The most surprising exploration of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy comes from Ali Gharib, writing in Open Zion here. It is well known that the lady was well thought of by Britain’s Jews, particularly those of conservative tendency. Commentary was fond of her, as was Paul Johnson: she was, with her no-nonsense unapologetic bourgeois conservatism, her toughness and work ethic, a figure American neoconservatives considered an exemplary politician. They admired her far more than Reagan—something I recall from my days among that group and which could probably be documented without difficulty.
Given this, Gharib’s account of her positions on Israel and Palestine comes as a surprise. For here, Thatcher was not particualrly a neocon, but instead a partisan of international law and fairness. She was a Zionist in the sense that she believed in the justice of establishing a Jewish state in the Mideast, but—and here the distinction is critical—with the provision that Palestinians receive meaningful self-determination or statehood as well. And her belief in the sanctity of international law—to be enforced without remorse against land grabs by Argentinian generals or Saddam Hussein—she believed should apply to Israel as well, though of course as America’s junior partner she recognized that this was something which could only be talked about, not implemented.
For instance, Thatcher was quite clear that the Palestinians should have a full state along the ’67 borders once they recognized Israel. She thought Menachem Begin, with his aggressive settlement plans in “Judea and Samaria” was pursuing an “absurd” vision. She implicitly criticized Israel for its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and opposed Israel’s unilateral attack on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak. In a 1988 interview in the Times, she hoped Israel “might at last live in peace within secure borders, giving the Palestinian people their legitimate aspirations, because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.”
These last words, reflecting as they do the moral essence of the peace process, are critical. It is hard to improve on them. Shortly after Thatcher spoke, Israel would accelerate its settlement building under Shamir, a program designed to deny Palestinian aspirations for a state—and one that seems to have succeeded.
Can one imagine what would happen if a prominent American politician used words like Thatcher’s in an interview about Israel? What treatment they would get from National Review, the Weekly Standard, Fox, and Commentary (cf. Chuck Hagel)? What smears would be inflicted in prominent op-ed pages by Michael Gerson, Charles Krauthammer, Elliott Abrams, the varied minions of Bill Kristol? Something to contemplate this week as one reads the Thatcher panegyrics emanating from conservatives.