Labour, Conservatives and the quest for a Palestinian state

First published by the Middle East Eye on 5/10/2017

As the 2017 conference season in the UK comes to a close, Palestinians can only hope that a future Labour government will recognise their pursuit of justice and freedom

The annual conference season for the political parties in the UK has been in full swing. The Labour pParty held what has been widely reported as a highly successful conference last week.

In contrast to Labour’s conference, the Conservative conference has been widely reported aslacklustre. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was the star in Brighton, where the conference was held, while Prime Minister, Theresa May, was left looking over her shoulder at possible rivals for her job.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, seen as her main rival, made a typically rousing speech in which he talked up Britain’s standing in the world and how it will succeed in going global post-Brexit. Though his subsequent comments on Libya once again brought calls for him to be dismissed.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not figure in his remarks.

UK foreign policy

It was left to the government’s international development decretary, Priti Patel, to criticise the Labour leader for failing to condemn the “terror his friends in Hamas have unleashed upon the Israeli people and not once did he condemn or confront his supporters who have launched a wave of anti-Semitism, bullying and abuse against anyone who does not subscribe to their extremist views”.

It sounded as if she was only addressing pro-Israel supporters in the conference hall rather than offering a way forward. May also accused Corbyn of “allowing anti-Semitism and misogyny run free in his party”. Again no mention of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel.

In his keynote speech, Corbyn, a long-standing campaigner for human rights, said: “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy. Democracy and human rights are not an optional extra to be deployed selectively.” And while he criticised Saudi Arabia and Myanmar for human rights abuses he added that: “We should stand firm for peaceful solutions to international crises.”

While such words are popular with his audience, the biggest cheer on foreign policy issues, however, came when he broke a two-year silence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by appealing to the conference “to give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people. The 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

Although this appeal cheered the Palestinians and their sympathisers, it did not, however, go down well with the ardent supporters of Israel within the party. However, both sides must have noted that he omitted from his speech an important promise made in the now famous Labour manifesto. It committed a Labour government “to immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Recognising Palestine as a state is a tangible action that a Labour government can take to demonstrate its commitment to support the Palestinians and their rights, a move which the Conservatives refuse to take. Recognising Palestine also would simply be implementing a decision taken by the British Parliament in 2014 following the Israeli war on Gaza.

The Labour leader’s two-year silence on the Palestinian issue can reasonably be attributed to the vicious attack he has faced since his election at the hands of the pro-Israel lobby both within and outside the party.

The prospect, though judged unrealistic at the time of his election as leader in 2015, of a committed supporter of Palestine and equally outspoken critic of Israeli policies entering 10 Downing Street as British prime minister sent the pro-Israel lobby into panic mode.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May holds up a cough sweet after suffering a coughing fit whilst addressing the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October (Reuters)

The definition of antisemitism

Accusations of major anti-Semitism in the party were made. In response, Corbyn immediately commissioned an inquiry into anti-Semitism charges appointing respected lawyer and human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti to lead it. The inquiry concluded: “The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.”

The inquiry and subsequent report were not adequate as far as the pro-Israel lobby was concerned. The lobby’s response was to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.

new definition of anti-Semitism, that went beyond the widely understood accusation of “hatred of Jews because they are Jews” was needed to shield Israel from criticism. This came in the form of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Issues related to Israel figure prominently in the examples given by the IHRA to explain the definition, thus making it possible to accuse critics of Israeli policies of anti-Semitism.

This definition was adopted by the government, the Labour Party and a number of local authorities. It is now being used regularly to throw accusations of anti-Semitism around despite a legal opinionwhich described it as “unclear and confusing and should be used with caution”.

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) are two organisations that work within the Labour party to influence its policy in support of Israel. LFI members were furious that the Labour leader did not address their fringe.

This year the JLM proposed a rule change that will tighten explicitly the party’s stance towards members who are anti-Semitic or use other forms of hate speech, including racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia. The rule change was adopted, with the pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle reporting: “The changes mean Labour members could face expulsion and other punishments for Jew-hate.”

However, the rule change means the IHRA definition could be used to accuse individuals criticising Israel of anti-Semitism and they could then be suspended or expelled. The pro-Israel lobby becomes the gatekeeper on what is acceptable criticism and what crosses their lines.

However, the rule change did not go unchallenged.

The emergence of a new group, the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), representing Jewish socialists who support Palestinian rights, provided some pushback against the pro-Israel lobby in the party.

Two of its members spoke against the rule change but more significantly spoke for parts of British Jewry that the JLM cannot claim to represent. The importance of the emergence of JVL cannot be overemphasised. In future, the Labour Party cannot develop policy that might impact on British Jews or policy on Israel and only speak to the JLM. This should bring a fairer representation of Jewish views than in the past.

As the 2017 conference season ends, the Conservatives continue with business as usual in supporting Israel and paying lip service to the suffering of the Palestinians, while there is hope that a Labour government would act to support the Palestinians in their quest for justice and freedom. For Palestinians that cannot come quickly enough.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges his audience prior to giving his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 27, 2017 (Reuters)

Pro-Israel positions likely to continue with new British landscape

First published by the Arab Weekly on 2/7/2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May

There are ques­tions with regards to what effects the snap elections have on British foreign policy towards Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, won 318 seats in parliament but that was eight seats short of the major­ity needed to allow her to form a government. She is looking for support from North Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which secured ten seats.

Although still in opposition with 262 seats, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, fared much better than expectations when the elections were announced in April.

An examination of the various parties’ policies on the Palestin­ian territories and Israel reveals that Labour, in its own words, is “committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”

It advocated “both an end to the (Gaza) blockade, (Israeli) occupation and settlements and an end to (Palestinian) rocket and terror attacks.” Significantly, Labour pledged to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine” if it formed the next government.

The Liberal Democrat’s policy on the issue was similar. How­ever, it supported recognition of the independent state of Pales­tine “as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”

The 2017 general election saw Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, Layla Moran, secure a seat in parliament for the Liberal Democrats. Before the election, she spoke of how her Palestinian background made her interested in engaging in politics.

She pointed to the influence of her great-grandfather, who told her that Jerusalem was once a place “where you had Jews, Christians and Muslim communi­ties coming together, who were respectful of each other,” as quoted by the New Arab. “That’s the kind of vision I want for the world, where differences are respected and we are open and tolerant of each other’s views,” she said. “I continue to believe that a society like that is possi­ble.”

With only 12 MPs in the House of Commons, the Liberal Demo­crats will have limited influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Scottish National Party stated that it would “continue to work with international partners to progress a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East, pursuing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine” but did not commit to recognition.

The Conservative manifesto made no mention of the conflict and neither did that of the DUP.

It will be the Conservative Party, with its longstanding policy of supporting a two-state solution to the conflict and its stance that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, that will rule.

However, the Conservatives’ long-standing support for Israel will only be strengthened by the agreement with the DUP. The Northern Irish party is also a supporter of Israel.

On hearing of a possible agreement, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush said this would be “positive news” both for Britain’s Jewish community and Israel.

The DUP is staunchly pro-Israel. In the vote requesting the British government to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014, the party’s MPs opposed it.

As Britain digests the outcome of a truly extraordinary general election, one thing can be guaranteed. In the year Britain and Israel celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, despite repeated requests by the Palestinians that it should be apologising for its effects on them, Britain will continue to take pro-Israel positions.

That is, of course, unless another general election is called on account of government dysfunction and Labour wins a majority in parliament.

Every picture tells a story; can the Palestinians expect any justice from this bunch?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (3rd L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.”

He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.

As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.

Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.

In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.

Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.

Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”

Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”

The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.

It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?

The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.

To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.

The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.

Government suffers defeat in court by Palestine campaigners over boycott, divestment and sanctions

BDS

22/6/2017

Press Release by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

PSC logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Government suffers defeat in court by Palestine campaigners over boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The Government has acted unlawfully by attempting to restrict local councils from pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel through their pension schemes.

Palestine campaigners hailed the triumph the ruling represented for the BDS movement, stating “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law.”
Administrative Court judge Sir Ross Cranston granted the judicial review on 22 June, determining that the Government had acted for an improper purpose.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has won a key victory for the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the UK government today. War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers supported the legal challenge with witness statements. PSC was represented in the proceedings by Bindmans LLP, Nigel Giffin QC and Zac Sammour.

The embattled minority Tory government suffered a new blow as parts of its Guidance governing investment by Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) were struck down as unlawful. The Guidance was announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2016 specifically to curtail divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, as well as to protect the UK defence industry.

This occurred despite a public consultation indicating that 98% of respondents thought this was the wrong thing to do. Pension holders would have been forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

The Administrative Court today held that the Government had acted for an improper purpose by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Accordingly the relevant parts of the Guidance were held to be unlawful and no longer restrict LGPS in their pension decisions.

In 2005 Palestinian civil society called for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions measures until Israel adheres to its obligations under international law. It is modelled on the successful South African anti-apartheid boycott of the 1980s. Various local councils responded to the Palestinian call by passing motions to boycott goods from illegal Israeli settlements. Campaigners have been calling for councils to consider divesting from companies complicit in human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, such as Hewlett Packard (HP).

Hugh Lanning, Chair of the PSC said: “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law. Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference from the government of the day.

Ben Jamal, Director of PSC said: ”Our recent YouGov polling shows 43% of the public think BDS is reasonable. We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the Court in the month the illegal occupation of Palestine turns fifty years old. PSC will take forward its campaign for justice for the Palestinian people with renewed vigour.”

Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP said: “This outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.”
ENDS

Notes for Editors:

– The Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance on LGPS in September 2016 declaring ‘divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’

– This guidance came in despite a public consultation on the issue in which 98% of respondents vehemently disagreed with the plans.

– The Palestine Solidarity Campaign applied for judicial review of the new government measures for LGPS in December 2016.

– New YouGov polling on British public attitudes to Palestine shows that 43% of the public consider the BDS movement to be reasonable.
About the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights established in 1982. With more than sixty branches across the country, we campaign against Israel’s flouting of international law, the continued military occupation of Palestine, and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. We work to build awareness amongst politicians and the public of the continual injustices and advocate for peaceful and just solutions that respect the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis.

For further information, please contact:

Amy Franck, Media and Communications Officer
Amy.franck@palestinecampaign.org / 07590 862268