British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed the UK’s concern over ‘the loss of Palestinian lives’ as her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu visited No 10 on Wednesday. But does her condemnation go far enough?
May had previously only commented once in relation to the recent killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during the Great March of Return. The unrest came to a head on May 14, when 60 civilians died in one day, bringing the total number of lives claimed to 119, according to Reuters.
During a press conference with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the day after the killings, May responded to a question about the events by saying they were “tragic and extremely concerning.” She called for an ‘independent’ investigation, albeit one led by Israel. The PM fell short of attributing blame to Israel, and merely asked them to “show restraint.”
“Such violence is destructive to peace efforts,” she stated.
“There is an urgent need to establish the facts of what happened yesterday through an independent and transparent investigation, including why such a volume of live fire was used and what role Hamas played in events.
“We urge Israel to show restraint,” she added.
The UK then abstained in a UN Human Rights Council vote to launch an investigation into the killings, although they – along with the US, which rejected the motion – failed to stop the inquiry from being initiated.
Neither of May’s two strongest European allies, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, who echoed her response to Gaza, used their recent meetings with Netanyahu to condemn what the UN special rapporteur in the Palestinian territory described as a “war crime.”
Netanyahu’s here! All’s well. He’s worried about nuclear weapons. Bad ones like ones that Iran might have. Not the nice ones that he’s got. Let’s hope May doesn’t mention Gaza. It might be seen as unfairly singling out Israel. Carry on.
— Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) June 6, 2018
How can Theresa May even contemplate welcoming Netanyahu to the UK when Israel has been systematically murdering and maiming so many Palestinians in Gaza. if Argentina can say no to Israel; so should the UK# Argentina# Messi. Friendly cancelled#
— Susie Snowflake (@palestininianpr) June 5, 2018
May‘s apparent ambivalence to Israel’s actions contrasts starkly with the reaction from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who recently wrote a scathing Facebook post on the reaction of Western governments, including the UK. He wrote: “The silence, or worse, support for this flagrant illegality, from many Western governments, including our own, has been shameful.”
In all likelihood, May will avoid criticizing Netanyahu to his face, in an example of the UK’s support for Israel. It’s a relationship with deep roots that go back to the early part of the 20th century, when British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to a leader of the British Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, promising a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
This act ultimately set in motion a chain of events that saw Britain support Israel’s ‘War of Independence’ in 1948, described as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine by Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe, as well as the brutal Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967.
Their support continued throughout the first, second and third intifadas, and remains today with the respective countries’ militaries and economic interests bound through arms deals, among other areas.
The wider historical context underpins present-day events in Israel/Palestine that leaves various foreign actors such as Britain vying for their own agenda in the region.
May, like all post-World War II British prime ministers takes her cue from Israel’s closest ally, the United States – seeking never to upset that “special relationship” with their fellow NATO member for fear of reprisals, particularly in terms of trade.
From the 20th century’s wars onwards, Britain’s support for Israel has been unmoving, despite its breaking of numerous UN resolutions, and the Oslo Peace accords, which Netanyahu viewed “as incompatible with Israel’s right to security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel,” according to Israeli progressive academic, Avi Shlaim.
For a government that harps on about universal human rights, May discovers moral relativity only when it aligns itself with the strategic interests of the UK.
The recent killing of 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar at the hands of Israeli soldiers will be fresh in the minds of many human rights activists. It remains to be seen whether it’s an issue important enough for May to raise with Netanyahu, along with scores of recent Palestinian killings in Gaza; chances are, rocking the Israeli boat of shame will be out of the question.
Omar Baggili, RT Journalist
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