Arab News (Editorial)
July 29, 2010 - 12:00am

The new British Premier David Cameron appears unafraid to speak his mind. Visiting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday, he described Gaza as “a prison camp” and urged the illegal Israeli blockade be lifted.

Unlike his comments on Wednesday in New Delhi where he said Pakistan could not “face both ways on terrorism”, No. 10 Downing Street has not moved to play down his comments on the desperate plight of Gaza’s 1.3 million Palestinians. Thus it would seem Cameron was not shooting from the hip but that British policy on Gaza is finally acquiring a long-overdue assertiveness.

The Israelis, of course, responded with predictable anger to his words, insisting the blockade was necessary to stop weapons being smuggled into Gaza. Cameron indeed deplored rocket attacks but insisted that what was most important was that Israel created the conditions for face-to-face peace talks with the Palestinians. He also urged Erdogan to restore ruptured ties with Israel after the Mavi Marmara killings, because he argued Turkey should be urging its erstwhile ally toward compromise and talks.

He did not, however, address the key issue that is causing Ankara to hold back from any rapprochement. This is that Israel has so far refused to apologize and offer compensation to the nine Turkish victims of its bloody assault on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla.

Cameron also pleased his hosts by reiterating the UK’s long-standing support for Turkish entry into the European Union. Yet the extent to which Cameron can carry this argument as well as the case for a more robust EU position on Israeli’s frustration of direct talks with the Palestinians, needs to be considered carefully. Although as the head of a EU government, the British premier’s views will at least be heard, most member states are still suspicious of him. A prime reason is the way in which he led his Conservative Party out of the federalist conservative European People’s Party in the European Parliament to form the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists Group with 55 MEPs.

Since it is entirely possible that no other EU government, let alone EU High Representative (foreign policy chief) Baroness Ashton knew in advance of the vehemence with which Cameron would champion Turkish EU entry and condemn Israel’s creation of the Gaza ghetto, the Brussels establishment may push back against his stance.

That would be a tragedy. However wary other EU states may be of the British, it is high time that they got off the fence. Private and patient cajoling of successive Israeli governments to create the conditions for direct talks, not least by stopping new illegal settlements from being built on the West Bank, have clearly failed. Even the wrath of the US administration has not moved Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. Now therefore is the time to get tough and threaten Israel with wider consequences if it persists in its intransigence. Cameron may be a novice at power, but sometimes the new kid on the block can bring a welcome freshness to a stale and festering issue.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017