BRITISH HISTORIAN John Keegan:
The Spanish world seems to have a talent for diplomatic grievance, prolonged beyond the point where even well-wishers lose patience. Argentina's obsession with possession of the Falklands is a case in point. Motherland Spain's refusal to accept Britain's rights over Gibraltar is another.Read the rest, where he goes through the diplomatic, historical, strategic and political context.
He's wrong in one point, though, when he makes a parallel between Gibraltar and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa. First, because of historical reasons: Ceuta and Melilla were Spanish territory centuries earlier than Morocco existed as such, while Gibraltar was acquired by Great Britain in a treaty with an already existing Spain. I'm not sure whether this makes much of a difference in terms of the UN de-colonization principle, but it's a detail that should be noted. Especially because at the same time it makes a stronger case for Gibraltar remaining British, being its transfer the product of a treaty (Utrecht's) and following the principle that agreements must be enforced over time, even of one doesn't like it anymore.
Second, because Keegan doesn't mention that one of the issues is that Gibraltar's territory has been extended beyond the agreed territory, which was smaller than the one it currently occupies. For example, the airfield is located in that overextended area, one of the complaints that even those of us who understand the UK's general position on the issue find at least questionable.
And third, because the crucial difference is that Gibraltar is a colony, while Ceuta and Melilla are not. A colony is a body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state and the territory inhabited by them (Merriam-Webster). It is also a territory that, while keeping its administrative ties to the mainland, is ruled by a different legal regime than that of its metropolis. This is the case of Gibraltar, whose set of laws have turned it into an offshore banking point, with all its implications in money laundering and tax evasion.
But Ceuta and Melilla are two integral parts of Spain's legal regime, and so they are subject to the same set of laws as the mainland territory (including a remarkable degree of de-centralization; as you know, Spain is organized in 17 Autonomous Communities, roughly similar to the US organization into states). They are both represented in the Spanish Congress and Senate as the other mainland autonomous communities are. Just like, say, Alaska (Hawaii is an archipelago so the analogy doesn't work), they may not have a contiguous border with the mainland territory, but they are an integral part of its legal, fiscal and political system at the same level, with the same rights and obligations, as the rest of the country.
UPDATE. Spain's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, was until recently EU's envoy to the Middle East, and has the questionable honor of being the Western politician more often photographed with Arafat. I guess spending so much time together made Moratinos infected with the same rhetoric, and it shows when he talks about the Gibraltar issue:
"It is very strange that, in the European Union of the 21st century, one member state should be celebrating the military occupation of part of another member state," Mr Moratinos wrote in El País newspaper.Doesn't that sound creepely as Arafat-speak? After its foreign relations u-turn, is Southern Spain going to become the new Palestine? (there's a fence involved, too!) Are we going to see exploding Andalusians?
He complained of Britain's "clear lack of sensitivity" in permitting a visit to Gibraltar by Princess Anne and allowing another visit by the submarine HMS Tireless, which sparked a huge row when it was repaired there several years ago.
The frigate HMS Grafton became the first Royal Navy vessel to fire a 21-gun salute in Gibraltar's harbour for 54 years when it arrived at the weekend.
This has also riled Spain - which wants a return of the sovereignty lost in 1704.
Mr Moratinos said the British government "should have made some gesture" to the descendants of those who fled, or were expelled by, the Anglo-Dutch forces who stormed Gibraltar.
The loss of the region's main port had, Mr Moratinos said, condemned locals to centuries of poverty and had blighted the local economy ever since.