Fundamentally Freund: Britain’s Falkland follies

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01/09/2013 22:05

Before Britain dares to criticize Israel, it should take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Last week marked the anniversary of a military clash, one that resulted in a prolonged occupation of territory that continues to cast a shadow over international affairs.

Attempts at mediation and appeals to the United Nations have proven fruitless, as two peoples with competing claims vie for the same small piece of territory.

The result has been periodic outbreaks of saber-rattling and occasional bloodshed, with no immediate end in sight to a dispute that seems as outdated as it is senseless.

I am referring, of course, to the British stranglehold on the Falkland Islands.

January 3 marked 180 years since British and Argentine naval vessels battled it out at sea, with King William IV’s forces emerging triumphant and asserting His Majesty’s control over the area.

In the finest tradition of British imperialism, a governor was quickly appointed, and some 1,800 settlers descended on the Falklands within 20 years, despite howls of protest from the Argentine government.

UNTIL TODAY, Argentina continues to demand the return of what they refer to as Las Malvinas, and the two countries fought a brief but bloody war over the islands in 1982 which left 900 dead.

The row over the issue once again made headlines last week when Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner published an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in the Guardian on the subject.

This set off another round of debate and discussion over the future of the Falklands, and led Cameron to respond to Kirchner’s broadside, in which she referred to Britain as a “colonial power.”

Regardless of what one might think of the two sides’ positions on the issue, it is hard not to delight in the delicious irony of the situation.

After all, in recent weeks Britain has been among the most outspoken critics of Israel’s policies in Judea and Samaria, with Foreign Secretary William Hague hurling some harsh words at the Jewish state.

And yet, even as the British government feels free to lecture Israel for its so-called occupation of Judea and Samaria, it continues to dig in its heels and insist on prolonging its own domination of the Falklands.

Indeed, back in December, after Israel approved new Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the territories, Hague declared that, “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties.” He also warned that it would “undermine Israel’s international reputation” and even went so far as to suggest that it would “create doubts” about Israel’s commitment to peace.

Hmmm, now isn’t that interesting. Jews returning to live in their ancestral homeland, on territory that was acquired in a defensive war, is in Hague’s view “illegal under international law.”

And yet, when it comes to the Falkland Islands, which have no historical, geographical or spiritual link with Britain, and which were seized through colonialist expansion, a different standard seems to apply.

OF COURSE, Britain chooses to hide behind a convenient little fig leaf they have put into place by calling a referendum in March among the Falkland Island residents to decide on their future political status.

But as the New York Times wryly noted, “For the British leader, it is a safe bet. About 70 percent of the islanders are of British descent.”

In other words, Britain settled the islands with British settlers over the past 180 years, throws millions of British pounds at them each year, and is now asking them to choose whether to remain connected with Britain.

Not much of a gamble there.

If Israel were to do the same, and hold a referendum in Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim or Kiryat Arba, giving Jewish residents the right to determine their political future, does anyone think Britain would consent to the idea? According to its 2012 census, a grand total of 2,932 people now live in the Falklands, versus 488,395 sheep, which averages out to 167 sheep per person.

Not surprisingly, the primary export is wool.

So just why then does Britain stubbornly insist on keeping the islands? UNDOUBTEDLY, THE promise of potentially large oil reserves plays a significant role, as does Britain’s shaky sense of itself.

The demise of its empire, and its decline as a great power, have steadily eroded its standing in the world.

Holding on to the past and its relics, such as the Falkland Islands, the royal family and that gastronomic atrocity known as “fruit cake,” surely provide a measure of comfort to a nation that has lost its way.

Nonetheless, before Britain dares to criticize Israel, it should take a long, hard look in the mirror.

The fact is that the Jewish state has every right – morally, theologically, historically and militarily – to be in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, which is where our civilization was born.

The same can hardly be said for the Union Jack and the Falklands.