“The cocktail party is easily the worst invention since castor oil” -Elsa Maxwell
If you happen to be Jewish and live in the West Bank then you have certainly blown your chances of ever being invited to a cocktail party again at the British Ambassador’s residence in Israel.
The presence of three prominent West Bank Jewish residents there to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday in June so incensed Conservative MP Crispin Blunt that he was moved to raise the matter in Parliament and write to British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells on July 25 stating that the invitation to “settler leaders” gave the impression of a “weakening in the government’s long held position that settlements were illegal and an obstacle to peace.” (Jerusalem Post, August 5).
Mr Blunt is not just your ordinary Opposition backbencher. He also happens to be the Chairman of the pro-Arab Conservative Middle East Council in the House of Commons and Co-Chairman of the Council for British and Arab Understanding (CAABU) with Colin Breed MP and John Austin MP.
Mr Howells sought to justify issuing the invitations to join in the Queen’s birthday bash - whilst at the same time expressing his contrition - by telling Mr Blunt on 31 July:
“Our Embassy in Tel Aviv’s contacts with the settler community have been with the goal of setting out the British Government’s view on this issue, and to seek to convince them that settlements are a significant obstacle to peace. But you are right that their presence at this event was not helpful and the Embassy is reviewing its procedures to ensure that it does not happen in the future.”
This incredible response will surely require the Ambassador in future to exclude Israel’s President, its Prime Minister and any Cabinet Minister – indeed any Jew living anywhere in Israel - from sharing a gin and tonic and cucumber sandwiches with the Ambassador - since Israel’s policy on the right of Jews to live in the West Bank totally rejects the British government’s stated policy.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site succinctly describes Israel’s policy as follows:
“Repeated charges regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements must therefore be regarded as politically motivated, without foundation in international law.
Politically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense, imposed upon Israel. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to conduct negotiations on settlements indicated that they envisage a compromise on this issue.”
The West Bank and Gaza comprise about 6% of the total area of former Palestine previously administered by the British from 1920 to 1948 under League of Nations Mandate. It comprises the only territory of former Palestine in which sovereignty has not yet been allocated to any State or group. It can be best fairly described as “no man’s land” or “disputed land” in international law.
Sovereignty in 77% of former Palestine - today called Jordan - was exclusively granted by the British to the Arabs in 1946 in contravention of Article 5 of the Mandate.
Israel secured sovereignty over another 17% after fighting a war against six invading Arab states in 1948 following the Arabs refusal to accept a United Nations compromise that would have seen the remaining 23% divided into one Jewish and a second Arab state. Egypt occupied Gaza whilst Jordan occupied the West Bank for 19 years - until both were captured by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967.
Only Britain supported Jordan’s attempt to claim sovereignty in the West Bank between 1948 - 1967. Britain never described the West Bank as “occupied Palestinian territories” during all those 19 years - but uses that term today with increasing stridency and utter political hypocrisy.
Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza were uprooted in 1948 and their settlements razed. They began to return there after 1967 and the current Jewish population living in the West Bank numbers about 450000 people. All 8000 Jews living in Gaza were evacuated in 2005.
Jews had been given the right to “close settlement” in the West Bank and Gaza, “including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes” under Article 6 of the Mandate. It was on these lands and land purchased from Arab owners that the Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza had been founded before 1948 and were subsequently to be re-established after 1967.
The right of Jews to live in the West Bank and Gaza survived the termination of the Mandate in 1948 pursuant to Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, which is still applicable today.
The British lost the plot from the day they assumed control of Palestine in 1920. Their attitude today shows they have learnt nothing from many of the problems they created during – and after – they abandoned the Mandate in 1948.
The British are entitled to maintain their own political point of view – but to exclude anyone disagreeing with that policy from attending their cocktail parties because it might indicate a weakening in Britain’s political stance is rather churlish and indicative of an arrogance that hopefully had disappeared from the persona of this bastion of democracy and free speech.
It will be interesting to see if British Ambassadors around the world are instructed to similarly strike off their guest lists anyone (even other countries’ diplomatic representatives) whose policies differs from Her Majesty’s Government for fear that their presence would show weakness in promoting Britain’s political views.
Perhaps slipping some castor oil into their guests’ martinis might help purge political views that don’t coincide with those of their convivial British hosts.
Somehow I think the British directive will stop at Israel and the Jews - and hopefully it will be reversed immediately after a quite drink between Israel and Britain’s respective Foreign Ministers.
Otherwise you might find that diplomatic postings in the British Foreign Service will not be so eagerly sought after if Ambassadors are going to end up having only themselves to drink with and talk to.