Global Policy Forum

David Cameron to Israel: Join Talks or I May Support Independence Declaration


The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, may make a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence from Israel at the UN general assembly this September (2011). British Prime Minister, David Cameron, warned the Israeli head of State, Binyamin Netanyahu, that Britain may support Abbas’ declaration if Israel does not take part in substantive peace negotiations with the Palestinians to create a two state solution to the current crisis in Israel, Palestine and the occupied territories.

By Nicholas Watt

The Guardian

May 4, 2011

Britain tends to tread carefully when it comes to making declarations about the Middle East.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which Britain pledged its support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, is still a matter of great sensitivity.

Many Israelis point out that Britain failed to live up to its commitment even after the Holocaust when Britain interned tens of thousands of Jews in Cyprus who attempted to travel to Palestine. There was natural Arab unease about the Balfour Declaration.

So it is a sign of Britain's impatience with Israel that Britain mentioned the D word tonight as David Cameron hosted Binyamin Netanyahu in Downing Street. In this case it is the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, at the UN general assembly in September.

Britain is making clear that it may endorse a declaration by Abbas if Israel declines to take part in substantive peace negotiations with the Palestinians to create a two state solution.

Britain understands that today marks a sensitive moment for Netanyahu as Hamas, which mourned the death of Osama bin Laden, signed a reconciliation agreement with Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Fatah faction. Cameron was planning to reassure Netanyahu by saying Britain accepts that much work will need to be done on the Hamas-Fatah deal. Britain has noted that it does not require Hamas to recognise Israel – one of the essential requirements of the "quartet" of the UN, EU, Russia and the US.

But the prime minister believes that Israel must join substantive talks with the Palestinians to agree on a two state solution. Britain, which hopes for a positive signal when Netanyahu addresses the US Congress in the next few weeks, admits that EU countries usually have little influence over Israel which tends to listen only to the US.

But Cameron believes that raising the prospect of support for a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians provides Britain with a "lever" over Israel. This is what a diplomatic source said tonight:

Britain's clear and absolute preference is for a negotiation to take place between Israel and the Palestinians which leads to a two state solution which everyone endorses.

But at this point Britain is not ruling anything out. The more Israel engages seriously in a meaningful peace process the less likely it is that this question of unilateral declaration would arise.

The source expects Abbas to make a move at the UN general assembly in September if Netanyahu refuses to join substantive talks:

The US would obviously not support that [declaration]. That places Europe as a swing voter. Britain, France and Germany can play quite an influential role in determining the outcome of this.

The Palestinians would secure quite a bit of support at the UN. Europe would be asked a very difficult question and we don't know yet what the answer to that question will be. But the problem with no peace process is that it allows that question to be put.

Britain accepts that EU countries rarely have much influence over Israel. Cameron hopes that for once Israel may listen. He will have to wait until Netanyahu stands up before the US Congress to learn whether his Israeli counterpart is listening.


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