Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an infuriating character. Just when you think you have got him neatly categorized as a pretentious, self-seeking political wrecker, he does something right and brave.
Maybe he has acted for no more noble a motive than consideration for his American royalties and lecture fees, but anyway he has stood up and unequivocally opposed Mahmoud Abbas's bid for full recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN.
"You can pass whatever resolution you like at the United Nations or the Security Council, it doesn't actually deliver you a state on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza, and if you don't have a negotiation, whatever you do at the UN is going to be deeply confrontational," Blair, who is the international community's official Middle East representative, was quoted as saying.
He can expect a storm of attacks not only from a huge Third World voting bloc, but from the British Left, where anti-Zionism, a.k.a. Jew-hatred, is deeply entrenched. Count how many times the phrases "America's poodle" or "Zionist" come up.
It all seems reminiscent of the British politicians in G.K. Chesterton's book, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which the narrator, after listing their many sins, says in a curiously moving climax, "and they are standing firm for all that."
Blair has supported the US and Israeli position that a real peace settlement can only come about from face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Given the whole history of the conflict, this seems the only feasible position. A UN resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, as matters are at present, would have only one point: it would contribute to the delegitimization of Israel.
This is in some contrast to British Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, who at the time of writing has not made his government's position clear.
A crucial question may be the extent to which Cameron is prepared to stand up to his left-wing partners, the Liberal Democrats, who, though they command less than 10 percent of the vote, have just been indulging in an orgy of Tory-bashing at their annual conference, some of their senior speakers openly referring to their coalition partners as "the enemy." The British Foreign Office also has a reputation for being traditionally Arabist.
The Liberal Democrats apparently subscribe to more-or-less the whole left-wing package deal. Although Cabinet meetings are of course secret, there is no reason to believe the Liberal-Democrats will not support the Palestinians. Attitudes to the Palestinian question in the face of this may be a critical test of Tory moral fiber.
Cameron has said: "We support Palestine having its own state next to a secure Israel. In the end we have to recognize we will get a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state by the Palestinians and the Israelis sitting down and talking to each other.…We don't yet know what resolution is going to be put forward, what it is going to say, what its terms are. There will only be one test for British policy, which is: Will this help to bring about the establishment of a state for the Palestinians next to a secure state for Israel?" This, taken at its face value, is simply political double-speak and could mean anything. What "secure" Israel borders are the Palestinians -- or rather the Palestinian leaders -- likely to agree to?
The 1967 boarders of Israel, which leave its main airport within easy range of attack and would allow the country to be, in theory, cut in two by a tank-attack in minutes, have been described by some Israelis as "Auschwitz Mark II."
Palestinian rhetoric is in the direction of Israel's total elimination, and it is hard to see how any Palestinian leadership could control this, or indeed that any possible leaders have any desire to, especially if the Palestinians believe they can now get support from Egypt and/or Turkey.
Yet Cameron, too, displayed what was, for me, surprising firmness and courage when Russia threatened Georgia and he flew to offer it support and encouragement.
Whatever can be said against Blair -- which is quite a bit -- he has stood by the U.S. when the chips are down, and he appears to appreciate how disastrous for the West throwing Israel under a bus would be. It seems he really does recognize that the Atlantic Alliance, or the Anglosphere -- call it what you will -- is, as it was in the 20th century, the best hope for civilization in a chaotic and danger-filled world, and that there are times when a stand must be taken without equivocation. It is a pity, to say the least, that his Prime Ministership left Britain an economic and social shambles, and hardly able even to defend itself, but it seems that he retains at least some tattered rags of valor.
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