As Barack Obama begins his first presidential visit to Israel, it's worth recalling the words of a veteran British diplomat who warned, just a couple of months ago, that Israel is on "a pathway to assisted suicide" – "suicide assisted by the Congress of the United States".
In January, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former ambassador to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, gave a policy lecture to the Conservative Middle East Council in Britain. It was a wide-ranging talk about the region but on the question of Israel and the Palestinians he said:
"The first and greatest thing we can do in the west is to right the wrong that has been done to the Palestinians. We can never right it completely, but in Israel’s own interest, we should be helping the only the country that can solve this problem ..."
The "only the country that can solve this problem", in Cowper-Coles's view, is the United States. Recalling that George W Bush was the first American president to promise a Palestinian state ("he did so in 2002 and assured his listeners that it would be established by 2005"), the ex-ambassador continued:
"Helping America break the stranglehold that an ill-informed Israel lobby has over American politics is the biggest single contribution that we can make ... It does, in my view, mean that sometimes we have to be more conditional in our support of America and perhaps a little bit more French and a little less British, if you get my drift.
"Sometimes for the Americans, and those in the American system, who know what needs to be done, a little bit of pressure from London would, I think, help them in their task, and a little bit of short term turbulence would be a small price to pay ...
"I say this as a Hebrew-speaking former Ambassador to Israel, someone who has deep affection for the Jewish people. I believe passionately that Israel on its present course is embarked on a pathway to assisted suicide: suicide assisted by the Congress of the United States.
"The idea that this problem can be solved by walling up the Palestinians in the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Bantustans, which the South African government embarked on in the 1940s, is not only offensive morally, it is deeply out of keeping with everything we know of human history. It will not work, it cannot work, it should not work. And anyone who has a real affection for the Jewish people will want to help them avoid this looming disaster, further disaster in their history.
"And one of the collateral benefits of peace with Israel, a just settlement in Palestine, will be, if I may put it crudely, to put the Jews back in the Middle East. Because, one of the many examples of collateral damage from the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, has been to remove the cultural and commercial yeast which the Jewish communities provided in Baghdad,in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Cairo, in Alexandria, right across the Middle East."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 20 March 2013