In a speech about Palestine and Israel in the House of Commons on 13 October 2014, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Tobias Ellwood MP, said that the British Government was a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to defence, that Israel was a friend and that the [British] government was proud to pursue a strong bilateral relationship.
No need for alarm then about Britain’s relationship with the state of Israel. I’d ask readers of Jewish News to read the whole debate but, if you can’t spare the time, here are a few quotes.
Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) said: “The Palestinian Authority is seeking to create opportunities for new diplomatic and legal fronts on the conflict with Israel that enable a distraction, an alternative and an escape route from the bilateral principle entailed in the Oslo accords.”
Mike Hancock MP (Portsmouth South) said: “We did not listen then [to the Palestinians] when we could have given a two-state solution in ’48, we chose not to do it.”
Andy Slaughter MP (Hammersmith) said: “Since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run governments, we have seen a new barbarism in that country.” Mr Slaughter also said that the British people supported the recognition of Palestine and that “more than 50,000 emails had been sent to MPs over the past two or three years”.
These quotes tell us at least three things. First, there are MPs who support the state of Israel and understand the real political circumstances that Israel faces on the ground. Second, some of our MPs are ignorant, when it comes to their knowledge of the subject matter. And third, some MPs are simply hostile towards Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.
What I lamented more was that there was no alternative narrative delivered to MPs from their constituents. Andy Slaughter said that 50,000 people had emailed MPs backing his position.
But why did the people who understand the challenges Israel faces not take to their keyboards and say this:
As one of your constituents I support Israel and want to tell you I want peace in the Middle East.
I want Israel to live side-by-side with its Palestinian neighbours in harmony.
I want Israel to spend more of its wealth on schools, hospitals and on global goods rather than spending 7.4 percent of its gross domestic product on defence because of the multiple security threats it faces on its borders, including Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south.
However, it is Israel’s experience that every time it enters negotiations in good faith, the leaders of the Palestinian people have shown bad faith.
When Palestine was offered the opportunity to exist by the UN in November 1947, it was rejected.
When Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak came so tantalisingly close to a peace deal in 2000, it was Yasser Arafat who collapsed the deal, saying that the Jewish people had no history in Jerusalem.
To that backdrop, I can’t agree that a premature recognition of the Palestinian State by the House of Commons helps anyone but those Palestinian leaders who seek to profit politically from the lack of opportunities that they’ve failed to create for the people that they purport to represent. So please explain that narrative in the House of Commons on 13 October.
And say this: genuine statehood is a prize that can, with goodwill, be secured at the end of what will be a long and difficult negotiation. Don’t vote for a cheap stunt.
MPs didn’t receive any emails like that, but I don’t believe that is because Britain is anti-Israel. On the contrary, most people across Britain understand the challenges that Israel faces, they support and celebrate Israel and they are in awe of the huge strides this small country has made since 1948.
There are hundreds of thousands of Christians in our country who celebrate the Hebraic roots of their faith and value our country’s strong bilateral ties with Israel. That’s why their voices must be heard. The Israel-Britain Alliance (IBA) will harness their support and work with friends across Britain to let our parliamentarians know that there is a different narrative.
It’s a narrative for peace. It’s a narrative that can bring to an end decades of violence and it’s a narrative that is shared by the silent majority of the British people.
• To get involved, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jewish News spoke to Michael McCann on the Jewish Views podcast: