of them have never seen.
As a result, 72% of Palestinians thought the massacre of October 7 was ‘correct’ – with a higher percentage of the West Bank in favour than in Gaza (where they knew they would feel the repercussions). And this is just the manhole at the top of the tunnel network. For any peace to work, a nation needs to be de-radicalised.
Cameron may be smooth operator, but stepping his designer shoes into this mess will almost certainly blow up in his face.
Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.
CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.