British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The rapidity with which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated British Prime Minister David Cameron on his reelection Thursday tells the whole story: Jerusalem is pleased that it is Cameron, not Labor’s former leader Ed Miliband, who will lead the next British government.
Netanyahu posted a congratulatory message to Cameron on Twitter early Friday afternoon, and called him personally on Saturday night.
“I look forward to continuing to work together with you on behalf of peace and security in the region, as well as to deepen the cooperation between Israel and Britain,” he told Cameron in an understatement that belies the real sense of relief in Jerusalem.
With Cameron’s reelection there will be more of the same in British-Israeli ties. Though more of the same is no honeymoon with London, with which Jerusalem has had its disagreements during Cameron’s term in office since 2010, it is far better than what was expected under Miliband, whose tone has been much more critical of Israel.
Cameron, according to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, understands what Israel is up against, which is why the official statements from London last summer during Operation Protective Edge were much more mild than the mood on the street or some of the comments made by British politicians.
One of those politicians was Miliband, who said in Washington last July immediately after meeting US President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that “we oppose the Israeli incursion into Gaza.”
“I don’t think it will help win Israel friends,” he said. “I don’t think this will make the situation better. I fear it will make it worse.”
And during a speech to a Labor forum last summer he said, “I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians.”
The concern in Jerusalem prior to Thursday’s election was that if Miliband had won, then the public tone – reflecting those types of comments – would have changed for the worse, even if London’s policy toward the Middle East would not have undergone any radical change. And that policy, at least from Israel’s perspective, has been mixed.
On the one hand Britain is among the strongest critics of Israel’s settlements policy inside the EU, and its foreign minister was among the 16 EU foreign ministers who signed a letter to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini last month calling her to move swiftly to ensure the labeling of settlement products.
But by the same token, at the UN Security Council vote last December on a Palestinian Authority resolution that would have set the parameters for a peace deal as well as a two-year deadline, the British helped torpedo the resolution by abstaining in the vote, denying the Palestinians the nine yes votes needed for it to pass, or at least needed to trigger a US veto.
Britain and Lithuania abstained in the voting, while two other EU countries – France and Luxembourg – voted in favor.
Cameron, during a warm speech to the Knesset last year, said that many people come to the Israeli parliament from around the world “and talk about maps and population numbers and processes and deadlines. They tell you how to run your peace process. I will not do that. You know I want peace and a two-state solution. You don’t need lectures from me about how to get there.”
The concern in Jerusalem is that had Cameron lost, Israel would have been in for a great deal of lecturing from Miliband and the Labor Party.
Arye Mekel, Israel’s former ambassador to Greece who is currently a senior research fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, put Britain somewhere between German – Israel’s strongest supporter inside the EU – and France, which has announced that it will push its own resolution in the Security Council, much to Jerusalem’s chagrin.
That position on the EU scale is now unlikely to change. Under Miliband it very well may have.