Sunday, 1 July 2018

The UK has turned its back on BDS

The organization dedicated to isolating and delegitimizing Israel by way of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has not reacted officially to the recent visit to Israel by Britain’s Prince William.  Since he also visited Jordan and what are described in the announcement as “the Palestinian occupied territories”, and since both Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, gave him a right royal welcome, hard-line BDS supporters do not have much of a leg to stand on.  Prince William probably ranks considerably higher in the public popularity stakes than Roger Waters, Lorde or other performers closely associated with pro-BDS views, and so the prince’s visit is likely to have had a major positive effect on young people’s view of Israel across the world.

The term “Palestinian occupied territories” is an exact reflection of the British government’s position on the vexed Israeli-Palestinian situation.  Although more than 70 percent of the countries of the United Nations have, at the urging of the PA, recognized a State of Palestine, the European Union has not formally done so but has left it to individual states to act on this matter as they choose.  A clutch of them have granted Palestine official recognition, but the UK government has always adopted a nuanced approach. Back in 2011 Britain was prepared to grant Palestine non-member observer status  at the UN, though it refused to approve full state membership.  In October 2014 a House of Commons motion called on the government to recognize Palestine as an independent state, but the government has not subsequently implemented the advice.

            A fair number of contemporary issues bear on the royal visit.  In Britain all eyes are on Brexit, and the delicate, not to say precarious, state the negotiations with the EU have reached.  In Prime Minister Theresa May’s keynote speech on March 2, 2018, she made it crystal clear that, after withdrawal, the UK would not enter into any formal customs union with the EU.  Several considerations affected this decision, but high among them was the UK’s determination to negotiate independent trading arrangements around the world – impossible when locked into a customs union. 

A recent UK government White Paper identified Israel as a trading priority for post-Brexit Britain because of the potential synergies between Israel’s high levels of innovation and British strengths in design, business growth, finance and high-technology.  So Israel is a prime potential trading partner for the UK.   The groundwork has already been laid, because UK-Israeli trade is flourishing since the areas in which Israel excels − especially in high-tech fields such as cyber security, Research and Development, and financial technology − are largely outside the EU-Israel agreement which currently governs the terms of trade.

            A second factor is the United States’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.   The immediate, almost universal, wave of protest has largely died down, and it seems to have dawned − in certain quarters at least – that President Donald Trump’s announcement drew no boundaries in Jerusalem, but left wide open the possibility of an eventual separate or conjoint Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem municipality.  Trump’s announcement may have annoyed PA President Mahmoud Abbas mightily, but it did not inhibit the UK from going ahead with the royal visit.

            Thirdly, as the visit to Britain in March 2018 of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman demonstrated, the UK allies itself with the moderate Arab world that is opposing radical jihadist terror organizations intent on disrupting the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all known to be collaborating with Israel – albeit below the radar − in combatting the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Iran’s instruments in its bid for political and religious dominance of the Middle East.

            Fourthly 2018 marks Israel’s 70th anniversary, and an official royal visit was a logical consequence of the recognition and celebration by the British government last November of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.  PA President Abbas welcomed Prince William, but at the back of his, and the prince’s, mind was doubtless his demand in March 2017 that Britain apologises for the Balfour Declaration – a demand that was swiftly rejected by the British government.

            The royal visit to the Middle East in 2018 that included Israel in the itinerary fitted neatly into that policy position, which turns its back decisively on BDS.


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