No, I don’t mean Egypt, I mean Britain. We are hearing rhetoric from the British government that could just as easily have come from Ankara.

British prime minister David Cameron last July delighted his Turkish hosts with what The Independent described as a ferocious attack on Israel, (“Israel has turned Gaza into a prison camp”), and foreign secretary William Hague conducted a lukewarm visit to Israel last November during which bilateral strategic meetings were relocated to Israel, because Israeli officials refused to travel to Britain for fear of being harassed in the British courts by pro-Palestinian activists.

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Hague’s latest utterances, while en route to visit Jordan (“Israel needs to cease its ‘belligerent language’ in the Middle East”), have left many Israelis scratching their head trying to understand where the British are taking all this.

The foreign secretary’s verbal jab came in response to concerns in Israel that a new radical Islamist regime in Egypt could force the IDF to reallocate resources and possibly increase its strength in the south of the country. Not exactly an unreasonable thought, considering recent events in Egypt.

An article by the Daily Telegraph’s diplomatic editor called for Britain and Israel to stop arguing in public.

“These public rows help no one. Indeed, they make serious engagement, which is what is needed now, difficult. A good beginning might be for world leaders to stop debating each other through the newspapers, and use that good, old-fashioned diplomatic device: the quiet chat behind closed doors.”

And in an astute footnote, the Telegraph editor quiped: “Minutes of the meetings, which seem to have acquired a disturbing habit of ending up on the Internet, need not be maintained.”


Good advice. But Britain appears to be engaged in much more than just arguing with Israel in public. In what is perhaps one of the most extraordinary interviews by a British diplomat, former ambassador to Israel and current special representative to the foreign secretary, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, spoke on BBC radio and demonstrated what British columnist Melanie Philips describes as a departure from reason into a looking glass world where everything – history, justice, and rationality – is turned upside down.

Here are a few examples of what the man said:

“I entirely agree with secretary Hague. …Anyone who truly loves Israel, anyone who wants Israel to survive, wants Israel to make the peace that has been on offer, essentially since 1937 when the Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine”.

Now just a moment; wasn''t it the Jews of Palestine who accepted the Peel partition plan, just as they later also accepted the 1947 United Nations partition plan (UN Resolution 181), both of which were flatly rejected by the Arabs? In fact the British government itself rejected the Peel Commission’s recommendations and then abstained on the UN resolution.

Cowper-Coles continues:

“Israel is going to survive by making a deal with its neighbors, and living in peace. The problem lies almost as much in Washington as it does in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.”

Well let''s also recall that Israel offered the Palestinians almost everything they had been demanding at the Camp David negotiations in 2000 (the Clinton proposals), at the Taba negotiations in 2001, and at the post-Annapolis negotiations in 2008, all of which were rejected by the Palestinians. Here’s what Arab journalist
Amin al-Mahdi wrote in the Arabic daily al-Hayat:


“Arafat has admitted his mistake in refusing Clinton’s proposals. But what he should have explained was why he refused, why it was wrong, and why it took him two years to realize it. Now the situation has deteriorated to a degree that goes beyond the mistake of rejecting the Clinton peace plan. That rejection was part of a tragic cycle of mistakes that involved resorting to violence (as the Mitchell Report said) and a direct alliance with the Islamic political groups before the negotiations. This tragic cycle of mistakes overthrew the idea of peaceful negotiations and did a lot to bring down the Israeli left and the peace movement.”

Finally, in a remarkable parting whack at the Jewish state, the British diplomat concludes:

“We will all suffer if Israel persists in this present course of trying to survive by force of arms.”

So there you have it. You can add world suffering to the list of Israel’s transgressions.


What is happening in Britain? Were these merely a few isolated events uncharacteristic of Britain’s attitude towards Israel? It’s not easy to make light of such remarks when they come on multiple occasions from a prime minister, his secretary of state, and a senior member of his staff.

Britain’s relationship with Israel may be on a whole new course. The Cameron government is shaping up to be one of the most hostile towards Israel in living memory, according to Phillips, despite the fact that Cameron and Hague have presented themselves as Israel’s staunch allies. “With friends like this” she asks, “who needs enemies?”

Time will tell whether Phillips is right or wrong. But for the time being, Israel needs to regard the country that produced the Balfour Declaration with a measure of caution. Because in the foreseeable future we will need to continue to rely on our might to survive, and if that means that Cowper-Coles and others in the British administration “will all suffer”, then that’s just too bad.






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