British Minister places responsibility on the Palestinians instead
Published: 6 November 2005
Briefing Number 159
Summary: British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells has challenged several commonplace arguments used by Palestinian advocates to blame Israel for the Palestinian situation. Instead he has placed responsibility on the Palestinians. Howells’ arguments have significance beyond immediate events, and this Briefing highlights Howells’ views.
It has been a routine feature of Palestinian advocacy to blame Israel for the Palestinians’ lack of prosperity, security and national self-determination.
In the course of a visit to the region in late September 2005, British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, who is Minister of State for the Middle East, challenged the arguments of the “blame Israel” school of thought. Instead, he challenged the Palestinians to take responsibility for their future. Howells’ comments were made in an interview published in the Jerusalem Post on 30 September 2005.
Topic: Palestinian chances of disarming terror groups
Claim: “The Palestinians in Gaza remain in an Israeli prison camp, under ‘de facto’ occupation, and the Palestinian Authority cannot be expected to disarm Palestinian terror groups.”
Kim Howells’ view: “There is no excuse now [for inaction by the PA]. Gaza is now in the hands of the Palestinian Authority and there are no Israeli troops there. One hopes that where tough decisions have to be made, Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority will make them….If they don’t start disarming the armed factions in the West Bank and Gaza, how can the rest of the world have any confidence in their ability to bring good governance to these areas?”
Topic: Palestinian poverty and weakness in Gaza
Claim: “Palestinian society in Gaza is poor due to Israel, and is too economically weak to curb terror and create a viable civil society.”
Kim Howells’ view: “The Palestinians are receiving more aid per capita than any other people on the face of the earth, and we want to see some proper response…. We are waiting with bated breath for a response from the Palestinian Authority, and it has to be a signal that they are capable of good governance. It is not a bottomless pit that this money is coming from….”
Topic: Palestinian security forces and terror groups
Claim: “Palestinian security forces have been decimated by Israel. It is Israel’s fault that the Palestinian Authority is too weak and poorly equipped to confront terrorist groups…”
Kim Howells’ view: “They have 60,000 troops in the Palestinian Authority, and they have all the equipment they need. What they need is the political will to do it…”
Topic: Israel’s targeted attacks on Palestinian terrorist groups
Claim: “Israel’s policy of targeted attacks on Palestinians has caused indiscriminate loss of Palestinian civilian life…”
[Note from Beyond Images – the comments by Howells below were made days after Palestinias had fired Qassam rockets repeatedly into Israel from Gaza, and Israel’s army had targeted attacks on the rocket squads]
Kim Howells’ view: “I thought that the retaliation [by Israel] this week was proportionate. The Palestinian attack was a very serious one, it could have killed a lot of people. It’s a miracle really that there weren’t more [Israeli] casualties……
….I don’t think that any nation on earth relishes the prospect of world opinion if it retaliates by shelling indiscriminately. But it seems to me that the Israelis have targeted with great care those it believes responsible for firing these rockets….”
Towards the end of his interview, Howells reiterated well-known British policy by calling again for Israel to revise its settlement policy. However, the overall tone of his interview was clear: following Israel’s pullout from Gaza, the onus is on the Palestinians to take responsibility for their future.
Conclusion: Israel does not ask for support for whatever it does, right or wrong. No country has the right to expect that. But it does ask that its policies are placed in context. It asks not to be unfairly blamed for the Palestinians’ situation. And it does expect the international community to demand that the Palestinians fulfil their responsibilities. Howells’ interview indicates that this Israeli thinking is increasingly understood.