They say in areas of the world like America and the Middle East that foreign policy is an integral part of home affairs policy, as it affects basic national security. I sense that’s becoming the case here too.
While it’s right that we should never cave in to terrorism, we always have to ask whether there is a legitimate claim behind terrorist activity. And if that legitimate claim is being thwarted, then that will feed terrorism.
The Middle East is an area of the world which has an increasing impact on how safe and secure we feel in Britain. Britain played in a part in the current grim state of affairs. OK, our biggest blunder was 92 years ago when the Sykes-Picot agreement totally betrayed the indigenous Arabs, and today’s politicians shouldn’t be blamed for that. But we can play a part in building a peace that would strengthen our own security.
One of the major lessons to learn from relatively successful peace settlements such as Northern Ireland and South Africa is the role of forgiveness. People who were bitter to the core about having lost friends and relatives had to put aside their understandable wish for vengeance in the interests of long-term peace. And that has to happen now in the Middle East.
I was recently listening to Paddy Ashdown, who, as well as being the former LibDem leader, is one of this country’s leading foreign affairs analysts. He said the problem Israel has is that it has yet to learn that it must deal with and make peace with its neighbours, however abhorrent it finds them. If it doesn’t, it will never know peace for itself and will endanger the safety of others.
I have a natural affinity with Israel. While not Jewish myself, some of my ancestors were, in fact I lost great aunts and great uncles in the concentration camps and have relatives today in Israel. I therefore like to feel I understand some of the pain and anger that still lingers in Israeli citizens.
But that’s no reason to turn a blind eye to some of Israel’s atrocities – and yes I mean ‘atrocities’ – in the occupied territories. And I fear those atrocities could continue with the new Israeli government.
We need to use our powers of persuasion – such as they are – to encourage the state of Israel that it must deal with its neighbours, including the hated Hamas. Hamas is a dangerous body, but it has been fuelled by the failure of past statesmen to address legitimate concerns. With the White House now in the hands of someone who seems to understand world affairs, we have the chance to put pressure on Israel, in a way that the Blair-Bush alliance miserably failed to.
Criticising the actions of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic. I am British and pro-British, but still criticise the British government. So I can be pro-Israeli but still criticise Israeli action. If our foreign policy can be directed at persuading Israel to be more forgiving, we might reduce the extremism that fuelled the July 2005 London bombings and make our own country a little safer.