Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, paid Israel a visit this week. As well the routine meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Hague took the time to meet with Palestinian NGO representatives in the West Bank to see for himself the ‘ground zero’ the of Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a ‘bold’ move and one that will neither engratiate himself nor the UK with the Israeli government (William Hague’s bold decision is fraught with risk).
However, the trip was overshadowed somewhat by Israel’s decision to postpone the so-called “strategic dialogue” between the UK and Israel due to the continuing fear that Israeli ministers could theoretically be arrested on charges of war crimes when in the UK; this under the principle of “Universal Jurisdiction” (Israel halts ‘special strategic dialogue’ with Britain to protest arrest warrants)
Now I am no expert on international law and the validity of Universal Jurisdiction so I will refrain from commenting on the pros and cons of the UK policy and Israel’s angst towards it. However, the decision by the Israeli Foreign Ministry to announce this further cooling in Anglo-Israeli relations literally as William Hague is stepping off the place at Ben Gurion airport is yet another example of the embarrassingly undiplomatic and tactless etiquette towards foreign dignitaries that runs through the veins of the current Israeli government. In the last year countless foreign ministers or vice presidents have had their visits overshadowed by the Israeli government’s attempt to get one over on their foreign guests. Here are three of the first spring that to mind: Turkish ambassador humiliated by Israel; As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements; French, Spanish FMs: Lieberman violated every rule of diplomacy.
1) Israel does not tolerate foreign critique: Regrettably the current climate in Israel resents all foreign attempts to interfere in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with support, real or rhetorical, towards the Palestinian cause. This is seen as an infringement on Israel’s sovereignty and security and symptomatic of the world’s inherent anti-Israeli bias. As far as Israel is concerned the only foreign actor that could conceivably offer a balanced view is the US, a Republican-led US; not Obama, not the European Union and most definitely not the United Nations. Thus the likes of Joe Biden, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and now William Hague are met here with, at best, indifference, or at worst, outright contempt; to quote Thomas Friedman’s latest piece in the New York Times, today’s Israel really is “behaving like a spoiled child”, especially in the realms of international diplomacy.
2) Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is spineless: As the leader of a coalition government Netanyahu has the unenviable job of trying to keep together the most fractious of coalitions… perhaps ever in Israeli politics. Alongside his own right-wing Likud party the coalition includes everything from the left-of-centre Labour party, a mish-mash of ultra-orthodox parties and your run-of-the-mill quasi-racist nationalist parties. Having said that, the way Netanyahu allows both the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry ( led by the coalition’s far-right parties) to run roughshod over all diplomatic protocol is embarrassing, and for those of us who actually care about Israel’s standing in the world, hugely depressing. That Netanyahu’s response to these instances is a mere shrug of the shoulders is indicative of his over-arching aim in government; to stay in power as long as possible whilst maintaining at all the time the status-quo vis-à-vis the Palestinians (i.e. with no real attempt to deepen the peace process). If this comes at the cost of further international isolation, so be it.
I apologise for this mini-rant, but as a foreigner living in Israel it does become increasingly frustrating having to lend an ear to the barrage of anti-European or anti-Palestinian sentiment and then feel that as a non-Israeli or non-Jew that I am somehow disqualified from questioning Israel’s policies or indeed understanding the nature of threats faced by Israeli and Jewish people in general; but as part of me is now, to all intents and purposes, Israeli (Yikes!), so too I think I have the right and insight to vent my frustration.
But I think I’ll leave that line of argument for another day…