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How Britain has always thrown Palestinians under the bus

The British government's recent bilateral trade deal with Israel is just the latest instance in a long history of trampling on Palestinian rights
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) greets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of their meeting on the steps of 10 Downing Street in central London on 24 March 2023 (AFP)

Israel often repeats the lie that the Palestinians "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" as a reason for the failed peace process.

However, a more accurate version of that phrase would be that Britain never misses an opportunity to throw the Palestinians under the bus. The latest example was Britain's rejection of the term "apartheid" to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians as part of its security and free trade pact with Israel.

Britain has betrayed the Palestinian people countless times before - from the Mandate era through the Balfour Declaration, the Nakba, its outright support for Israeli "self-defence", and the two-state solution that was born dead on arrival.

As Palestinians know well, Britain's infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917 had a most devastating impact on their rights and nationhood. It promised that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object".

At the time, Britain was not in Palestine, the Palestinians were not consulted and the percentage of Jews in Palestine was less than 10 percent. Although it mentioned "being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine", the outcome was far from it. That was the "Balfour Bus".

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As I argue in a previous article, the prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George, a proud Welshman, could have been charitable and offered the Jews his homeland, Wales. The overwhelming majority of the population, mainly Palestinian Muslim and Christian communities, were unworthy, it seems, of any political and religious rights conferred upon the Jewish minority.

Britain went further in firmly keeping the Palestinians under the bus when it ensured that the Balfour Declaration would be part of the British Mandate in Palestine.

A 'lesser people'

Uniquely for the lands carved up under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the only people who would be denied independence were the Palestinians - not the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Iraqis, or the Jordanians. It was as though the British saw Palestinians as a lesser people not only to Jews but to their Arab brothers in the neighbouring countries. That was the British Mandate.

When Britain finally left Palestine in 1948, it left Palestinians vulnerable to Zionist violence culminating in the Nakba. Yes, it was the Zionist terrorist gang and then the Israeli army that carried out many massacres, including Deir Yassin, that led to 750,000 indigenous Palestinians becoming refugees in neighbouring countries, but the British made sure the Zionist Jews would emerge victorious.

This was despite the Palestinians facing extensive terror campaigns from Zionist gangs, including the King David Hotel bombing.

Palestinians continue to suffer to this day. On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Nakba bus was brought out to bring Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to a London celebration, dragging the Palestinian people under it while offering them crumbs.

Britain declared that it was proud of its role in the creation of Israel, and that it was working for peace to fulfil the second part of the declaration regarding the "communities" which had not then been achieved.

No ride to the 'peace station'

Next was the two-state solution bus. If only the Palestinians would give up their aspirations and rights to freedom and return, and accept the existence of Israel - and accept this solution - then they would be supported to achieve "peace".

Far from taking them to the peace station, the two-state solution has ridden roughshod over the Palestinians. Since 1967, Israel has been gobbling up land in the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - growing settlements and moving its citizens onto occupied land.

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While Britain would "express concern" or be "deeply troubled" by Israel's erosion of the prospects for a solution based on the two-state concept, the settlers continued to live on stolen land as the Palestinians watched in agony as any hope for peace disappeared.

In recent years, the self-defence bus has been making its journey from Gaza to Jenin and from Jericho to Nablus. Britain and others continue to support Israel's "right to self-defence", whether it is bombing Gaza or storming into Jenin or Nablus to assassinate Palestinians.

While over 250,000 Brits took to the streets of London in 2021 in solidarity with the Palestinians, Britain again stood with Israel, allowing it to further trample on Palestinian rights under the self-defence pretext.

When Palestinians chose to take the legal route to the Hague or the UN Human Rights Council, Britain decided that Israel was being singled out for criticism in the UNHRC and changed its vote on agenda item seven.

At the International Criminal Court, Britain decided through a letter from then Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Conservative Friends of Israel that it did not support the Court investigating Israel. The reasons given were that Israel was not a member and Palestine was not a state. Compare this with the support Britain has since given the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes by Russia in the Ukraine, including the arrest warrant issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

More recently, the UK voted against the referral of Israel's 55-year long occupation to the International Court of Justice.

The roadmap

Since leaving the EU after Brexit, Britain has been trying to sign trade deals with various countries to largely replace the market of $430m it no longer accessed. While it would like to conclude a free trade deal with the US as a priority, which it has failed to secure, it included Israel in its top 10 countries with whom it wanted to conclude a trade deal.

When it was an EU member, it was bound by the EU Israel Association Agreement. Article two states that "relations between the Parties… shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this agreement".

Just how many buses does Britain need to throw the Palestinians under while riding them with apartheid Israel?

Not only has the EU given Israel a pass on trade despite its poor human rights record, but the UK government has also now abandoned all mention of human rights in its "2030 roadmap for UK-Israel bilateral relations".

This "Bilateral Relations roadmap" will increase trade between Britain and Israel. There is no mention of any rights that the Palestinians have. In fact, the roadmap only mentions the "economic improvement" of Palestinian lives, despite Britain signing it with the state that can end Palestinian suffering as it is its tormentor and occupier.

Just how many buses does Britain need to throw the Palestinians under while riding them with apartheid Israel? Will it ever sit with the Palestinians on the freedom, justice, and equality bus?

Britain's record for over 100 years on this issue hardly inspires confidence.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham. He is chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and a founding member of the British Palestinian Committee (BPC).
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