BY MICHAEL FREUND, JPOST—
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron took a highly unusual step. Meeting with visiting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Her Majesty’s Government departed from the usual diplomatic blather and went out of his way to underline his insistence on a two- state solution for the Israel- Palestinian dispute.
“Britain,” he said, “wants to see a two-state solution come about. We are passionate about this; we do everything we can to push and promote this agenda at every available opportunity.”
Cameron’s fervor was matched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who accused the Jewish state of carrying out “deliberate vandalism” by building homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria. “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable,” said Clegg with an amused Abbas at his side.
How nice it is to see that Britain’s top officials are so adamant about the right to self-determination and the principle that nations should be able to freely choose their form of political affiliation and assert their national sovereignty. With a growing national independence movement right there in the United Kingdom (or, should I say, in the not-so-united Kingdom), I guess we should now expect to hear similar statements by the Cameron government regarding Scottish independence.
TO BE SURE, the independence movement is gathering steam in Scotland. Last week, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said that Scotland’s government would hold a referendum on independence in the autumn of 2014. The date coincides with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Scottish armies defeated the English.
After centuries of tension, Scotland and England joined together with the Treaty of Union in January 1707. But Scottish nationalists have long suspected that the balloting on unification was less than pure and that those who supported the move had been bribed to vote in favor. As Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, put it, “We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”
But the dream of Scottish autonomy did not die, and after a vote in September 1997, the Scottish Parliament convened in July 1999 for the first time in centuries, with the British government transferring various powers to Scottish control.
Today, 13 years later, not all Scots are satisfied with the greater autonomy they currently enjoy, and Salmond hopes to build support for a complete and historic break with the English.
In light of the British government’s pronounced backing for the Palestinians’ right to determine their own political fate, one would have expected a similar openness to the idea of Scottish self- determination.
Incredibly, that has not proven to be the case. While Cameron has agreed to give the Scottish parliament temporary powers to hold a vote, he wants it done on his terms. He has demanded the vote be held as soon as possible and insists on the right to approve the wording of the yes-or-no referendum question that will be put to Scottish voters.
Moreover, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph on January 8, the British premier made clear that he does not think Scotland should secede. “I don’t want to be Prime Minister of England, I want to be Prime Minister of the whole of the United Kingdom,” he said, describing himself as a “passionate believer” – there is that term again – in a united Great Britain.
SO WHICH is it, Mr. Cameron? Are you really all that passionate about the principle of self-determination? Shouldn’t it be left to the Scots to decide when and how they will determine their own national destiny? Or does your passion only apply to the Palestinians?
Put simply, the British are trying to have it both ways, insisting that Israel give the Palestinians unfettered freedom on their own terms, even as they apply a very different standard in their own Scottish backyard.
This outlandish and transparent double-standard only serves to undermine the integrity of Britain’s stance. Indeed, speaking about the Middle East, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned a few months ago that, “‘The consequences of failing to arrive at a two-state solution could be catastrophic. so we have to keep trying.”
The same could be said of Scotland and England, where uncertainty over the future of the UK will do nothing to help Britain climb out of its deepening recession.
Before preaching to Israel, London would do well to put its own house in order and let the Scots go free, should they choose. As Winston Churchill once noted, “It is always easier to discover and proclaim general principles than to apply them.”
That is a lesson that David Cameron apparently has yet to learn.