JERUSALEM—A group of British parliamentarians having lunch this week with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah found themselves blamed, as descendants of British colonialists, for the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The British lawmakers, belonging to the Conservative Friends of Israel, which is affiliated with the British Conservative Party, were taken aback by the angry tone of their hosts and by what they saw as the dissonance between the accusations against them and current realities.
"They blamed us, as British, for being responsible for the entire situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories because of the British mandate in Palestine [1923-48]," said John Howell, who led the nine-person delegation. "That was years and years before I was even born. It’s such a naive view of things."
After the British announced their intention of giving up their League of Nations mandate and leaving Palestine in the wake of the Second World War, the United Nations voted to divide the land between its Jewish and Arab residents. The Jewish community accepted the partition, the Arab community didn’t. There ensued the first Israel-Arab war, with the Palestinians supported by the armies of several Arab countries. The war ended with a Jewish victory in which they gained more territory than the partition decision would have granted them.
The Palestinian hosts at the lunch included Nabil Shaath, a veteran negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, who has a reputation as a moderate.
Howell said he had always considered dialogue to be the key to eventual resolution of the conflict. After Wednesday’s lunch, however, he questioned the viability of talks with the Palestinian Authority.
"It’s difficult to see that these people could be a basis for negotiation," he said. "I think there would have to be some agreement about how so many things in the world have genuinely changed before we can start talking."
The Conservative Friends is a pro-Israel advocacy group, which brings parliamentary delegations on study trips to Israel. On the trip to the West Bank, they were taken on a tour of the first planned city built by Palestinians, Rawabi. They also met with Palestinian officials to hear their point of view and to argue for dialogue.
"One of the things we were trying to say," said Howell to the Times of Israel, "was that if you had a number of Rawabis then perhaps you might have a more contented population." However, Palestinian critics of the project maintain that its construction serves to normalize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
The explosion came when one of the British visitors suggested that if free elections were held on the West Bank the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, would probably lose to the militant Hamas.
"There were certainly fireworks at that meeting," said one of the British participants, James Gurd.
Published under: Israel