Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dear Bibi (The letter Cameron should have written to Netanyahu)

Prime Minister David Cameron chairs crisis meeting on UK flooding

Dear Bibi

I'm really sorry I can't make my planned trip to Israel this month. I'm up to my ears in flood water and effluent, with sandbags around my feet and high winds whipping around my head. You know what it's like in a political crisis, you have to look like you are taking charge and in control (even when you're not). So I'm staying home and chairing lots of crisis strategy meetings.

It's a real shame I can't be there in Jerusalem to make my address to the Knesset. I was planning to make a few points, and I don't mean like Stephen Harper did in January. Even you must have been a bit embarrassed by that amount of Canadian fawning from a Prime Minister. No, that's not my style. I was planning to land a few home truths rather than let you guys think I'm happy with business as usual.

Now, you know that I'm fond of saying that I'm a passionate friend of Israel. And I mean it. Although you and I may have a different idea of what that friendship should look like.

As a friend, I need to tell you this straight. Every indication I see tells me that the State of Israel will soon be considered a pariah nation by most countries and most people around the world. After all that Jewish communities have suffered throughout the centuries, what a tragic situation to have reached.

I know that Scarlett Johansson must have become for many in Israel their favourite Hollywood 'A' lister. But ditching Oxfam in favour of SodaStream and becoming the world's best known advocate for trade with the Settlements may not prove to be a great career move in the long run. She certainly did the pro-boycotters a huge favour. Scarlett 'setting the bubbles free' floated the whole issue of the 46 year occupation of Palestinian land to the top of the news cycle.

I know you're thinking up new ways to stifle the whole boycott movement in the States, but the real 'fizz' building behind the campaign is happening away from the front pages and in Europe not America. I guess you must have been a little rattled by the news that the Netherlands’ largest pension fund management company, PGGM, has withdrawn all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank or are involved in financing construction in the Settlements. It's pretty clear that the whole occupation touches every aspect of Israeli life.

But I'll tell you the thing that really stood out for me in the last few weeks.

Perhaps the biggest signal that Israel is heading straight for global isolation was an editorial written in the Financial Times on Saturday 1 February 2014. Now this isn't the Guardian or Haaretz, this is a grown-up sensible newspaper for grown-up sensible business people. The FT's readership are not a bunch of radical lefties you can safely ignore. Off the back of the Scarlett/Oxfam bust up and the claim that her new corporate friends were providing Palestinians with jobs and "building bridges to peace", the FT had this to say to its economically rational readership:

"The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads. There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission."

Well, I know you will disagree Bibi, but I think that pretty much nails it. That editorial puts the whole thing firmly on the mainstream business (and political) agenda from where I'm looking.

So, what about the John Kerry 'framework' for peace talks? I see that you are meeting Barack in Washington at the start of March. I know the two of you are hardly best of mates and you're probably hoping Barack has run out of time to force your hand before we hit the next run of US elections. But I really think you have to listen to him this time. So far, from what I'm hearing from you and your coalition partners, I don't fancy the chances of Kerry's framework taking flight. I know how frustrating coalition partners can be, but some of yours are truly frightful.

And if you ignore Kerry and Obama, what then?

A Palestinian Spring? A third Palestinian uprising? The resignation of the Palestinian Authority? The collapse of your coalition. All these things look possible, even likely.

I have to say Bibi, if Israel continues to reject the most minimal of Palestinian demands then it will find the UK and the EU rejecting Israel. The moment is coming when Her Majesty's Government are going to call time on the endless prevarication, the endless raising of the bar for what makes the Palestinians acceptable partners for talks, the tired refrain of your 'security needs' from a country with the most powerful military in the Middle East (and I should know, we've sold you plenty of UK hardware). And it will not be discrimination or unfair victimisation. It will be, as the FT editorial pointed out, simply attempting to enforce the law.

My friend, this is not about "destroying Israel" as you like to scaremonger. South Africa was not "destroyed" by the anti-Apartheid campaign, neither were the southern states of America wiped out by the actions of Martin Luther King. Rather, they were turned into places of genuine democracy and given a new lease of life. And when we reached a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, we never insisted that the Catholics recognise the province as 'Protestant' with Protestant rights protected above all others. Equal rights for all was enough and is what usually defines a democracy.

I know that some of your coalition colleagues, and other members of the Knesset, will see my message to you as a form of incitement against the Jewish People and may even decide to accuse me of anti-Semitism as a way of closing down such talk of boycotts and sanctions. Well you can tell them I think such name calling is out of order and if it is used against me I will be quick to make my own outrage very clear in return.

The casual accusation of anti-Semitism to anybody who asks for even the most minimal concessions to the Palestinian people is already doing a massive disservice to Israeli and Diaspora Jews. The word is fast becoming meaningless.

An EU wide boycott of the Settlements could just be the thing that enables real, meaningful talking to begin. After all, I've never seen a country relinquish power without some kind of external pressure. I like to think that you, Bibi, could perhaps be Israel's F.W. De Klerk. I'm quite sure you have some Palestinian Mandelas locked-up somewhere too.

So, a lot to think about and it's a shame we can't meet in person this week.

One last thought before I go off to chair another COBRA meeting on the floods.

Maybe I should have done something earlier when people were pointing out the dangers of climate change and the need to take action on flood defences. Perhaps I should have fixed the drainage before it become a catastrophe for people's homes and livelihoods. Maybe the political dangers were starring me in the face and I just chose to ignore it, hoping it would go away, hoping I could hold back the rising tide forever. I think there could be a lesson in here for you too.

With kind regards, your passionate friend,