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Important calls in the British media for movement on Palestine in 2011

2011 looks set to be a year for increased awareness and discussion on the major issues surrounding the conflict in Palestine. 2010 ended in mixed fortune for the Palestinian cause. On the positive side, it emerged that several Israeli Hasbara (propaganda) groups have dubbed London the world hub of anti-Zionist activities, a title which pro-Palestinian and human rights activists have adopted with a sense of pride. In another boon, the year ended with a flurry from countries around the world, queuing up to state that they now, finally, recognise an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. This may be a mere symbolic gesture at this point but in the grand scheme of things, it is a positive step in the right direction.


On the other hand, the year also ended with commemorations, held around the world, to mark the second anniversary of Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza during which 1,417 Palestinian men, women and children were killed; a savage crime against humanity for which Israel has yet to be held to accountable. The New Year then began for many with the tragic news that a Palestinian woman, Jawaher Abu Rahme, was 2011’s first victim of more Israeli aggression. She was killed by the gasses that Israeli soldiers shot at a crowd of unarmed Palestinian civilians who were peacefully protesting against the illegal apartheid wall. (Jawaher’s brother had been killed in similarly tragic circumstances when he was shot in the chest with an Israeli smoke canister at a similar protest a few years ago.)

Mainstream newspapers and magazines on both sides of the political spectrum in the UK also seem to be demonstrating an emerging consensus that the Palestine issue is at a major turning point and that this year must, and will be, a time for change.

To give just two examples, the right-leaning newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, ended the year with an article by its chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, expressing his belief that the Palestine-Israel conflict “is about to split the Coalition wide open.” Four days later, the influential centre-left current affairs magazine, the NewStatesman, featured, as their cover story, for their first edition of the year, a report by Israeli journalist Amira Hass focusing on, and condemning, Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza.

This consensus seems to be setting the tone for the New Year ahead. This is particularly true in the context of Peter Oborne’s piece. In his commentary, which went to press on Dec 30th, he verbally eviscerates US President Barak Obama who he says “appears paralysed” in the face of Israeli defiance and, sheepishly, has “effectively left the Middle East to its own devices”. An abandonment which Oborne points out “creates an urgent problem for our government”. He points out further, that Britain’s standard response of simply shadowing the American position on Israeli issues has now become a high risk strategy with a high moral cost. As Oborne, and many others see it, if Britain continues to doggedly follow the American lead, it means “sharing complicity, alongside the United States, for the settlement building, the prison state that now prevails in Gaza, and for President Obama’s gutless abandonment of the search for peace and decency.”

Oborne offers a brief insight into the loyalties of the main players in the British cabinet, laying their actions bare. On the one hand, he explains, you have the stalwart supporters of the State of Israel. This includes people such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, for instance, who at a dinner celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Board of Directors gave a speech typically riddled with pro-Israeli rhetoric. While he may have discharged his duty of churning out the FCO’s official position of demanding a halt to settlements this was overshadowed by his obvious lack of any political will to follow that demand up with sanctions, or any other coercive measures, to induce Israel to comply with such a call. Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Education Secretary Michael Gove are other cabinet members, who Oborne described as being similarly staunch in their backing for Israel.

One the other hand, representing the voice of those who have condemned Israel’s crimes and who have spoken out in favour of the Palestinian people in the past, in the context of ending the illegal siege on Gaza, are people such as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Although supporters of Palestine have been extremely disappointed with Clegg’s seeming about turn on Palestine since being appointed to his new position, Oborne seems convinced that his views have not changed since entering office and that his sentiments are bound to “burst into the open soon”. We can but hope.

Finally, Oborne brings us to the key players, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. Although most people view these two as loyal supporters of Israel, since they have made no real effort to curtail Israel’s warmongering proclivities, Oborne assures us that he has been told, in private, things which make it seem that they are both relishing Israel’s obstinate defiance over the settlement issue as an opportunity to afford them the chance to create a little distance between Britain and America. Oborne supports his assertion by referring to the symbolic gesture that Hague is expected to offer soon by enhancing “the status of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in London.”

Oborne is convinced that a major split in the coalition is inevitable; but it is yet to be seen which side will be able to recruit the key players who can actually implement practical changes in the Middle East as opposed to just bloviating about it. Will it be the side speaking out for the implementation of international humanitarian law and an end to the illegal practices of the Israeli occupation forces or the side resolutely committed to blindly standing by the USA and Israel, regardless of the moral cost to the collective soul of our British nation? The New Year is just beginning and only time will tell; but, let’s hope for all our sakes that this year right will prevail over might, and that Palestine will finally have its day of freedom and justice.

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

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