There are very few current Lib Dems that find sensible words when it comes to a discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now they are in coalition it is crucial that more do.
Ever since the demise of Jeremy Thorpe as the Liberal leader the party has morphed into a knee-jerk anti-Israel party. They criticise Israel in whatever action it takes to defend its citizens whether it be assassinating a self-confessed terrorist in Dubai, going to war to stop thousands of rockets raining down on Israel or blockading Gaza to stop weapons flowing to Hamas.
Chris Huhne MP lost out narrowly to Nick Clegg for the Lib Dem leadership but he is one lone voice among a sea of anti-Israel Lib Dem reactionism.
I went to hear him speak last week and after a case of will he-won’t he turn up after it had just been revealed that he had left his wife for another woman he finally arrived to speak to the Gladstone Society at the National Liberal Club in London.
Having given us his view of Gladstone, climate change and the upcoming budget it came to the Q&A and I asked a foreign policy question:
“What is the difference between what the British army has participated in in Afganistan, Iraq and Pakistan in defending the UK and, unavoidably, leaving many civilians dead and using targeted assassinations and what Israel did during Operation Cast Lead and its targeted assassination of Al-Mabhouh in Dubai? Why are the Lib Dems so supportive of British troops while at the same time calling for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel?”
“There is no question of British people being involved in the sort of targeted assassination that you are talking about. I don’t believe it is appropriate for intelligence services to be involved in that, whether its the Russian FSB or the Israeli Mossad, it is simply not an appropriate means of conducting a campaign. I can assure you that SIS does not get involved in anything like that. It is something we will continue to be against.
On the general view about Israel and the Middle East solution, I continue to take the view that the two state solution is the only long term way forward and that it is unhelpful in the extreme for either the European Union or the United States, certainly they have to be criticial of Israeli government action as we were of the overeaction to the attempts the break the blockade of Gaza, but we must not be in a position where we are seen to be so allied to one side or the other that there is no long term solution.
And one thing that is worth remembering in the context of all of this is that Israel still faces and has faced for a very long time rocket attacks from Gaza, which frankly if they were rocket attacks coming from Calais into Kent I think that the reaction of the British people would have been very similar to the reaction of Israeli public opinion. And people often forget that Israel is a democracy and that Israeli politicians respond to Israeli public opinion in the same way that we would respond, and do respond, to British public opinion and that makes it all the more difficult for Israel. But the fundamentals of a long term solution have been a two state solution that gives the Palestinian people self-autonomy and at the same times gives the Israeli state security.
Sometimes you simply have to wait for this, as we did in Northern Ireland, until finally people are ready. I just hope that moment arrives sooner rather than later.”
He didn’t explain why the Lib Dems are generally so anti-Israel. He also seems to have forgotten that the SAS assassinated three IRA terrorists on Gibraltar in 1988.
But the democracy point is an important one. No other country has a right to try to control how Israel defends its citizens. One can be critical, of course, but calling for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel, as the Lib Dems have done, is beyond the remit of a civilised political party.
While rockets continue to fall on Israel its electorate will continue to vote for security first. Israelis do not have the cushion of being able to vote on solely economic issues, as other countries do. This is what the likes of Nick Clegg, Menzies Campbell and Sarah Teather do not understand.
Even the Palestinians voted for Hamas mainly on economic issues. The corruption and theft by Arafat and his Fatah party is well documented.
Israel might “overreact” but then who in war doesn’t?
It is those who go to war in the first place, in this case Hamas, who are to blame for any overreaction.