LONDON (Aug. 8)
Britain’s new foreign minister with special responsibility for the Middle East, who once called for Israel to be “dismantled,” is now trying to woo the Jewish community.
Peter Hain, a leading British anti-racist campaigner who was appointed July 29, said his own history of outspoken support for the creation of a Palestinian state at the expense of Israel’s existence had been modified by the change in relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.
“People must not be imprisoned by the past,” he said. “If they were, nothing would ever move forward.”
Hain, who arrived in Britain at the age of 16 when his anti-apartheid parents were forced to leave South Africa, said many of his parent’s closest friends in their anti-apartheid struggle had been Jewish.
“As a result,” he told the London Jewish Chronicle, “I come into this job as a friend of the Jewish community and I hope that is how the community will see me.”
One of Hain’s first acts after his appointment was to invite Dror Zeigerman, the Israeli ambassador to London, for a meeting in his ornate office, an encounter described as cordial and fence-mending.
Hain’s attitude toward Israel was far less cordial in 1976, when he wrote in the London Guardian: “The present Zionist state is by definition racist and will have to be dismantled,” he wrote.
“Territorially, the new Palestine will be equivalent to the pre-1948 Palestine defined during the British Mandate. It will not be shunted off into the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip.”
The question for Hain was not whether, but how, the Jewish state would be “dismantled” and a secular, democratic Palestinian entity emerge.
“It can be brought about in an orderly way through negotiation as the PLO would prefer,” he wrote. “Or it will be brought about by force.
“The choice lies with the Israelis. They can recognize now that the tide of history is against their brand of greedy oppression, or they can dig in and invite a bloodbath.”
Earlier, in October 1973 — when the Jewish state was facing the Yom Kippur War — Hain wrote that “the world cannot allow its shame over the historic persecution of Jews to rationalize the present persecution of the Palestinians.
“Our quarrel is with the whole doctrine of Zionism and the arrogance with which its supporters dismiss the Palestinians and condemn them to a life of desperate misery,” he wrote.
Hain, 49, is regarded as a politician with conviction in the ideology-free environment of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government.
He has not made any significant pronouncements on Israeli-Arab affairs in the past decade, and he is said to understand the political realities of the moment, which includes positive sentiments toward Israel in the prime minister’s circles.
While he is unlikely to question Israel’s right to exist — or seriously deviate from established government policy — he is expected to side with Israel’s fiercest critics in international forums and to place emphasis on issues such as nuclear proliferation when dealing with Israel and Arab states that he regards as reactionary.
An Israeli diplomatic source said he hoped Hain would be a “balanced and engaged minister,” adding that Israeli officials “look forward to cooperating with him.”