I have been waiting with interest to see how the SNP responded to the Israeli actions in Gaza. The reason for my interest is to see if there is any identifiable change in tone in its comments now that it is a NATO-wannabe. I have predicted that, over time, the SNP will start to sound more and more like the US in its positioning on geopolitical issues. This is not a difficult prediction to make – NATO is as much about organising and managing the US’s allies as it is about defending them. The desire to be seen to be in what some in the SNP have called ‘the big league’ usually comes with a price and the price is self censorship. It is probably a bit early to expect a full-scale shift in approach, but are there any hints? (In what follows I may use ‘NATO countries’ and ‘the west’ interchangeably, neither particularly accurate but neither as unwieldily as ‘the US and its geopolitical allies in other governments and the corporate
So it is important that I note that there has now been a statement from the Scottish Government in the name of Humza Yousef. And it is only fair to point out that in fact this is a pretty strong and pretty balanced statement. It runs through the usual stuff about ‘wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone just stopped killing themselves’ and of course runs through the line that Israeli families ought to be safe in their beds (even though they really are). So far so blah. But it does do four things that deserve credit. First, it gives an outright condemnation of civilian deaths on both sides. This is important because too often this is just presented by the west as ‘Israel must try not to kill too many children’. An outright condemnation is important.
Next, it uses the crucial word ‘disproportionate’. It is this above all that NATO countries tend not to say, because a disproportionate response is an illegal response. No-one is in any doubt that Israel’s responseis disproportionate – hideously so. But most won’t say it since it would in effect condemn Israel for war crimes. At best politicians usually stick to ‘must be proportionate’ and seldom then offer an opinion on whether or not it is. (This only applies to Israel of course.) A clear statement that Israel is acting disproportionately is important.
Then the statement goes on to put direct pressure on Westminster to do something. This is also outside the usual narrative on Israel/Palestine. Generally the west accepts the doctrine that ‘only dialogue between the two parties’ can have any impact on a resolution to conflict. All external influence is put directly in the hands of the ‘troika’ – which unbelievably means ‘Tony Blair’ – and in the UN, where the NATO parties make sure the UN can’t do anything. The belief that ‘we can’t do anything about this’ is a crucial part of the plan to keep Palestinians in the horrendous position in which they find themselves. It is an outright lie – a concerted US/EU position would pull Israel to heel in no time. But it is stuck to rigidly. That the Scottish Government is implying that inaction is not the only option is important.
Finally, the statement puts this conflict into the essential context – it calls for the immediate end to the blockade of Gaza. This is very far outside the NATO playbook. It is taken as axiomatic among NATO governments that under no circumstances can Israel’s actions ever be put into the wider context of its behaviour in the Middle East. Simply to imply that its illegal acts are in any way linked to conflict does not usually make it into the press releases of US-allied political parties. Simply to link the Gaza blockade to the illegal actions of Israel is important.
So this is not going to solve Middle East peace nor is it going to make much difference generally; Scotland has no ‘right’ to comment on foreign policy. And of course I would very much like to see an even angrier statement – Israel has crossed so many lines that it no longer recognises the concept. It should be condemned utterly and become the subject of sever international sanctions until it obeys the basics of international law and displays even a passing knowledge of the norms of decent human conduct (a government official threatens to ‘bomb Gaza back into the middle ages’ sounds awfully like a call to genocide to me). But I’ve been pretty hard on the SNP Government for its pitiful stance on geopolitics and its naive and confused attempt to be clever-clever on Scotland’s international role. So it is only fair to say that, as far as could be expected, this is pretty strong and independently-minded stuff.
If in doubt, let’s have a look at the position of a party that really has fully aligned itself with US policy over the last decade. This isn’t Scottish Labour. Because Scottish Labour does not appear to strive to the level of seriousness to actually comment on the Gaza conflict. The party has offered no statement and made no comment. Like all things Better Together, Scotland just isn’t important enough to form an opinion. So let’s look instead at what mummy and daddy at Westminster are saying (Douglas Alexander in fact – Scots can have an opinion on foreign policy but only if they work in London).
The most up-to-date Labour statement I can find is the one linked above from Saturday. No condemnation of Israel? Check. No mention of proportionality? Check. Ask the UN to do something (knowing the US will veto it) to absolve yourself of any responsibility to act? Check. No mention of context at all, as if this is a flare-up out of nowhere? Check. Instead of any meaningful comment, a paragraph of drivel about how killing people isn’t nice? Check. This is designed to look compassionate. What is really is is a free pass from Labour for Israel to do as it pleases.
Oh if we were permitted (by the constitution, by the Scottish media) to talk about world events. But no, in your box Scots. Independence or no independence, Scottish politics needs to reject the suggestion that we’re just here to empty the bins and hand out contracts to multinational corporations. One suspects someone somewhere in the SNP will be getting a phone call just to have a chat about how these words tally with the US/NATO position, just to make sure everyone understands what is expected of them. But it doesn’t seem to have arrived just yet. In so much the SNP has disappointed. At least it is still willing to engage with big issues on the global scale in a direct and independently-minded manner. For now.
Robin McAlpine, Director of The Reid Foundation