Sir Sherard and the Throffer

10 02 2011

Category; Media, Middle East

Sir Sherard Louis Cowper-Coles KCMG LVO has been discussing Israel and the peace process on BBC Radio 4 (following comments by his former boss, Foreign Secretary WIlliam Hague).

Sir Sherard certainly has experience of the Middle East (click here); until recently the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan he formerly served, amongst other roles, in Cairo, Saudia Arabia, Kabul, and as UK Ambassador to Israel.

His comments on the Today programme –  click here (9/2/11 at c.8:50am) are revealing on the extent of the delegitimisation of Israel. There is a creeping acceptance that Israel does not have an automatic and accepted right to exist and in that sense differs from every other nation on earth.

What he said amounted to a ‘throffer’; that’s a threat disguised as an offer. The nature of the throffer Sir Sherard outlines is that Israel has an opportunity, a final opportunity, to make peace on certain terms. And if that opportunity is not taken then its existence might be in issue.

Before I attempt to decode the diplomat’s words, here is the exchange, in full:

Jim Naughtie (presenter) – Good Morning Sir Sherard. Looking at the picture, you know the Arab world so well as well as Israel, how do you see it?

Sir Sherard – I think anyone who truly loves Israel, anyone who wants Israel to survive wants Israel to make the peace that has been on offer essentially since 1937 when the Peel Commission recommended partition of Palestine and what Israel needs is what William Hague is giving it, which is tough love.

No one is calling into question Israel’s right to exist but if it wants to exist in any sort of decent form it’s going to survive not by building walls and by keeping down what the Balfour Declaration called the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.

It’s going to survive by making a deal with its neighbours and living in peace, and William Hague is entirely right to be pressing for that.

Naughtie (presenter) – The big question, surely, is whether the 2 state solution which has been the basis of all the negotiations since I suppose Camp David in the late 70s is now withering away and whether some different approach is going to start to emerge. What do you think?

Sir Sherard – Especially in the Middle East, never say never, but the door is closing on a 2 state solution. That is why it’s so urgent, and if the Israelis, if the Jewish diaspora think about it, it is not in Israel’s interest that there should be a single binational state. if they want a Jewish State in the Middle East then it has to do a peace deal and do it soon.

Naughtie (Presenter) – But the signs are that is not what the government; if you look at the wikileaks revelations about how far the Palestinians were willing to go, very embarrassing to Mahmud Abbas to have that revealed, even in those circumstances a deal couldn’t be reached. It doesn’t make itself seem very likely.

Sir Sherard – No, well, as the Foreign Secretary seemed to be suggesting the problem lies almost as much in Washington as it does in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. And what American friends of Israel should be doing, if they truly love Israel, is helping Israel, helping Israel’s politicians in that crazy democracy to deliver the kind of compromises that are essential for peace.

Obama got it but he’s failed to follow through and it’s up now to him and to Mrs Clinton to be giving the political cover that only America can give to Netanyahu and others to make the compromises for peace. It’s very urgent, very important, we will all suffer if Israel persists in this present course of trying to survive by force of arms.

Naughtie (presenter) – Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles thanks very much.

Let’s dissect some of this ‘friendly advice’ that is nothing of the sort. He gives the game away pretty early on;

“…anyone who wants Israel to survive wants Israel to make the peace that has been on offer essentially since 1937…”

Israel’s survival is at stake unless Israel makes peace, on well-known terms.

This is a manifestation of Emanuele Ottolenghi’s statement –  click here;

“As if peace required only Israeli concessions — and unless those concessions were forthcoming, the rage of the Muslim world was somehow justified.”

Historically speaking Sir Sherrard’s words are nonsensical. The Arab-Israeli conflict is so complicated and involves so many factors it can be relatively easy to distort and project whatever narrative one chooses.

“…make the peace that has been on offer essentially since 1937…”


I’m no historian, and I have no intention of rehearsing the history of the entire conflict, but just to start with the Peel Commission of 1937 –  click here.

It was rejected by Arab leaders and by the British Government. In what sense was that ‘on offer‘? In any event here is a map of the envisaged partition. Which speaks for itself.

The 1947 UN Partition Plan –  click here was accepted by Jewish leaders, but rejected by Arab community leaders and by Arabs states. I’m going to stop there – this isn’t my area but it begins to illustrate quite how distorted Sir Sherard’s comments are.

“No one is calling into question Israel’s right to exist but if it wants to exist in any sort of decent form…”

Just stating you’re not doing something (calling into question Israel’s right to exist) doesn’t mean you’re not doing it. The ‘but‘ gives the game away. This nudges the narrative by inferring Israel’s existence is an issue and is not settled.

“…it’s going to survive not by building walls and by keeping down what the Balfour Declaration called the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. “

More code; Sir Sherard is drawing on the old trope that ‘Zionism is racism’.

And so it goes on; the Israeli political leaders are the sole obstacle and the Jewish lobby must wake up and the Americans have to force the Israelis into making peace on the predetermined terms Ottolenghi alludes to.

There’s another aspect to this exchange that’s telling. It’s not an exchange.

The normally combatative presenting of the Today programme is entirely absent. Jim Naughtie reverts to the deferential style of decades ago simply inviting Sir Sherard to give his views and thanking him for presenting those views, a seer who’s opinion brooks no challenge or elucidation.

Naughtie’s contribution is to re-enforce Sir Sherard’s thesis by pointing out that the Palestinians appear to have offered massive concessions and yet the Israelis have still not agreed – more lightly encoded points; Israel is intransigent, bullying and beyond reason.

This ‘interview’ is clear illustration of the state of understanding of the issues in the UK today and the acceptance and propagation of a certain narrative.

These are the comments of someone who was until recently a senior Foreign Office mandarin following statements by the Foreign Secretary. This is the view of those at the heart of the British Government being aired on the most important news programme in Britain.

Until Israel’s friends understand that this point is reached, that we are where we are; that dislike of Israel is so entrenched, it is pointless putting Israel’s case. Their focus needs to be on combatting the distortions of those who dislike Israel and on combatting the acceptance of delegitimisation of Israel. And in confronting false friends and their repellent throffers.

UPDATE: This interview took place just before it was announced that Sir Sherard was joining BAe Systems as Director; click here for a post on this

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