From Balfour to Trump

A hundred years ago a western statesman intervened in the cauldron of Middle East politics and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since. I fear Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with no simultaneous effort to broker a general settlement to the Palestinian issue, will lead to another century of conflict.

In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared that Great Britain would look favourably on the creation of a national home for the Jewish people providing nothing was done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish people. The declaration was made at a difficult time in the First World War when Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire which was allied with Germany. There were worries that the Germans were wooing the growing Zionist Movement.

The declaration begged many questions including did a “national home” mean a state? How would Arab and Christian interests be protected? What would the borders be and what would be the status of Jerusalem? 100 years, three wars and much violence later, many of these questions remain unresolved.

So why has Trump acted now? He rightly says it has been Congress policy since 1995 to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but without prejudicing final status. Previous Presidents have not enacted the resolution because they feared it would indeed prejudice final status talks and give no incentive to Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as their capital.

The other factor is Saudi Arabia. Although they have joined the rest of the Arab world, the EU and Britain in criticising the move, the Saudis have grown close to Trump. This is because of the President’s tough stand on Iran, Saudi Arabia’s enemy. Trump has calculated that the Saudis will make ritual noises but will not really back a backlash against America.

All that said I have an awful sense that within weeks we will see a terrorist outrage in Israel, Europe or America with the extremists citing this move as the reason for it. They will have no justification for violence. It solves nothing.

What needs to happen is a two-state solution. Jerusalem is the very difficult issue Could it be divided city again with West Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital with the Holy Places under United Nations control?

Universities in the cross hairs

It is a difficult time for our universities. Vice Chancellor’s pay is under scrutiny and rightly so at a time when their students are racking up big debts.

Most of the coverage has centred on Bath University where the VC’s pay was ludicrous. Apart from Sheffield University’s Sir Keith Burnett £422,700, none of our northern universities VCs are in the top ten. This even though Janet Beer at Liverpool and Nancy Rothwell at Manchester are doing great jobs with huge responsibilities.

But they will be aware of the issues circling around this sector of higher education. With students paying big fees, the degree courses need to fit them for the modern world. The institutions need to be accountable to the communities they serve, and the campuses need to be centres of free speech. That is a challenge for student leaders as well as university staff. No platforms for Israeli politicians or people with differing views on transgender matters are a violation of everything a university should stand for.

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