British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said a couple of months ago that the UK made a mistake withdrawing from the Gulf in the 1960s and 1970s, known at the time as “the withdrawal of British presence East of Suez” — a reference to the British base of Aden south of Yemen, which was founded in 1830, and the Gulf sheikhdoms currently consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.
Johnson’s statement was a response to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s participation in the annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Bahrain in December, a move that was intended to deepen a strategic alliance between Britain and the GCC states and counter the influence and intervention of Iran.
In a somewhat sudden turn in British foreign policy concerning Palestine, May commented on the Balfour Declaration amid celebrations to mark its 100-year anniversary, praising it as one of the greatest achievements in British foreign policy and adding that she dearly values Britain’s close relationship with Israel. In the period following the Thatcher era, Britain had come close to espousing European policy recognizing the right of Palestinians to self-determination, and acknowledging the Palestinian Liberation Organization as their legitimate representative. This increased pressure on the US to adopt a similar position, leading eventually to the proposal of a two-state solution at the UN General Assembly in 2001 under former US President George W. Bush, before he backtracked on this position following the September 11 attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq.
British policy concerning Palestine wasn’t just an official political position but one that reflected the views of many other institutions and social groups in UK society, including universities, research centers and churches — extending to increasing societal recognition of the historical injustice Palestinians have endured as a result of the Zionist project that was adopted by Britain.
At least, this is how Avi Shlaim, an Israeli immigrant in self-imposed exile, summarized British intellectual and research circles concerning Palestine and the Balfour Declaration. Shlaim is the dean of “new historians” in Israel who argue that many of the “givens” in the history of the Zionist project are mere legends, including that Palestinians were not answering a call made by Arab leaders in 1948, nor did they leave the land voluntarily as Israeli documents propagated. Rather, they were victims of a systematic process of ethnic cleansing that was ordered by David Ben Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel.
Indeed, only a month ago, Britain voted in favor of the UN Security Council resolution to condemn Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. A drastic about turn has taken place in the short time between the UNSC resolution and May’s glorification of the Balfour Declaration.
This turn around lies in an understanding made with newly-elected US President Donald Trump’s administration, cooperation that is in line with an entrenched tradition in British politics since the end of the Second World War, one that is also evidenced in Britain’s recent exit from the European Union.
We have learned that whenever this Anglo-American solidarity takes place, it’s never good news for our region.
Across the Atlantic: The US “should have kept the oil after invading Iraq,” Donald Trump suggested on his second day in the White House, asserting it is used to fund the Islamic State. He paused, “but, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.”
Although the president is known for his erratic comments, this statement should be considered alongside his pledge to require Gulf states to pay for US protection, indicating a more comprehensive imperial project.
US former presidents that pledged to protect the Gulf states and established NATO were not naive or do-gooders; they achieved major strategic, moral and economic gains through these policies. Trump is aiming to transform these legacies into hard colonial power. Where, other than in US banks and markets, would the surplus of petrodollars be deposited?
There’s another fallacy. The Gulf states funded the war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi invasion and still support US military bases in the Gulf in their efforts to deter Iranian influence.
Concerning Palestine, Trump is in complete agreement with the Zionist far right. He will likely move the US embassy to Jerusalem. He is in favor of settlements on all Palestinian land and those close to him have publicly declared that the two-state solution is completely dead. He also issued an executive decision to suspend the funding of international organizations that grant the Palestinian authority observer status.
We, the people of the Arab World, have learned that whenever this Anglo-American solidarity takes place, it’s never good news for our region. This was the case throughout the period preceding 1967, up until the war and the Arab defeat, throughout the Thatcher and Reagan era, which hampered the peace process that started after the 1973 war under the presidency of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
It was also evident, in a worse and more aggressive manner, with the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq under the leadership of Bush and Tony Blair, whose leadership also suspended any attempts at solutions for Palestinians.
It is obvious that Russia is ready to negotiate a share of influence in the Middle East and in its former Soviet zone. The European Union is in its weakest state, and it’s not far fetched that French politics, with the coming presidential elections, will also develop an imperial discourse. This all signals little hope for intervention in the Trump-May vision for the region.