British policy toward the Arab/Israel dispute, 1970
Foreign Office Planning Committee, “Future British Policy Towards the Arab/Israel Dispute”, 14 September 1970
“Neither [a pro-Arab nor a pro-Israel policy]…is practicable. A pro-Arab policy would be unacceptable to British public opinion and opposed by the US government. A pro-Israeli policy would destroy all hopes of preserving British economic and political interests in the Arab Middle East… A pro-Arab policy in any thoroughgoing form would… be hard or impossible to adopt: (a) because of British public and political commitment to Israel as an ideal and the political force of support for Israel in the country; (b) because of the pressure which the United States government undoubtedly exert on HMG to keep us in line in any public pronouncements or negotiations on the dispute”.
The paper then considers middle options. The first is “active pursuit of a settlement with disassociation from the US” and, another, “active neutrality”. The first would mean the government doing “all we can to promote a settlement but without running the risk to our world-wide interests that would be involved in actively disassociating ourselves from the US position”. This has advantages and disadvantages but the first disadvantage is that “as long as we are associated with the US government in active policies toward the dispute, we shall confirm the Arab belief that we are pro-Israel”. The second option of “active neutrality” would mean “we should have to say and do things the US government did not like and to be more pro-Arab (or at least less pro-Israeli) than the Americans”. The disadvantages of this are the damage “to our world-wide relationship with the US”, that it would be criticised by some public opinion in the UK, that UK “could not affect the power structure of the conflict” (ie, have much influence) and that “there is no prospect of a European political entity” playing a “third force” role.
Therefore the paper argues for “the low risk policy”, described as “the less continuously active variant” of the last option above. “This policy should mean, in practical terms, that our efforts should first and foremost take the form of private pressure upon the US to do all in their power to bring about a settlement”. This would mean UK would have a “strictly limited role” and “modest contributions and not peace plans should be our aim”, keeping doing business with Arab world, including arms sales, and maintaining links with Israel, especially commercial…”
“In terms of the national interest, there would be much to be gained by adopting a thoroughgoing pro-Arab policy… It would, however, be difficult to defend such a policy on grounds of principle and it would be extremely unpopular in this country. The US government would dislike it intensely and oppose it strongly if it entailed (as logically it should) showing sympathy for the Arab point of view in the international effort to help bring about a settlement. It would be incompatible with support for, or even acquiescence in, the US position in the quest for a settlement…”
“Our almost total lack of influence on the combatant countries means that our capacity to contribute to progress toward a settlement is very limited. We cannot make even that modest contribution effective (or convince the Arabs we are doing all we can) if we remain closely associated with the US position”.
Reference: PRO/ FCO 49/295
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