British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made quite a claim on Monday. Hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London, Clegg declared that “there is no stronger supporter of Israel than myself.” Well, I’ve got news for you, Nick: there’s some very stiff competition for the title of Israel’s strongest supporter, and you’re not even a contender.

For one thing, Nick Clegg has actually had the temerity to criticize Israel on occasion, which immediately disqualifies him. For instance, at Monday’s press conference with Abbas, he stated that “I condemn the continued illegal [Israeli] settlement activity [in the Palestinian Territories] in the strongest possible terms.” He has also spoken out in the past against the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, describing that territory as “one of the most… wretched stretches of land on the planet.”

Let’s compare Clegg’s remarks with what Newt Gingrich has had to say about Israel and the Palestinians. The Republican presidential candidate isn’t exactly mealy-mouthed when it comes to giving his views on the Middle East, as exemplified by his now famous statement that “we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs.” (In fact, they are both Palestinian and Arab, but let’s put that to one side).

More of Gingrich’s uncompromising views on Israel can be found on his campaign website, where he accuses the Obama administration of “actively and materially harming Israel.” The White House has, he asserts, “unacceptably interfered in internal Israeli politics on a range of issues (from settlement construction to domestic legislation), challenging Israeli sovereignty in the process.”

It would be understandable if President Obama was somewhat resentful of this characterization of his policies towards Israel. After all, his administration has been very generous when it comes to dishing out aid to Israel, and has requested from Congress the not insubstantial sum of $3.075 billion for Israel for fiscal year 2012. And while administration officials have indeed claimed to oppose Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories, this stance was severely compromised in February 2011 when US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice vetoed a Security Council Resolution that condemned the settlements as “illegal”. Every other member of the Security Council voted in favour of this resolution.

Now, I’m not saying I agree with the President’s policies towards Israel. I’m just pointing out that Gingrich’s assertion that the Obama administration is “actively and materially harming Israel” is untenable.

It’s pretty clear then that Clegg is some way behind not only Gingrich, but also the US President, in the pro-Israel stakes. And Clegg is certainly no match for Gingrich’s fellow Republican presidential hopefuls (except for Ron Paul, of course), who share the former Speaker’s penchant for issuing statements that are eerily reminiscent of Israel’s ruling Likud Party.

Consider the attitude of the two Ricks to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It begins and ends here: both Perry and Santorum firmly reject the notion that the West Bank is occupied, viewing it as Israeli land. It follows that Israel has the right to build all the settlements it wants. For instance, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in December, Perry stated that “I consider the Israeli settlements to be legal.” When Blitzer observed that the US State Department deems the West Bank to be occupied, Perry replied “I think our State Department from time to time gets it wrong.”

Rick Santorum likewise supports Israel’s right to construct settlements in the West Bank. He has declared that “This [the West Bank] is Israeli land and therefore… they have the right to build things based upon their ownership of that land.” Santorum also espouses Gingrich’s view that “there is no Palestinian.”

As noted above, these Republicans sound at times like spokesmen for Likud. Last May Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu received a rousing reception when he spoke before the US Congress. He declared that “You have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.” As we have seen, Perry and Santorum hold exactly the same view.

In the same speech Netanyahu underscored that “Israel will not return to the indefensible borders of 1967.” Taking his cue from “Bibi,” Santorum has excoriated Obama for having “deliberately put Israel in a vulnerable position by publicly stating that he supports Israel going back to the borders of Israel prior to when they were attacked [in 1967].” Israel actually attacked Egypt in June 1967, but we needn’t get into that.

Again, this characterization of Obama’s policy is distorted. The President’s position, which he outlined while speaking at the State Department last May, is that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” This would be an intolerable compromise in the eyes of Santorum and Perry, though, as they consider the whole of the West Bank to be Israeli land.

So Nick Clegg has a very long way to go before he can join the likes of Gingrich, Perry and Santorum among the ranks of Israel’s most fervent foreign supporters. To be part of that club, you must do the following: misrepresent the US president’s policies, declare that there is no such thing as a Palestinian, support settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and assert that the West Bank rightfully belongs to Israel. Oh, and any criticism of Israel is unacceptable.

I’m guessing that Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, doesn’t want to be a member of that particular team.

Michael Walker has a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

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