Politics & Policy

Strained Relations

Britain turns on Israel?

When a double Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv shatters more than a month of relative calm inside Israel, murdering 23 civilians, one could reasonably anticipate that the nations of the free world might join with Israel in its fight against terror. When two members of Fatah’s Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a group openly connected with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, blow themselves up just minutes apart in a pedestrian mall packed with innocent shoppers and laborers, one could expect that those nations would hold the P.A., at the very least, partially responsible.

No such luck.

Several of the murdered and wounded who lived in the densely populated working-class neighborhood of Neveh Shaanan were foreigners (of the dead, seven nationals of China, Romania, Ghana Ukraine, and Bulgaria have been identified). Naturally, the Israeli government expected widespread international protest. Yet, other than the United States, there was barely a word.

The bombing was the worst atrocity in Israel since a suicide bomber from Hamas killed 28 Israelis in Netanya last March. Israel’s reprisal then was to launch a full-scale invasion of virtually every Palestinian city in the West Bank. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be reluctant to initiate a major operation now while the United States is preparing for a potential attack on Iraq.

Instead, Israel’s reaction to the carnage has been characteristically lenient: the shelling a couple of abandoned Palestinian targets and tightening security in the West Bank and Gaza. Additionally, Israeli officials decided to prohibit a planned gathering of the Palestine Central Council, which was set to review a draft Palestinian constitution.

Yet, in a testament to how cheaply civilian life in Israel is considered by many Europeans, the most-controversial aspect of this incident has not been the nihilistic carnage or even the shattered peace, but the government’s subsequent ban of a Palestinian delegation from traveling to London for what promises to be futile discussions on reforming the Palestinian Authority — an organization that has encouraged or participated in the murder of 453 Israelis in 2002, 721 since September 2000.

After offering a perfunctory condemnation of the terror attacks, British foreign secretary Jack Straw slammed the Israeli government for preventing Palestinians from attending the conference that was to be held under British patronage with the participation of the United States, Russia, the European Union, United Nations, representatives from the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Palestinian Authority officials.

“I greatly regret the decision announced by the Israeli cabinet this morning to prevent representatives of the Palestinian Authority from travel,” Straw said during a speech in London. “This cannot advance the cause of peace and security for Israelis any more than it can for Palestinians.”

While relations between Great Britain and Israel have been strained for some time, the relationship seems to be headed for even-worse times. The most recent example of acrimony came when British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, instead, playing host to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose country, according to the U.S. State Department, has harbored murderous groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. All of these organizations are on the department’s terror list.

When Straw called Netanyahu on Monday to ask that the Israelis reconsider the decision to ground the Palestinian delegation, Netanyahu appropriately employed the words of President Bush to condemn the proposed summit, stating that no organization compromised by terror can be a partner for peace. By meeting with Arafat’s representatives, Blair, in effect, would legitimize and reward a leadership that has been thoroughly compromised by terror.

For their part, Sharon and Likud officials have opposed the planned London conference from the beginning and for one crucial and obvious reason: No Israeli representatives were invited. Surely London would have a similar response had Israelis considered a conference regarding the fate of Northern Ireland in Jerusalem without inviting any English representatives.

These recent events have only intensified the acrimony between Blair and Sharon. The Israeli prime minister was not pleased when Blair invited leftist opposition leader Amram Mitzna to visit him in London on Jan. 9, less than three weeks ahead of Israel’s general election. British officials said the Mitzna meeting is part of Blair’s routine contact with opposition leaders worldwide with Labor and Social Democrat heads.

But in a more-consequential incident, the British have decided to quietly embargo the sale of critical spare parts for the Phantom fighter-bomber jets. Israeli officials said that their fleet of 140 F-4 Phantoms might have to be grounded. Israeli officials have suggested that the British government might be trying to appease the Arab world by pro-Israeli policy as they prepare to take part in military action against Iraq.

If the authentic objective of the British is a lasting peace in the Middle East and a Palestinian state that peacefully coexists with Israel, alienating Sharon, whose Likud party will win a commanding grip of parliament after Israel’s general elections in a couple of weeks, is a strategy that is doomed to fail.

David Harsanyi is a writer and editor in New York City.


The Latest