THE world is not in a good place, to put it mildly. Economically, geopolitically, democratically, in terms of human rights and in respect for the rule of law – with even how we respect and cherish human lives and civilians now being eroded and ignored.

According to Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan, the world stands on the brink of its most serious, challenging geopolitical crisis since 1938 – the year before the Second World War when the UK and French acquiesced to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia to try to assuage Hitler and avert war, failing miserably and only humiliating themselves.

The international economic system is already stretched and flailing according to Dimon, and the current Israel-Palestine conflict could push it over the edge.

The Middle East region accounts for 48% of global energy reserves and produced 33% of the world’s oil in 2022. Previous regional crises have shaken the global order, such as the 1973 Israel-Arab war which produced the Arab oil embargo; the 1979 Iranian revolution; and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that all resulted in huge price shocks and inflationary pressure across the West.

So far, the price of oil is c$86 a barrel, roughly at its pre-October 7 level, while gas prices have only risen slightly.

The tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine has been an open wound for decades and its ugly explosion is exposing long-standing fault-lines and fissures that were always going to emerge in the absence of justice, democracy and a Palestinian state.

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UK political and media commentary are frozen in an aspic of lack of history and comprehension, combined with an identification of elites with Israel as a state and strategic partner. Hence Rishi Sunak’s rush to Israel and revealing comments to Netanyahu that “we want you to win” – the “we” being the West.

On Trevor Phillips’s Sunday programme on Sky News just past, a group of influential pundits passed verdict on the pro-Palestinian march in London at the weekend. They disapproved of it, and called out what they felt were unacceptable elements, without pausing to talk about the wider picture and the need for people across the world to speak up for Palestinians.

At the discussion’s conclusion, Philips summarised by saying: “I don’t think it is a bad thing we have a consensus on such an issue” – thus buying into this negative perspective.

A view framing and tarnishing hundreds of thousands of decent-minded people wanting to identify with the Palestinian cause. Admittedly Phillips did, when questioning Tory Oliver Dowden, deputy PM, challenge him on the odious language of Suella Braverman who has called such public gatherings “hate marches”.

A longer historical timeframe is missing from this which goes beyond standard references to 1948 and 1967 – and which contextualises both. The unilateral British withdrawal in 1948 from the Palestinian territory was followed by a brutal war in which the Jews fought to successfully win their independence and the Palestinians failed to secure their independence – following on from their defeat in their 1936-39 insurrection.

The National: Protesters marching in support of PalestineProtesters marching in support of Palestine

The result in 1949 was the sequestration of territory by Israel, Egypt and Jordan in the former British colony. For two decades until the 1967 war, what had been Palestine was divided between three regional powers. Since 1967, due to Israeli military success and power, there has been a forced unity across the territory which, in the words of the Middle East expert the late Fred Halliday of LSE, has seen “the unity of the British colonial artefact re-established and in effect, a civil war within that territory has continued.”

This is about the nature of the global order, Empires, their rise and fall, how they assert themselves, draw lines in maps – and withdraw, leaving chaos and arbitrary boundaries and realities. The map of the world and its 190+ recognised nation-states is not shaped by logic, justice or self-determination. It is about history, power and accidents – whether wars, crises or hegemonic and cultural ideologies.

Step forward the role of the British Empire and British Empire state. It was the UK which created the administrative territory called “Palestine” in 1920 following the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It invented an imagined entity drawing on both Biblical and romantic notions and imposed these on a territory which had been previously divided up into three Ottoman provinces. The same processes occurred at the same time in the territories which became Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

The British Empire State no longer has a vast overseas Empire but still retains the characteristics which made it a global power. It is not a democracy. We are subjects not citizens. Power is exercised through the abstract entity “the Crown” which acts as a veil behind which real secretive power is used – including the power to go to war. And a large part of the City and economy sit offshore and outside the formal UK, connected into global networks created by Empire.

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Hence, the UK’s centrality to the world’s tax havens, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and the endurance of the non-dom tax status created to aid the privileged global British in the age of Empire. The tragedy of what has been inflicted upon the Palestinians is a product of this history, but has to be seen in the wider global pattern of withdrawal and reconfiguration of Empire.

Fred Halliday talked of the brutal reality which Empire leaves, describing it as “post-colonial sequestration” to explain why some nation-states “get out in time” and others fail to do. Halliday identifies a host of examples which fall into the second category including Palestine, Kurdistan, Western Sahara and Tibet.

He argued that we must understand the implications of this global syndrome and the processes it has unleashed and left us with. These include comprehending the dynamics from “within” those territories (what happens to the people) and “without” (the implications it has for the international order).

It is only in this way, thought Halliday, that you can come to a wider knowledge of these territories suggesting that the “hegemonic nationalisms” of the dominant powers in question had to be understood, whether Israeli, Moroccan or Chinese. He concluded that “only if there is a major shift in the hegemonic state that has committed the sequestration ... is there a realistic prospect of post-colonial annexation being reversed.”

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To aid this Halliday suggested a two-fold approach. In the short-term, a global championing of respect for democracy, human and civil rights, and religious and cultural freedoms is needed. This is less about abstracts, he argued, and more about democracy, freedom and pluralism in a lived and everyday sense.

The second point is that those of us who support the right of the voiceless to have voice, and who see ourselves as part of an international anti-imperialist movement, need to recognise that we cannot champion Palestine in isolation.

We have to talk about the injustices of 1948 and 1967, the wrongs of 75 years of denying Palestinian statehood and the 56 years of illegal Israeli occupation. But this has to be done in a way which embraces a principled anti-imperialism which does not use glib phrases such as “from the river to the sea” and avoids anything which does not recognise Israel’s right to exist or undermines the Palestinian cause.

This is not a simple binary issue. Seeing Israel and Palestine in the context of the need for “de-sequestration” situates it in the global rise and fall of empires and the bitter legacy left all around the world. One which we are still living with and navigating every day in numerous horrendous ways. Palestine must one day be free, Israel too, and all of us from the scourge and brutal violence of the embers of Empire and imperialism.