How David Cameron betrayed the Palestinians

How David Cameron betrayed the Palestinians
Comment: The British prime minister once described Gaza as a "giant open prison". He has since become a born-again Likudnik, says Martin Linton.
4 min read
04 May, 2015
Cameron has been decribed as the UK's most pro-Israeli prime minister [Getty]

Soon after he was became prime minister in 2010, David Cameron spent two hours on a flight talking to Chris Patten, the former chairman of the Conservative Party who was at the time the president of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Lord Patten spent most of the time telling Cameron that Gaza was "an open-air prison encircled by an apartheid wall" and a few weeks later on 28 June 2010 David Cameron repeated the phrase in the House of Commons, calling Gaza a "giant, open prison".

A month later, on a visit to Turkey, he again said that Gaza "must not be allowed to remain a prison camp" and condemned Israel's assault on the Mava Marmara peace flotilla as "completely unacceptable".

For a short time we dared to hope that Cameron was going to be the first British prime minister to speak up for the Palestinians. 

We could not have been more wrong.  Israeli lobbyists and diplomats, quoted in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week, say Cameron has been "the most pro-Israel British prime minister ever".

That is no small claim. The last two Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were both extremely pro-Israel, and so was the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

But Cameron - together with his finance minister George Osborne - have been even stronger in their support of Binyamin Netanyahu.

They changed British law to protect Israelis from arrest for war crimes. They failed to condemn the attacks on Gaza as disproportionate. They tried to stop the Palestinians joining the International Criminal Court. They failed to support Palestine at the UN. They refused to recognise Palestine.

Not long ago the veteran Labour politician Sir Gerald Kaufman asked David Cameron to condemn Netanyahu's 'Jewish State' law that threatens the civil rights of Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens.

The prime minister refused, saying: "One of the reasons I am such a strong supporter of Israel is that it is a country that has given rights and democracy to its people, and it is very important that continues.

"When we look across the region and at the indexes of freedom, we see that Israel is one of the few countries that tick the boxes for freedom, and it is very important that it continues to do so."

Limited freedom

     Israel is at the bottom of a freedom of religion index with Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Afghanistan.

This is not remotely true. When one looks at international indexes of freedom one see that Israel, far from "ticking the boxes", is languishing a long way down the league table. In the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom Israel is in 44th place.

Israel is in 96th place in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index. In an international freedom of religion index, Israel is at the bottom with Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Afghanistan.

Not only is Cameron blind to Israel's faults, but he appears to have become more and more pro-Israeli at a time when other countries have been becoming more critical.

Senior British diplomats who have spoken to Cameron have come away with the impression, according to Haaretz, that "he sees the Middle East very similarly to Netanyahu".

Cameron has also been working, according to Haaretz, to intensify coordination on defence and intelligence with the Israelis and has been doing so with minimum publicity "beneath the radar", because he knows this would be unpopular in the UK.

Public opinion in the UK is now much more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he will recognise Palestine. 

The House of Commons has voted to recognise Palestine. It is Cameron himself who is acting like a born-again Likudnik, blocking any moves that would be helpful to the Palestinians.

Palestine may not be a major issue in the British general election, which takes place on 7 May, but 35,000 people have written to more than 800 candidates of all parties urging them to support Palestinian recognition and economic sanctions against the Israeli occupation.

Candidates are regularly being quizzed at election meetings about their views on Israel and Palestine. For more and more people it is an issue that will determine how they vote.

They will all be hoping - for the Palestinians' sake - that Cameron is defeated and fearing what will happen to Palestine if he is re-elected.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.