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.

A Palestinian view on the antisemitism row

The Guardian published my letter below online on 2 May 2016 and on print on 3 May 2016.


The Guardian 3/5/2016

A Palestinian view on the antisemitism row

Jonathan Freedland (My plea to the left, 30 April) asks us to imagine if a country far away was created for black people and asks if the left would treat it as it does Israel. As a Palestinian I want to tell him that if, instead of a country for Jews, a country for black people or any other group had been created in our homeland without our consent, we would have objected and resisted as Palestinians with the same vigour.

If it continued to defy international law and occupy, colonise and murder and make our lives so miserable that we would leave, we would call for its boycott as we do in the case of the real occupier, Israel. And if that occupation had continued for as long as Israel’s has, we would have called supporters of human rights to help us end this occupation, treat Palestinian citizens of that state equally and allow Palestinian refugees to return. As it happens, those are the legitimate demands of the BDS movement called by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005.

Further, had Israel been created in, say, Uganda and not in Palestine, does Freedland or any other supporter of Israel think that Palestinians would have created Fatah or Hamas and sent them to Uganda to attack the Jewish citizens of this entity in Uganda?

Even closer to home, Balfour had more right to promise Wales to the Zionists than Palestine – with my apologies to the Welsh people. Had he done so and had Israel been created in Wales, had Cardiff been occupied and declared the united capital of Israel, and had Swansea been under siege for 10 years because it reacted to Israel’s illegal occupation, would the Welsh have simply accepted this and behaved as a model occupied people?

I remind all who are interested in peace in historic Palestine that we Palestinians did not choose our occupiers. They chose Palestine knowing it was not an empty land but one that had a people, my people, the Palestinians that have paid with their land, lives and rights.

As we approach the 68th anniversary of our catastrophe or Nakba, our occupiers need to acknowledge the wrong they did to us, apologise and pursue a genuine reconciliation, which may necessitate a very different political arrangement in historic Palestine. Instead they are busy conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism, thinking this will end the call for Israel to come to its senses. Supporters of Israel who do this are really working to protect its illegal policies and to delay the day when it finally operates within rather than above the law.
Professor Kamel Hawwash
Birmingham

Updated 10/6/2016


Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership win is a boost for equality, justice and human rights, but with realism

Jeremy Corbyn MP won a landslide victory in his bid to become Labour Party leader, with 60% of the votes cast going to him. It quickly emerged that this was reflected in the various voting groups. The main exception is the Parliamentary Labour Party. There are claims that 90% of MPs do not support his win.

Commentators took to the air in force, some claiming a historic victory and others claiming a catastrophe and even the death of the Labour Party. Many predicting Corbyn will not last a year.

  

The Conservatives predictably are scaremogering, claiming that Corbyn’s election poses a serious threat to the economy and security of the UK.

Those campaigning for causes Corbyn has supported tirelessly, including the Palestinians are elated but realistic about what Corbyn’s Labour Party can do to support them.

Corbyn’s priority must be to deliver equality in the UK. The gap between rich and poor is in need of shrinking. He needs to deliver on the principles he has stuck to throughout his political life. He needs to steer Labour to immediately becoming an effective opposition and then electable in 2020.

Those of us who support equality and justice will want him to succeed.

But he is also now in a position where the causes he has supported have an opportunity for exposure to wider sectors of the British public. The human rights driver rather than business should gain prominence. This applies particularly to the Palestinian cause. 

Whereas Prime Minister Cameron argues for stronger business links with Israel, Corbyn can argue for sanctions against Israel because of its serial abuses of Palestinian human rights.

  
To effect a major change in UK policy away from immoral support for Israel to just support for Pslestinians will take time. 

Supporters of Palestinian rights can at least be assured that for the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017, Labour’s leadership won’t rush to celebrate this terrible milestone in British history.

The UK’s Major Political Parties Failed the Palestinian People and therefore the Israeli People

The UK bears a major historic responsibility for the predicamentd of the Palestinian People. Not only did it occupy historic Palestine between 1920 and 1948, it made the infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917. This promised Palestine to the Zionists without consultation with the Palestinians or even world wide Jewry.

But 67 years after British troops left Palestine and the Palestinians to face Zionist Jewish terror, where do the current major political parties stand on justice for the Palestinians? This is a particularly important question just after Israel’s appalling attack on Gaza which left over 2,000 Palestinians dead, over ten thousand injured and Palestinain homes and infrastructure devastated. It is estimated it will cost over $5 billion to rebuild Gaza but other estimates are as high as. $8 Billion.

Israel is suspected of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide in the 51-day attack on Gaza, which was launched on the for text of Hamas ordering the kidnapping and killing of three young Israeli settlers in the South of Hebron.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to set up an investigative committee into the potential war crimes. The UK was one of the nations that abstained on the vote together with other EU countries.

That was a bizarre decision. From the outset of the recent Attack on Gaza, the ruling coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said clearly that Israel was entitled to ‘self defence’ against the rockets fired from Gaza, although the Government failed to note that it was Israel that started the conflict when it started attacking Gaza, after three settlers were abducted in South Hebron. Also, just what borders is Israel entitled to defend?

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Nevertheless, as the extent of the death of civilians, especially children began to emerge, Britain tempered its support for Israel ever so slightly by saying it must operate within international Law and international humanitarian law. Ok, so Israel was ‘entitled to self defence’ as long as it was operating within the law but when a investigative committee was to be established to check that this was the case, Britain abstained. This was at best illogical but at worst encouraged Israel to commit further atrocities as it felt it could point to the abstentions and try to discredit the Committee as established by the ‘usual suspects’.

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As the death toll in Gaza mounted, calls were made by protestors for Britain to stop its arms trade with Israel. The claim was that Israel was either using or had the potential to use British supplied arms and components against the civilian population it occupies. This did create some tensions in the coalition and eventually the Liberal Democrats ‘won’ a concession to suspend twelve licenses if Israel returned to ‘substantial’ action in Gaza. This never materialised, even though Israel did attack Gaza after that announcement.

I recently read Labour Leader, Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour Friends of Israel, which he delivered in June of this year? It really is worth reading, if you want to handstand the extent of the influence of the pro-Israel Libby on the political elite in the UK. This was delivered before the Israeli onslaught first on the West Bank and the 51-days of El it heaped on Gaza.

This was a speech pandering to the lobby. It reminded me of many sickening speeches made by presidents and other senior Administration officials to AIPAC. A kind of annual report on what they have done for Israel in the previous year to ‘get the lobby off their back’ and to ensure continued funding.

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It is quite telling that Miliband did not use the word ‘occupation’ once or refer to Palestinian rights. He did not even say explicitly that the settlements are illegal. His remarks about his own personal links with Israel as a Jew with family there taken with his clear uncritical support for Israel do not augur well for actions to force Israel to comply with International Law.

Conservative Friends of Israel boast that 80% of Conservative MPs are members. You wonder who the other 20% are as they are hardly and stories critical of Israel or its policies.

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Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP addressed this year’s reception of CFI in Parliament hitch the CFI website called “staunchly supportive of Israel” and asserting:

“”I – and the whole British Government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.”

It is worth re-stating the threats faced by Israel because they are considerable. There are the familiar but deadly threats from Hamas and Hezbollah. The collapse of Syria that has spawned ISIS and threatens to destabilise Lebanon and Jordan. The instability of the wider region. And the threats issued to Israel by Iran. No democratic government could, in the face of such danger, do anything but maintain a strong defence and security capability and be prepared to deploy it if necessary. That is why I – and the whole British Government – will always defend Israel’s right to defend itself.[…]
When Israel faces the full range of threats I have just listed, when Israel faces enemies that are intent on its very destruction, when Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields for its rockets, when there are thousands of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, it is easy to talk about a two-state solution but almost impossible to know how to move towards one.”

Remember this was after Israel’s terrorist attack on Gaza. Again just like Miliband’s speech to Labour Friends of Israel you could be excused for not realising that Israel occupies Palestine or the extent of carnage that Israel brought to Gaza.

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The Liberal Democrats would appear to have better policies on the conflict but are part of a coalition which changed Jurisdiction to allow suspected Israeli war criminals access to the UK without fear of arrest for their suspected war crimes.

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All in all, the UK’s major political parties have failed the Palestinian people and only a major shift away from allowing Israel impunity to sanctioning it will place them in the peace camp that will end the occupation and lease yo freedom for Palestinians.

On the 13th of October, back bench MPs gave secured a boring debate calling for the recognition of a Palestinian state. It would be logical for their to be unanimous support for it, based on everyone’s (as far as I know) claim a two state solution is the way to achieve peace.

Ar their forthcoming conferences, the message from delegates should be that they must vote in favour of this motion. There should then be a cross party move to declare that the UK recognises Palestine.

This would be the first step on the path the UK must take to correct the historic wrong which started with the 1917 disgraceful Balfour Declaration.

Nothing less than this will convince the British Public that marched on their hundreds of thousands in Kily and August that their Government is listening.

By failing the Palestinian people, I contend the British political parties are failing the Israeli people, for peace will only come to them, when justice comes to the Palestinians.