A radical rightwing government, apparently energised by the incoming US administration, is leading Israel away from the path to peace. When foreign ministers meet this weekend they should all speak out against such moves
In the past few weeks Israel has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There have been punch-ups with the outgoing Obama administration, which, consistent with decades-old policy on settlements, chose to abstain from a landmark UN vote rather than exercise its veto to block it. There were reportedly threats of war to nations that voted for the resolution. A case of an Israeli soldier who was sentenced for shooting a severely wounded Palestinian attacker saw what Israeli newspapers describe as “hooligans” descend to intimidate judges and the army. While the mob spat and shouted, Israeli politicians sought to inflame rather than cool tempers. Finally in Britain this week the Israeli ambassador had to apologise to foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan after an embassy official was caught on camera in an undercover sting plotting to “take down” MPs – including Sir Alan – regarded as outspoken supporters of a Palestinian state.
There is no more serious a charge for a foreign embassy than its staff meddling in British government affairs. A British minister writing anonymously, to protect himself from abuse and character assassination, in the Mail on Sunday claimed that Britain’s politicians had submitted to lobbying, “taken donors’ money, and allowed Israeli influence-peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of ministers”. Only the week before Theresa May scolded US secretary of state John Kerry for calling out the current government in Israel for what it is: “the most rightwing in Israel history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements”. It was either a bone-headed intervention by the prime minister – given that Britain helped broker the UN vote – or a craven attempt to ingratiate herself after being snubbed by the Israeli government. Neither looks good for Mrs May. An investigation into influence-peddling into this most sensitive of foreign policy areas is needed to get a sense of whether parliament or government is being corrupted. The foreign office has declared the matter closed, but it should not end there. Crispin Blunt, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, was elected with a remit to look at the lobbying by both Palestinians and Israelis and the effect on British policy in the Middle East. The terms of his committee’s inquiry should be wide enough to look at whether pernicious influence was wielded by either side.
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