Britain Is Ensuring the Death of a Palestinian State

As long as Britain and other states continue to superficially endorse a two-state solution, Israel will become entrenched as a full-blown apartheid state with international blessing, writes Ilan Pappé.

Sudden refugees forever, Palestine Nakba 1948. (Hanini, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Ilan Pappé
Declassified U.K.

Britain today is a secondary actor in the international arena and its ability to influence the so-called peace process in Israel and Palestine is limited. It cannot be considered a significant contributor to efforts to find a solution to Israel’s continued colonization and occupation of Palestine. 

Yet Britain bears massive historical responsibility for the situation of the Palestinian people and shares the overall Western blame for the present reality in the occupied territories. 

In 1917, after the so-called Balfour Declaration, Britain enabled the settler colonial movement of Zionism to begin a project of state building in Palestine. During its subsequent rule as a ‘mandatory’ power, the U.K. provided assistance to the small community of Jewish settlers to build the infrastructure of their future state, while being aware that the indigenous people of Palestine, who were 90 percent of the population in 1917, rejected this prospect. 

Support was given while many British officials on the ground were aware of the Zionist desire to take as much of Palestine as possible and have in it few Palestinians.

Then came the Nakba (catastrophe), the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, when British officials and officers responsible for law and order watched passively as Israel expelled half of Palestine’s population, destroyed half of its villages, and demolished most of its urban space. 

Each such chapter in this history should have left some residues of guilt and a sense of accountability on the part of the British establishment, but it did not.

For example, Britain’s shameful policies did not prevent it from joining Israel in an attempt to topple the most pro-Palestinian Arab leader, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser, in 1956. 

And while Britain was a co-author of U.N. resolution 242, which could have led to a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, it did very little to insist on its implementation as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. 

Daily Abuses

Then came years of systematic and daily abuses of the Palestinians’ basic civil and human rights. The British consulate in East Jerusalem, and the British legation in Ramallah in the West Bank, hosted decent diplomats over the years, some of whom I knew personally. 

But their reports were dumped and left in Whitehall’s amnesiac memory hole. One day a researcher investigating these forgotten reports will be able to compile a revealing journal of the occupation and its evils.  

While still a member of the European Union, Britain diligently followed E.U. policies of not standing up with any seriousness for the Palestinians and their plight. 

There was stronger British condemnation during the brutal Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip in 2012 and 2014, but these protestations were not followed by meaningful action.

The U.K., alongside France and Germany, led an E.U. policy that here and there condemned Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories. More significantly it moved to label goods as coming from the illegal Jewish settlements, a policy which allowed conscientious European consumers to boycott the products their governments were refusing to.

But all in all, the policy continued to provide a shield of immunity for Israeli actions on the ground.

A potentially symbolic moment arrived on Nov. 2, 2017 – the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. It could have been a moment of reckoning for Britain, but it was not. 

Instead, the government of Theresa May celebrated with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the moment the U.K. gave carte blanche to the Zionist movement to colonize Palestine.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May at the Balfour Declaration centenary dinner in London. (Photo: Number 10 / Flickr)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May at the Balfour Declaration centenary dinner in London. (Number 10/Flickr)

There is a pattern to British policy that can be identified today as it could in 1948: staff on the ground watch and report the destruction of Palestinian life and the apartheid aspects of Israel while U.K. policy-makers remain loyal to the description of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Like previous U.K. governments, official Britain has stalled when it needed to articulate clear positions on key issues such as recognition of Palestine and investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into crimes committed in the occupied territories. 

When asked for clarification on the question of Palestinian statehood, then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sent a letter in February this year to the Balfour Project, which monitors Britain’s past and current stance towards Palestine. He reiterated an old position: “The British Government will recognize a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace.” 

I do not think this needs much elaboration or interpretation. It is a rehash of an old Israeli position that claims that Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights will cease once ‘peace’ is achieved, while Israel makes no genuine effort to end the occupation and colonization.

Facts on the Ground

But there is a more profound issue at hand. Like the E.U., Britain is part of a Western consortium that claims to be helping the Palestinians build a state of their own. This stems from the declared British and European support for the “two-state” solution: a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.

But the British government knows all too well that with every passing day unilateral Israeli policy establishes facts on the ground in the occupied territories – notably, settlements – that render an independent Palestine impossible. 

Yet, Britain still employs the discourse of the two-state solution, despite the fact Israel has already killed the idea and seeks to create a de facto Greater Israel. 

Moreover, no real steps are being taken against the more immediate consequences of this unilateral policy, which include the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israeli-controlled ‘Area C’ in the West Bank (nearly 60 percent of it) and in Greater Jerusalem as well as the continued inhuman siege of the Gaza Strip.

Children play atop a bullet-riddled building in Gaza, 2011 (Photo: Shareef Sarhan / UN)
Children play atop a bullet-riddled building in Gaza, 2011 (Shareef Sarhan /UN)

The same hypocrisy is revealed in British policy towards the ICC. Boris Johnson recently confirmed the U.K. government opposes the ICC investigating Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories. He said the U.K. government “do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance” partly since “Palestine is not a sovereign state.” 

Johnson’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, repeated the position in parliament last week. He said the reason the U.K. opposes an ICC investigation is because “the U.K. does not currently recognize Palestinian statehood.”

Britain’s position on the two-state solution is not entirely its fault. As long as the Palestinian Authority itself supports it, one cannot expect Britain not to support it. 

But it is important to recognize that the body of this ‘solution’ has been in the morgue for quite a while, but nobody dares to have a funeral. 

Its death means that while countries like Britain continue to superficially endorse the two-state solution, Israel is becoming established as a full-blown apartheid state — with international blessing.

Domestic and Foreign Policy

Implicitly, U.K. assistance to Israel in continuing its politics of dispossession is ensured through domestic politics where the Israel lobby has successfully launched an assault on freedom of thought on the issue. The demonization of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the false allegation about institutional antisemitism in the Labour Party were part of it. 

The U.K. government’s adoption of the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism indicates that domestic British policies cannot be disassociated from foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine.

In its present form, this definition does not allow any serious criticism of the state of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians. It prevents civil society from playing a meaningful role in shaping the U.K.’s foreign policy on the issue.

Both Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened last year to withdraw government funding from universities that did not adopt the IHRA definition. 

This weaponization of the issue aims to silence open discussion of Palestine on campuses and has to be seen as part of overall British policy towards Israel and Palestine. 

More direct support to Israel comes through Britain’s military. Last December, Britain and Israel signed a military cooperation agreement. The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence has bought £46-million worth of military equipment from Israeli arms firm Elbit since 2018. 

British troops are also present in Israel, admittedly in small numbers, but they offer training services to the Israel Defense Forces.

Britain played a crucial role in the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people in 1948, and later continued policies disregarding Palestinians’ rights and basic aspirations for a normal life in their homeland. 

In this century, Britain has been part of a continued European policy that provides immunity for Israel’s actions on the ground. This stance does not reflect British civil society’s sense of responsibility about the past and concern for the Israel’s systematic abuse of Palestinian civil and human rights. The U.K. government urgently needs to reorient an old, biased and immoral policy towards a people and land who are experiencing an “ongoing Nakba.

lan Pappé is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Israel and Palestine, including The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).

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8 comments for “Britain Is Ensuring the Death of a Palestinian State

  1. Tom Partridge
    September 28, 2021 at 18:30

    I have the highest regard for Ilan Pappé. A defining feature of the man is his courage and integrity. In this regard, I suspect Ilan Pappé felt he didn’t have a choice. By telling the truth he risked losing friends and career. But Pappé is exceptional, he could have chosen a different path an easier path in life but that would have meant compromise. For him, ignoring the truth was not an option.

  2. Dave
    September 28, 2021 at 11:45

    Another point seldom mentioned is that many of these Israeli “Zionist” Jews are not direct descendants from Eretz “imperial” Israel of so-called Biblical times. Most of contemporary Israeli Jews and many of their sympathizers are descendants from the conversion of western Asian Turkic tribes to Judaism roughly during the years 800-1000, i.e., The “Pale”, and the convert / German relationship that resulted in the Yiddish language. Don’t take my word for it: read Jewish writers Arthur Koestler’s THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, and Shlomo Sand’s INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE (title may vary according to translation). Sand is, or perhaps was, a professor at a major Jewish / Israel university. The US media, for reasons of their own, simply refuse to provide the historic backstory to Palestinian and Mideast reportage. A sad state of affairs, particularly when my tax dollars—-desperately needed in USA to alleviate domestic problems—-are siphoned off to Israel for armaments or are used to advance Israeli economic and political interests in the MidEast.

  3. Sr. Gibbonk
    September 28, 2021 at 01:50

    Zionists, badly in need of a rationale for their racist subjugation of Palestinians and the theft of their lands, justify it by claiming that god intended the land for Jews and Jews only. Unfortunately god failed to inform the Palestinians that they have been mere caretakers of the ancient kingdom of Israel lo these many centuries. Until he makes that clear to them they will continue to view the Zionist Jews in much the same light as Native Americans view the majority white population: as European invaders.

  4. September 27, 2021 at 12:37

    The phrase “Never Again” has much worse than a hollow ring and with each passing second, the Nuremburg Trials are shown to have been nothing more than stage managed justification for actions as evil as those they critiqued. How odd that Nazi racism and fascism live on in the People against whom they were once directed.

    • DW Bartoo
      September 28, 2021 at 09:05

      One might imagine that those on the receiving end of uber mensch behavior would not, themselves, choose and insist upon becoming oppressors, and even less so toward those who had not had any hand in the original crimes and abuse.

      However, power and especially military might somehow permit those possessing such power to do grevious harm to those who are weaker and who did no harm to those with that power.

      One notes, as well, that those who believe their right of dominance is, somehow, god-given, as does Israel, as does the U$, and as did Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, behave with a special viciousness as they enact their “solutions”.

      However, let it be well understood that it is the U$ which not only funds the Israeli capacity of terror and violence, but is also the primary global practitioner of both, all while wrapping itself in a cloak of piety and privilege.

      Israel could not do what it does were the U$ not smiling fondly upon its horrendous behavior and suppprting the racist and and hate-filled justifications for the slaughter, the theft, the open imprisonment of an entire people.

      As well, consider all the Nazi “expertise” which the U$ gathered to itself post war, much of it terrifying and deadly in nature and intended use; total dominance and global hegemony.

      Israel is either lap dog or inspiration according to many.

      Perhaps it is but a comrade in vicious armament and deadly inhumanity.

  5. Alain
    September 27, 2021 at 12:36

    I am well aware of this history, but it seems that I am forever learning new examples of the malevolence of the British Empire and of America’s British poodle that the Empire subsequently became. The UK’s role in demonizing Russia and Vladimir Puttin is but the most recent case. I can no longer abide British films and TV series extolling the greatness and bravery of their soldiers, not even in WWII. Of course, not all Brits are bad people, just their leaders and the fools who vote them into office.

    Now excuse me, I need to take my medicine.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      September 28, 2021 at 09:50

      “Their (may I say hypocritical) leaders and the fools who vote them into office” is just about the best phrase I have come across in a long while from any consciencious Westerner, of whom there doubtlessly are many in the closet. I only hope more of such responsible Westerners as yourself come out more openly in support of the totally hapless Palestinians particularly so when their fellow Arab leaders have deserted them to openly frolic with the Zionists. By the way, that was a fantastic write up by the highly accomplished Ian Pappé, himself yet another Palestinean sympathiser from the European West. Kudos to both of you !

  6. Arthur
    September 27, 2021 at 09:33

    Ditto for the US and Germany.

    And why? What’s the reason behind these political behaviors? The Jewish Lobby, which is all powerful in the US, UK, and Germany. The “weaponizing” that Pappe refers to as a result of the IHA’s recently-adopted definition of Anti-Semitism illustrates that fact. It’s not an “Israeli Lobby,” as we are all forced to believe, but a broader Jewish Lobby, whose leaders are behind some 250 Jewish organizations devoted to Jewish political issues, which includes Israel and Anti-Semitism. And those organizations would not exist without the financial help of the broad western world-wide Jewish Community. Thus, Pappe’s article should be addressed to them, the ones with the money behind the entire affair.

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