In Sunak’s fight for PM, Palestinians are collateral damage

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘historic capital’ and promising to move the UK embassy, ​​Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s hopeful trivializes the Palestinian right to statehood in favor of political interests and advancement professional, writes Emad Moussa.

Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor and candidate to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivers a speech at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center on July 12, 2022 in London, England. [Getty]

During a question-and-answer session with members of the conservative Friends of Israel lobby group two weeks ago, Tory leadership candidate and former chancellor Rishi Sunak was asked if he – as next potential Prime Minister – would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Sitting straight with his shoulders back and his head held high, he quickly replied that Jerusalem is “indisputably” Israel’s “historic capital” and that there are “very strong arguments” for the UK to move the British Embassy in Tel Aviv in Jerusalem.

“Indisputably”, “historic” and “very solid case” are all statements that exude fluidity and confidence. They are made to impress and resonate with audiences, but in reality they deliver nothing when put to the test of history and geopolitics.

Sunak condensed into a short statement all the elements of “contestability,” which he carelessly and unexaminedly brushed aside as “indisputable,” in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Yet, apparently, because confidence trumps knowledge and privilege transcends the reality of the average man, we were supposed to take his words as gospel and move on.

“The Ottoman system, which was also confirmed by the British Mandate in Palestine, provided no hierarchy of power that would prioritize the needs of one religious group over others”

For Israelis, this is obviously and dubiously a eureka moment after a string of Hail Marys in the five years since President Trump recognized West and East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Tel Aviv has since embarked on a semi-unsuccessful mission to convince other countries to follow suit, ultimately changing Jerusalem’s status quo.

East Jerusalem, which the international community recognizes as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, has been in status quo since the Ottoman era. The Ottoman system, which was also upheld by the British Mandate in Palestine, provided no hierarchy of power that would prioritize the needs of one religious group over others, a reality that the Israeli occupation has aggressively attempted. to upset through Judaization and the forced dispossession of Palestinians from Jerusalem. .

Palestinian Muslims and Christians regard Jerusalem as their historic capital, originally built by the ancient Canaanites in 2500 BC. BC, and it is revered as the resting place of Christ and the third holiest in Islam.

The Jews believe that in 1000 BC. BC, King David conquered the city and made it his capital. The millennial site of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, they say, is the site of the first and second destroyed temples (586 BC and 70 AD, respectively).

In addition to the fact that independent scientific verification of Jewish claims is rare and no significant archaeological remains have been found to support them, Palestinians see Israeli claims as nothing more than biblical mythologies revived and politicized to serve the Zionist colonial project.

What is verified, however, is that without East Jerusalem, a Palestinian state will never be realized. The tension and violence in the region, therefore, will continue and – as Palestinian hope for self-determination is dashed – the situation is likely to spin out of control.

To that extent, Rishi Sunak has trivialized the issue.

But to give him some credit, the former Chancellor was realistic enough to leave some room for interpretation. As a good politician would, Sunak has headed off the possibility of not keeping his promises if he becomes the next prime minister.

He warned audience that he had never been Foreign Secretary and was therefore unaware of the “sensitivities” of the issue. Nonetheless, he reiterated that the case was “very strong” without providing any argument in support of his claim.

The trivialization is damning not only because it is indicative of Sunak’s ignorance of the issue, but because it points to a trend in Britain’s official institutions – the Conservative Party in particular – which establishes a hierarchy of victimization based on interests, ethnicity and religion. In this hierarchy, Palestinians, regardless of the genuineness of their victimization, reside at the bottom.

By promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Sunak in fact shows no regard for Palestinian rights, irresponsibly and apathetically tramples on their historical grievances and demands for justice. The fact that Britain was the driving force behind Israel’s establishment and subsequent Palestinian dispossession adds a troubling and immoral irony to his sentiment.

“By promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Sunak is in fact showing no regard for Palestinian rights, irresponsibly and apathetically trampling on their historic grievances and demands for justice.”

The Middle East Conservative Council (CMEC), an organization that helps Conservative MPs and their peers better understand the Middle East, warned of the troubling consequences of supporting or ignoring plans to annex Palestinian land by Israel and failing to establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is not just about trapping Palestinians and Israelis in an indefinite occupation, the CMEC said, but also about the fate of the international order itself.

Theoretically, number 10 remains committed to the two-state solution, including the rejection of any unilateral Israeli action that violates international law. The UK took a strong stance on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and is now on the front line against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as potential annexation of Taiwan. by China.

Boris Johnson has taken to reminding us of the enormity of any change in the world order, stressing – almost every time – the UK’s firm stance on upholding international law and calling out behavior contrary to its principles.

But the words are hardly taxable, certainly meaningless when international law is selectively interpreted and implemented, not on the basis of the rule of law or moral principles, but on realpolitik and interests.

The political and economic interests between London and Tel Aviv far outweigh any tangible or intangible benefits the Palestinians can ever provide to the UK, placing them at a serious disadvantage in British foreign policy.

Behind the UK’s rhetoric of a two-state solution, the Johnson government has embarked on a path to crippling any meaningful campaign for Palestinian rights. This includes government attempts to pass legislation that criminalizes BDS and labels Palestinians solidarity activism as anti-Semite.

The measures are intended to neutralize any popular movement that might counterbalance the British government’s selective commitment to international law in Palestine. In such a reality, turning a blind eye to Israel’s violations, even condemning the Palestinians’ right to self-defense as Liz Truss did during the August attack on Gaza, becomes acceptable.

“The political and economic interests between London and Tel Aviv far outweigh any material or immaterial benefits the Palestinians can ever provide to the UK, putting them at a serious disadvantage in British foreign policy”

Realpolitik, however, does not operate in a vacuum. It is also driven and legitimized by ethnic, historical and religious factors which, in the case of the UK, laid the foundations for a system of “shared values” between Israel and Britain.

Palestinians within this system are categorized as “the other”, sometimes phrased in Orientalist and Islamophobic terms, making it acceptable to devalue their humanity and portray their human rights as less valuable than Israel’s security demands.

For Rishi Sunak, like the hordes of Islamophobes and profit-seeking officials in the conservative government, engagement with Israel is a matter of ideological identification, political and economic interests and – especially for minority politicians – a pathway for peer validation and career advancement. .

Faced with such criteria, the Palestinians cannot compete.

Dr. Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer specializing in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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The opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.