Anger has erupted across the United Kingdom, and for good reason. After months of uncertainty, a new leader has been thrust upon us, chosen by an elite group comprising less than 0.3% of the population. Scots are renewing calls for independence and the air is thick with talks of a deal, or no deal, ahead of Brexit. Often portrayed more as a buffoon than a politician, Boris Johnson has long awaited the day he stepped into 10 Downing Street, and is far from the stumbling joker he is often portrayed to be. But what does his new cabinet mean for Israel, Palestine, and the region as a whole? The new PM, and his choice for Cabinet, could spell disaster for hopes for stability and peace in the near future.
Dominic Raab’s track record is a possibly hopeful. Appointed as Johnson’s Foreign Secretary, the FCO veteran and son of Holocaust survivors spent time at Birzeit University in the 1980’s, before working for a Palestinian negotiator of the Oslo Accords. In theory, as the government official responsible for the UK’s foreign policy, he is one the one to watch. In a 2010 blog post entitled ‘Gaza Besieged, Israel Isolated’, Raab reflects on his time spent in the West Bank, the raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, in which 9 activists were killed trying to end the blockade, and the need for strong leadership, which he stated as ‘sorely lacking by both sides’. In 2013, he argued against the UN recognition of a Palestinian state, calling for “political leadership, not a legal mirage”, but last year following Israel’s Nakba Day assault on Gaza protesters in which over 60 were killed Raab said Israel showed a “totally disproportionate use of force” and seemed to indicate that sanctions might be appropriate.
Raab has also been an impassioned critic of the Labour Party, and attacked its members over the ongoing controversy surrounding claims of antisemitism within its ranks, citing it as “beyond the bounds of tolerant debate” and referring to Corbyn’s Labour party as “a great stain on our country”. He has also remained within the general UK consensus against the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and given his history in the West Bank, it would be hoped that he may breathe new life into UK efforts to hold Israel accountable.
The wider Cabinet, however, has even stronger views in favor of Israel. Michael Gove, the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is an outspoken supporter of Israel, going as far to support the US embassy move to Jerusalem last year. While his title is archaic and may seem of little importance, Gove should not be underestimated as the chief adviser to the new PM on policy implementation, he now wields unprecedented influence on the leader of the country.
Newly-appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel is another who may swing the Cabinet in favor of a pro-Israeli stance. Previously Secretary of State for International Development from 2016 to 2017, Patel resigned in October 2017 over unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu himself, unbeknownst to the UK government.
Alok Sharma, now in Patel’s previous role for International Development, condemned the Israeli siege on Gaza, in which he penned a letter to concerned constituents stating that although Israel has a right to defend itself, “we desperately need Israel to show greater restraint”. A supporter of a two-state solution, Sharma maintains his support of arms sales to Israel under the premise of self-defense, also adding that such weapons would not be sold to a state “if there was a clear risk that any exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”. Given that the UK only recently ended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, such assertions must be taken with a pinch of salt.
As for the Prime Minister himself, Mr. Johnson’s stance on Israel and Palestine is most worrying. A self-described “passionate Zionist”, the Conservative leader worked on a kibbutz in the Northern Galilee in his youth. During his time as London Mayor, the city brought itself ever closer to Israel, leading him to boast proudly of the UK’s new status as Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe. As a proponent of the two-state solution and regular columnist for The Telegraph, Mr. Johnson has not kept quiet, but has shifted his stance between fervent support for the Jewish state, and balanced criticism. At times, he has conceded to the reality facing Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories, stating that “the vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration- intended to safeguard other communities- has not been fully realised”. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he also criticised the “disproportionate” use of Israeli violence against Gazan civilians, but has remained largely silent aside from this instance. On the whole, it is most likely that the Prime Minister will only warm up to Israel, much like our friends across the pond. The comparisons made between Trump and the new Prime Minister, while made in jest, may have some truth to them, and it’s more than blond locks. Sharing a conservative background and the tendency to publicly share his Islamophobic views, Johnson heralded the US embassy’s relocation as a “moment of opportunity” for peace.
The political instability that has held the UK for the past several months has dealt a severe blow to domestic faith in the government, and Parliament as a whole. Brits across the country are worried about the state of human rights in the post-Brexit era. However, with the track record of our newly appointed Ministers, the damage may soon be felt much further from home.