Two groups in the Conservative party that have worried most about Con-Lib government are
the social conservatives and the neo-conservatives. The latter have been particularly worried about UK relations with Israel. There is a real concern in parts of the Conservatives Party that three
factors would come together to sour Anglo-Israeli relations: what the neo-conservatives see as the Foreign Office’s knee-jerk Arabism, the presence of many supposed Arabists in
Cameron-Hague’s teams, and the anti-Israel bias exhibited by many leading Liberal Democrats. Whatever the truth of these allegations, they are held with considerable fervour.
But Nick Clegg’s reaction to the conflict shows that the Lib Dem leader is both holding to the middle-of-the-road line put out by the Foreign Secretary and shedding the anti-Israel sentiment
of old. The deputy Prime Minister, who campaigned against the Gaza blockade before joining the coalition government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Israel had "every right" to
protect its people from terrorist threats. His addition — to ask if it was “in Israel’s long-term security interest to have so many people confined in that way” — is hardly radical.
David Cameron himself called the raid on the Gaza aid flotilla "completely unacceptable" and deplored the loss of life.
Personally, I think the Israelis made a mistake; the publicity has deflected pressure on Iran, they endangered their links with Turkey and used a level of violence which was bound to be seen,
whatever the facts, as disproportionate – all because Israeli is (understandably) obsessed with not being seen as weak. But this is a post about the British, not the Israeli government; and I have
been surprised at the lack of fissures in the government ranks over this issue.
The Conservative-Liberal government was never going to be a foreign policy-focused government – given the domestic issues that have to be tackled, the Prime Minister’s lack of international
experience and the strains of making the coalition work. But its reaction to the Gaza episode shows that it is at least able to agree and steer a middle course. It may not last, and there is a risk
it will be dragged towards the kind of Israel-bashing that is popular in many parts of British society. But so far it is proving far more cohesive than I would have thought.