The Conservative abandonment of Palestine | Simon Parler
The moment violence re-erupted in the Levant, former Vice-President Mike Pence was quick to remind his 5.9 million Twitter followers that America stands with Israel, unequivocally and absolutely. It was symbolic of the Right’s attitude towards the conflict. Despite the Left’s often unrestrained abhorrent behaviour in support of Palestinian, Conservatives take an equally as sectarian approach. Other Conservatives joined the chorus, spouting off platitudes in the vein of ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ without caveats. They even explained away the higher Palestinian death toll as the fault of Hamas for deliberately placing rocket sites next to civilian areas to maximise and propagandise civilian deaths. Rarely do they recognise the Israeli rockets directly doing the killing. Meanwhile Conservatives were all too keen to turn the racist card onto their Left-wing counterparts to silence them. A telling exposition of the historical revisionisms and prejudices underlying mainstream Conservative thought.
Islamism and anti-Semitism are the dual pillars that define the modern Conservative view of the conflict and its subsequent support for Israel. It is a lens that obfuscates the real ethno-territorial divisions at the conflict’s centre. Less a holy war, a reasonable comparison would be the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where religion is an additional differentiator and exacerbator between the two ethnic groups in a battle for territorial and demographic supremacy.
Islamism is a symptom of the conflict not a root cause and is predated by Palestinian Nationalism. The Ottoman Turks were the first to experience this nascent nationalism when Palestinians defied the Caliph’s call for a Jihad during the Great War favouring instead a British supported independence uprising against the disintegrating Ottoman Empire; only after would their patron become their new oppressor. The later post-war pro-Palestinian movement was characteristically framed in the left-wing anti-imperialist language of national liberation, with the Palestinian intellectual class firmly in the Marxist camp. Only after the failure of the Arab Coalition in the 1967 Six-Day War did this intellectual class become disillusioned with Marxism and gravitate towards Islamist intellectual currents. An event that broadly coincided with a fracturing and defeatism of the global left-wing movement after 1968. Even Palestine’s ancient and persecuted Christian community staunchly back the Palestinian cause. Christian property seizures and attacks on religious sites are more often the handy work of Israeli authorities and extreme Zionists than radical Muslims. So strong is the Christian identification with Palestine that Israel manufactured a new Christian classification of ‘Aramaean’ to replace their inclusive ‘Arab’ nationality.
Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, was embedded into the conflict prior to Islamism’s political headway. Although it always subtly existed for doctrinal reasons, it exploded when unprecedented flows of Jewish migrants entered the British Mandate for Palestine. Treating first and second-order consequences as causative factors hides unfortunate truths that Conservatives dare not confront. As late as 1944, Palestinians legally held deeds to 85% of arable land (excluding the Beersheba region freely inhabited by Bedouin nomads) in the territory that now constitutes Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Fascist Zionist paramilitaries like the Stern Gang conducted an organised terrorist campaign against British military and Arab civilian targets. The 1948 Deir Yassin massacre which saw around 110 Arabs murdered, including women and children, is entirely absent from Conservative memory. As is the 1948 Palestinian exodus, and the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians from their centuries old dwellings.
Palestinian radicalisation derived from these legitimate grievances, and they acted in kind, committing awful atrocities against Jewish settlers. For Palestinians, this was a struggle against a foreign invasion. A desire not to be replaced in their own homeland. Islamism’s later entry into the conflict was the result of defeat. Once it entered though, it quickly fermented. Every passing defeat pushed Palestinians into its open arms. A cycle that continues until this very day. Racism and de-humanisation, a common consequence of war, become superlative during ethno-territorial conflicts when the existence of the group is perceived to be at stake. The rhetoric of Hamas and the actions of Israel leave both sides with reason to believe this. Feelings that find their respective expressions in Islamism and Neo-Zionism. Conversely, the relative peacefulness and tolerance of the West alienates most from comprehending this cocktail of hate and fear, and the residual generational scars.
The growth of anti-Semitism and Islamism in Palestine was fuelled by successive defeats, a circle difficult to square if, as Conservatives do, you promote the narrative that Israel is the real victim. The reality is that Israel is not the victim. It cannot necessarily be blamed or held primarily responsible for the way events have transpired, but to assert Israeli victimhood ignores the facts. Israel enjoys official recognition from the United States, Western Europe and the Anglosphere. Palestine is afforded no such honours by those same countries, all of whom purport to favour a two-state solution. One might point to the unusually high number of UN resolutions against Israel, but this hides the fact that the US has on numerous occasions threatened to financially withdraw from the UN, or block resolutions, should the Arab countries propose pro-Palestinian motions. Palestine is backed by a disorganised left-wing mob, Israel by the world’s only superpower. A scant glance at a map of the territorial exchange reveals who is really winning.
Palestinian territory post 1949 has gradually truncated. East Jerusalem remains under illegal occupation as does the West Bank. The settler movement, whereby Israelis are encouraged to settle in the West Bank illegally is a noose slowly tightening around the neck of the remaining Palestinian territory. It is a policy only degrees short of ethnic cleansing and continued indefinitely it certainly would be. Donald Trump’s peace plan even incorporated these illegal settlements into a new further enlarged Israel, leaving Palestine as a series of disjointed exclaves connected by tunnels, cut off from the Jordanian border and the Dead Sea. A rump of a state that no self-respecting people could accept.
The modern settler movement receives only passive Western condemnation accompanied by hollow attempts at negotiated diplomacy without any real resolve towards a fair two-state solution. Neoconservatives including former Vice-President Mike Pence deny the existence of any Palestinian state. Not that this derives from principle, Neoconservatism has traditionally been all too content to invoke the self-determination of foreign peoples. When Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic sought to reverse the gradual ethnic cleansing of native Serbians in the autonomous region of Kosovo by ethnically cleansing the Kosovan Albanians, the USA and NATO were quick to invoke self-determination to rain down bombs on Belgrade. Nor did Israel have any issue with legally recognising Kosovan independence despite the region having been core Serbian territory since its seizure from the Ottoman empire and the original declaration of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882. No such strong appeals to Palestinian self-determination or legal recognition have ever been forthcoming from the USA or Israel. It is very easy for those with a nation to deny it to others, and Conservatives would think differently if the fortunes of the Palestinian people were applied to them.
The experience of the Palestinians is not given consideration; only their reaction is, which acts as a Conservative rallying point behind Israel. As does simply opposing the Left’s unwavering and often extreme support for Palestine. Beneath the Conservative mind, there is a greater phenomenon at play. The Left, for all their faults, know they can approach the Holocaust with a historically clear conscience, something the right cannot. The tragedy of the Holocaust is a spectre that haunts the Right’s approach to Israel, a sense that they need to atone to the Jewish people, and this can only be done through absolute and unwavering support for Israel.
Henceforth, Israel is put on a pedestal as though it can do no wrong. Questioning Israel’s actions in Conservative circles is treated as akin to questioning whether the Jewish people have a right to exist. Naturally, this is absurd. Afterall, more Jews live in the United States than Israel, many of whom have zero intention of migrating to Israel and even actively oppose Israel. More importantly, this attitude mirrors the same condescending approach that the left has to minorities whereby their faults are never their own. Israel is as capable of good or bad as any other state. Being the only Jewish state should not exempt it from criticism, just as people should not be barred from pointing out crime rate differences between ethnicities. States and Governments are equally as imperfect as humans, and when either fall short, criticism is warranted no matter who or what they represent, Palestinians and Jews included.
This phenomenon is not consciously accepted by Conservatives, instead they search for post-hoc justifications such as focusing on Islamism and anti-Semitism to deny Palestinian statehood. Other claims emphasise the singular nature of the Jewish state compared to the multitude of existing Arab states as places of possible Palestinian migration. A view wholly ignorant of the Arabs as a culturally diverse linguistic group rather than a single homogenous entity. Sometimes Conservatives lean on the democratic nature of Israel and the fact that Arabs have the right to vote (previously the line used was ‘the only democracy in the middle east’ before democratic Tunisia emerged from the Arab Spring). This conveniently skates over the fact that the Nation-State Bill essentially declared Israel a Jewish ethno-state, leaving the Arabs as a second-class minority. Voting rights hardly matter if Likud wins the election and begins authorising new illegal settlements in the West Bank. Furthermore, when has democracy ever been a criterion for friendship and cooperation. It did not stop Whitehall from flying the flag at half-mast to honour the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the head of an authoritarian theocratic monarchy and one of NATO’s most important allies in the Middle East.
Other times, Conservatives fall back on an appeal to commonality through Judeo-Christian values; a phrase first popularised by the United States as a value system to unify America’s Christians and significant Jewish minority in opposition to the Soviet Union. In the post-cold war era, the phrase has been exported to Europe to emphasise a common civilisational defensive pact between the inheritors of Christendom in the West and the Jewish nation in Israel. It is a phrase rarely held up to any scrutiny, perhaps deliberately because it is an entirely fabricated phrase, born of political convenience and extended to multiple epochs. It is certainly not an identity Israel subscribes to. Their nation-state law did not define Israel as a Judeo-Christian state, not that this choice of identity is an issue. They are a nation with their own genuine identity. They have no need or desire to internalise an American public relations stunt. Likewise, none of the supposed ‘Judeo-Christian’ countries act in accordance with this bogus civilisational pact. Israel had no problem supplying weapons to Azerbaijan in their war against Orthodox Christian Armenia. The nation-state of a people who share with the Jews the experience of constant oppression and genocide. Israel and the UK refuse to even recognise the Armenian genocide. Nor did we see the USA rushing to affirm Armenian self-determination in Nagorno-Karabakh. Judeo-Christian is given as much credibility by Israel as the UK and US, none at all. There are commonalities between Israel and the West, but these are over-emphasised by Conservatives for political purposes. Who is to say that the phrase ‘Islamo-Christian’ will not be popularised in the future to create a common civilisational bloc against Communist China. It would not make our differences any less real, and the same applies to Israel.
Even Conservatisms’ fixation on Islamism is selectively applied. Fervent supporters of Israel have taken it upon themselves to vocally defend the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang against the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) oppressive program of sterilisation, mass detention and re-education. Rarely is it mentioned that this is the CCP’s attempt to systematically quell an Islamic-separatist uprising in the region following multiple terrorist attacks. Though a comprehensive comparison between the Uyghurs and Palestinians is crude, there are similarities. The CCP is encouraging Han migration into Xinjiang to ethnically sinicise the region and make it more compliant. A policy that mirrors the Israeli settler movement. These are two Muslim peoples threatened with non-existence in their long-established homelands, yet only one is offered Conservative support.
Historically, Conservatives have consistently backed anyone against Communists, and the Uyghurs are no different. This raises an awkward question. Is Conservative support for the Uyghurs genuine or are Conservatives conveniently using the Uyghurs as a tool to attack the CCP? The latter suggestion would explain why Conservatives refuse to assert Palestinian statehood; the former would question why the sympathies they have for the Uyghurs are not extended to the Palestinians. Any attempts to circumvent this question could not make reference to Islamism or terrorism. Both peoples are guilty here, and it is not as if the USA and her allies had any bona fide concerns about arming Islamists in the pasts. It is no secret that the CIA armed and funded the Islamist Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fend off the Soviet invasion. Only an appeal to the defencelessness of the Uyghurs might hold sway as a tenuous rebut. Perhaps it really is as simple as sticking it to the Communists? Sorry Palestinians, but unless Israel declares itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Kibbutzims or the People’s Democratic Republic of Judea, you are on your own.
There is an equivalent hypocrisy on the Left when approaching the Uyghurs. The harder Left factions will dismiss the Uyghurs entirely claiming that the CCP is actually engaged in a wider educational and industrial program to lift them out of poverty. Liberal left-wingers do generally sympathise with the Uyghurs. A type of sympathy that never translates into the loud cacophony of support they offer to the Palestinians.
Politics is rife with hypocrisies and while exposing them is fun, it is more important to understand the biases driving them. The focus of this piece was Conservativism and Israel, but an equally long piece could be written critiquing the Left’s support for Palestine. The biases underlying Conservative intransigence appears to be a mixture of holocaust guilt and a cold-war hangover. Justifications are merely overlayed onto this oven-ready Conservativism with all its baked-in historical biases. They are not reflections of reality.
As a heterodox Conservative, these contradictions were all too glaring to follow the group line and zealously back Israel. Conservatism remains stuck in the past, unable to cast off the lens it inherited. Breaking out of this historical prison does not mean switching sides and falling in lockstep with the Palestinian movement. It entails seeing the hard stone-cold realisms of geopolitics rather than falling for package-deal outlooks and partially true fantasies.
Reality is always messier than mentally constructed visions of the world. Idolizing friend and demonizing foe make for convenient comprehensions. They just lack honesty. As the traditional defenders of the nation, the Conservative denial of a Palestinian state fails to conform to their own doctrine let alone reality. It is a stance that appears wholly dismissive and uncaring of the Palestinians. A position that punishes Palestinians because of the movement’s left-wing associations. An outlook based off mental gymnastics and a selective enforcement of principles. When Palestinians raise the Nazi flag, they only disgrace themselves. Islamism and anti-Semitism deserve steadfast condemnation. But they are products of the conflict, they do not define the Palestinian People. Conservatives should not sweep the long-standing grievances of the Palestinians under the carpet on account of how they act when left unheard. Defeat after defeat accompanied by successive territorial losses, illegal settlements and second-class status would push any ethnic group into the clutches of despair, desperation and deep unrepenting vengeance. If Conservatives are genuinely concerned about the growth of Islamism and anti-Semitism, they should focus on their causes and push for a fairer territorial settlement. Both peoples are unfortunate victims of history, and both are deserving of a state.