Though extremely fascinating, Tuesday’s impassioned debate in the British House of Commons was also quite shocking – not so much for the level of disagreement over war with Iraq, but for the level of agreement that Israel is deserving of similar “pariah” treatment.
Faced with an unprecedented rebellion within a ruling party, British Prime Minister Tony Blair impressed upon his colleagues the gravity of their decision, contending that their approach to Iraq “will determine the way Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century… it will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation.”
But as feisty British parliamentarians weighed the use of force to disarm the rogue Iraqi regime, Blair joined speaker after speaker in suggesting that Israel should be next in line.
Indeed, Blair insisted that he does not believe there is "any other issue with the same power to re-unite the world community than progress on the issues of Israel and Palestine." In other words, the quickest way to mend the huge rifts that have developed worldwide over the Iraqi threat is to impose on Israel the “roadmap” to Palestinian statehood.
Even in resigning from the cabinet over Blair’s policy on Iraq, House leader Robin Cook found common ground with him on Israel, [erroneously] accusing the Jewish state of defying UN Security Council resolutions far longer than Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Incredibly, Israel was repeatedly presented as a scapegoat for the region’s ills, and a sacrifice that will re-unite the world.
To rescue Blair from the political brink, US President George W. Bush pledged last week to speed up publication of the three-phase roadmap to a Palestinian state as soon as a credible Palestinian prime minister was appointed with “real authority.” But British lawmakers grilled Blair on whether it was a serious commitment from the White House. He assured it is, and there is plenty to suggest he is right.
Bush first presented his “vision” of Palestinian statehood in the fall of 2001, several weeks after the September 11 mass terror attacks. Hoping that it was the right carrot to offer Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to quell the raging intifada, he cleverly stated that it had always been the “vision” of the United States to see a viable Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel.
This despite the fact that the administration of his own father, President George H. W. Bush, gave a written assurance to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir ahead of the 1991 Madrid peace conference that the US did not support the creation of a Palestinian state.
Nonetheless, Bush had made a deal with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah – a close personal friend of the Bush family – that if the Arabs could bring Arafat along towards a ceasefire, the president would bring Israel along towards a Palestinian state. The Arabs failed on their end of the bargain, releasing Bush to offer up mere lip service to his “vision.”
But now Tony Blair has banked on that vision to survive at a time when he has stuck his neck out for the American president on Iraq. Bush will find it hard to back out this time.
It is one thing to make conditional promises to Arab rulers, knowing all along that they will probably never be able to meet those conditions. But is quite another thing to promise your closest ally at a critical juncture in history that you will pursue the peace process vigorously – understood to mean increased US pressure for Israeli concessions.
Both American and Israeli officials say Bush has simply dangled the roadmap in front of the Palestinians to promote the pending appointment of Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] as prime minister. But it is hard to ignore the timely link to Blair’s dire predicament after his very visible and persistent lobbying on the roadmap.
For Bush, this could amount to a serious compromise of principle, of the moral clarity he insists is needed to wage the war on global terrorism. By his own terms, set out in his landmark speech last June 24, the Palestinians should expect progress towards statehood only when they stop the terror, not when a few cosmetic reforms are instituted. And certainly not when a British prime minister comes pleading for his political life.
There is ample reason, now that war on Saddam has been decided, to support the leaders of the US and Britain and their forces in the field. But there is also every reason to oppose the sacrifice of Israel to patch up frayed relations over Iraq.
Ironically, Blair addressed the Commons yesterday from the historic government “dispatch box” – a podium holding symbolic treasures of British democracy, among them the King James Bible. Pull that Bible out and you will find that Israel holds a special place in the universe – the very apple of God’s eye.
Blair seems to think that whipping Israel into line is the key to success in disarming the Iraqi menace. But perhaps it is the opposite. Perhaps the willingness to sacrifice Israel to the Arabs is the very reason the US and UK’s diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq have been so hindered over recent months. Let us hope and pray that the war effort is not so messy.
©2003 - ICEJ