Israel, Palestine, and Scottish Independence

As the world waits with bated breath (and no, I don’t think that’s too hyperbolic an expression) for the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence, it’s worth taking a look at how the vote will impact the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian theater in particular.

One thing is already clear: regardless of the results of the vote, the vote in and of itself, and the likelihood of a very narrow victory for either side has already made significant geopolitical waves. Independence-minded nationalists from Catalonia to Venice are drawing up possible referendums of their own, and chalking up the Scottish vote as a victory for separatism throughout Europe. The referendum may very well fail, but the nationalist genie has already been let out of the bottle, creating an overall drive throughout the continent towards fragmentation.

None of this means, of course, the complete balkanization of Europe and creation of dozens of new states; countries with their own separatist movements will fight tooth and nail to maintain their integrity. The vast majority have carefully woven into their constitutions clauses that stipulate the illegality of any sort of unilateral secession, reminding outsiders that the Scottish referendum’s legality hinged upon approval from Westminster. While the euphoria of the vote may act to galvanize some, there are still plenty of citizens residing in these regions who are wary of ‘going it alone’ for a variety of reasons, not least because of their lack of confidence in the economic viability of a small, vulnerable state.

How will the result of the referendum directly effect our region? If I were to approach the issue from a purely cynical, realist perspective, here’s what I would conclude: It’s no secret that the Scottish public and government has been partial to the Palestinian cause for some time now; it’s likely that, in the event of independence, Israel will have to deal with an independent Scotland, like its Celtic neighbor Ireland, as a somewhat hostile entity in international forums. And a newly independent European state will simply give an impetus and draw even more attention to the status quo of a stateless Palestine. If, as nationalists hope, the Scottish vote acts as a precedent for other European independence movements, it’s not hard to imagine that Palestinian statehood being a cause around which nationalists will rally. As more states spring up, the Palestinians will likely find more international allies ready to aid them in these fora.

On the other hand, it’s also likely that a newly-independent Scotland will have so much on it’s plate following the vote that the Mideast conflict will have to be put on the back burner for the time being. And a Scottish state, having sacrificed the resources and elite membership it enjoyed in certain forums as a part of the United Kingdom, will be in a far weaker place, geopolitically speaking, to put pressure on Israel, no matter how hostile it may be. In addition, a new British rump state, more predisposed to lean Conservative, may be less inclined in the future to censure Israeli actions.

Furthermore, the splitting apart of the the United Kingdom, a state built in part on the notion of a multi-ethnic identity throws into doubt the defeat of divisive European nationalism. That more than half or nearly half of the Scottish electorate may vote for a breakup of a 300 year-old union that has withstood every continental and world war begs the question: just how stable is British identity? Indeed, if Britain, long considered a paragon for tolerance can’t rid itself of its nationalist demons-and make no mistake, there is more at play in this campaign than economics-what hope is there for the rest of Europe? What would stop the splintering of other countries like Spain and Italy, with far flimsier notions of a united national identity?

The weakening of post-nationalism will affect us as well: one-staters and BDS advocates will have a harder time trying to convince Israelis and Palestinians, at war for nearly a century, to give up their dreams of national self-determination. After all, if even Britain (and in all likelihood the rest of Europe) falls prey to nationalism, what hope is there for a utopian, post nationalist ‘Israstine’? For extreme right-wing Israelis eager to annex the West Bank, this is a double-edged sword; it means the accepted permanence of not only their state, but of a Palestinian one in the making.

In the end, the results may surprise us all, with voters deciding, at the very last minute, to throw their support by a large margin behind the ‘No’ vote.  Nonetheless, the  train of national self-determination has already left the station, and it shows no signs of slowing down just yet. Assuming that a ‘No’ vote will deflate nationalists as this point is naive. We may not be seeing the proliferation of new states, but be prepared for this to remain a hot topic for the foreseeable future.

About the Author
Guy Frenkel is a New York-based American-Israeli peace activist, currently with the Blue White Future movement, as well as a number of other Israeli organizations working towards a two-state solution. All opinions expressed here are his alone.