Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.
Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”
The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”
Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]
He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:
If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?
On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.
In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”