Truss bombast shifts UK further toward Israel

Liz Truss in New York (Toby Melville - ZUMA)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /  September 24, 2022

It has been all change in the UK this month where, in the space of a few days, the country got a new prime minister and then a new monarch.

Mary Elizabeth Truss, or Liz “blessed are the cheesemakers” Truss, as she is commonly known (except for the middle bit), only had to woo a majority of the Conservative Party’s 172,000 paid-up members.

She did so, securing just over 80,000 votes in a country with 47.6 million eligible voters.

Clearly unburdened by the weight of any campaign promises to the masses, Truss has started with some gusto – after an enforced pause due to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Slashing taxes, reinstating bankers’ bonuses, and generally reviving widely discredited trickle-down economics, Truss’ opening gambit is so long on unfettered free market ideology that the Financial Times described it as a “profound shift” in policy for the UK.

Such aggressive policy making will have profound repercussions for Britons.

Her eagerness to make bold moves could also prove harmful to Palestinians. She has already promised her “good friend” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid that she will review whether to move the UK’s embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, following former US President Donald Trump’s example.

Indeed, Truss – who often gives the impression of having walked into a room without remembering why – was recently described by one Israeli newspaper as potentially the “most pro-Israel British prime minister ever.”

Competition

She’s got competition for that title. David Lloyd George gave away Palestine once the UK came into colonial possession. Winston Churchill was an avid supporter of Zionism. After British attitudes had shifted a little in the 1930s, he was challenged over why Palestine’s native population should not be allowed a say over the future of their own country. He told a UK government commission:

“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger,” he countered, “even though he may have lain there for a very long time.”

The British washed their hands of Palestine in 1947. Broadly supportive of that “plucky little country” in the aftermath of World War II, the 1967 occupation began to change attitudes and it was not until 1986 that Margaret Thatcher, Liz Truss’ political idol, became the first British PM to make an official visit to Israel.

Even then, Thatcher’s relationship with Israel was complicated. She never forgot that it was Menachem Begin, by then her Israeli counterpart, who had ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946 that killed 28 Britons, 41 Palestinians and 17 Palestinian Jews.

Nor did she forget that Begin’s Irgun paramilitary group in 1947 kidnapped two British soldiers and executed them by hanging.

Her visit nevertheless marked a slow changing of the narrative in London. John Major was reluctant to meet the late former PLO leader Yasser Arafat for fear of the Israeli reaction.

And while relations with Arab countries, international law and two-state dogma largely informed the British position from then, the ground had been prepared for what is now becoming a full pivot to Israel.

Fertile ground

It started with Brexit and accelerated during Boris Johnson’s time in office. The Brexit referendum, in which one side played hard and fast with the truth, has suited those in the UK who push an up-is-down pro-Israel narrative.

The manipulations and outright lies that characterized Johnson’s time in office served a pro-Israel narrative that demands exclusive focus on historical Jewish suffering and terrorism fearmongering over any analysis of the history, international legality, general morality and current facts of the situation.

Also helping Israel’s case is a post-Brexit period of what can best be described as British diplomacy-by-desperation. Having largely failed to secure trade deals to replace what has been lost by leaving the EU’s common market, notably with the US, the UK has been looking further afield.

Last year, when she was foreign secretary, Truss signed a deeply unfavorable agreement with Australia.

And this year, the UK is pursuing trade deals with Israel and Gulf countries.

It is not being held back from pursuing these trade deals by allegations of war crimes or other breaches of international law. The UK kept selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates despite the appalling casualty count and evidence of war crimes throughout the Saudi-led seven-year war on Yemen, currently enjoying a truce.

It is doing so despite Israel’s many well-documented crimes over more than 70 years, from population transfers and ethnic cleansing to illegal land annexation and brutal military suppression.

This lady is for turning

The fact that the British government believes it can pursue both deals at the same time also shows how the so-called Abraham Accords have shifted perceptions of what Britain can get away with in the region and the waning powers of the so-called Arabists at the Foreign Office.

Indeed, during her leadership campaign, Truss tapped into the current British penchant for exploiting the struggle against anti-Jewish bigotry for political gain by accusing civil servants of anti-Semitism.

Also warming every zealous pro-Zionist’s heart is a domestic agenda that includes an effort to ban local councils from pursuing their own boycott and divestment campaigns. The ban will primarily shield Israel from a growing boycott movement in the UK.

A Truss government therefore looks set to shift UK policy away from its decades-old lip service to international law and into territory currently occupied only by the likes of the US and Micronesia.

Trump did the same in the US. And Joe Biden’s administration has done almost nothing to reverse the break with traditional US policy on Palestine that the Trump administration installed, including the US embassy move.

Like Trump, Truss is unlikely to let a small matter like international law stop her from pursuing policies such as a UK embassy move to Jerusalem.

International resolutions are in fact very clear on the matter. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 explicitly forbids the establishment of diplomatic missions in the city. The resolution was adopted in 1980, the year Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem. And the UK voted for that resolution.

The 2016 UNSCR 2334 invoked resolution 478 while in clear terms condemning Israel’s settlement activities in the city. The UK also voted for that resolution. Truss was a member of that government.

A year later, and in response to the announced US embassy move, the UN’s general assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the move and caution states not to move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.

Again the UK voted in favor. Again, Truss was a member of the government.

But that was then. This is today. Tomorrow may be different for a politician The Washington Post recently called a “shapeshifter.” A Liberal Democrat and an opponent of hereditary rule as a student at Oxford University and a staunch remainer during the Brexit referendum, Truss has reinvented herself as a Conservative monarchist and arch Brexiteer.

Unlike her idol, this lady is for turning. The question for Palestinians is whether she will do so before bombastic overconfidence becomes government policy.

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist