Behind the Headlines Callaghan and the Middle East
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Behind the Headlines Callaghan and the Middle East

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Compared with Harold Wilson, James Callaghan is bound to appear less favorably disposed towards Israel. However, this is less a reflection on Britain’s new Prime Minister than on his predecessor’s extraordinary popularity with the Jewish community and his close ties with Israeli leaders. But in Callaghan’s two years as Foreign Secretary, there has been little sign of divergence between the two men over the handling of Middle East policies.

The most significant aspect of Callaghan’s thinking on the Middle East concerns his attitude towards the Palestinian Arab question. Three years ago, as opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Callaghan referred to the Palestinian question a simply a refugee problem requiring a “humane solution.”

However, 14 months later his views had changed. After a flying visit to Egypt and Israel shortly after the Yom Kippur War Callaghan said he would like all sides in the Mideast to “recognize the right of the Palestinian people to be represented at direct negotiations and to see a personality defined for them in the final settlement.”

Callaghan has stuck to this view since becoming Foreign Secretary and has repeated it in Parliament. Wilson used a similar formula when addressing Jewish audiences in the past week.

Callaghan is also on the record as saying that although the British Labor Party sought good relations with all Middle East countries, “that does not mean deserting old friends in order to cultivate new ones–nor would anyone have much respect for us if we did.”

He returned from his Middle East tour in 1974 deeply impressed by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt as a man of peace. “Israel’s unique experiment in democratic socialism can only survive in the long run in a climate of peace,” he said, adding that Israel’s leaders faced “more difficult decisions than those facing Arabs.”


Although he has not been as close to the Jewish community as Wilson, Callaghan has been sensitive to the question of Soviet Jewry. He claimed in 1973 that he had raised the issue during a visit to the Kremlin. He also testified to the effectiveness of demonstrations in the West and urged that they should continue. Only last month, as Foreign Secretary, he raised the Jewish question with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

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