Just over three weeks ago the UK voted to condemn Jewish settlements at the UN as a “violation of international law.” This week it went some way towards repairing the damage by refusing to back a similar but less vehement EU motion.
Of course Britain was right to pop this French balloon: European countries telling Israelis and Palestinians how to build peace in the Middle East is like the Pacific island nation of Nauru telling the UK how to exit the European Union.
Whether or not the UK helped lead the way on the UN resolution, it certainly did so this week in Paris. If the outcry that followed support for the motion three weeks ago has brought about greater understanding that such actions bring us no closer towards peace, then that is to be welcomed. If it leads to a closer eye from Downing Street on the work of the Foreign Office in this area, then that too is a significant positive.
That said, it’s understandable that some countries will now be confused by Britain’s position. France, whose idea it was to push for this weekend’s international congress on an increasingly-unlikely two-state solution, could be excused for its bemused looks. If, as an unnamed European diplomat suggested this week, our foreign policy is now being dictated by the Twitter-led whims of Donald Trump, it leaves us in a state of flux, where decades-old dogma is here today, gone tomorrow.
By way of example, Trump’s cast-iron view that he would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem now seems to have shifted – he refused to back the plan in an interview on Sunday, despite months of saying this would be the first thing he did. It matters what Trump thinks, because what an American president does impacts on its allies. If the US does move its embassy, should we? If the US stops criticising settlement-building, should we? If the US places sanctions on the PA for incitement, do we?
There are other factors to consider. Theresa May is well-known for supporting Israel, but this week she announced a clean cleave away from the European single market, so she will know too that non-European trading partners like Israel are now more important than ever.
Expect her and Donald to pop more balloons in the coming few years.