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Why Palestine must feature prominently in the party leaders' debate

April 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Britain’s party leaders’ election debate on global issues will attract as much media attention as the first encounter last week, for the list of issues to be tackled is long: the future of the Transatlantic Relationship; Britain’s relations with the EU; strategies for working with the BRIC bloc (Brazil, Russia, India and China); Turkey’s application to join the EU; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iran’s nuclear ambitions; and rising tensions between Israel and its neighbours Syria and Lebanon. Overshadowing all of these, however, has to be the issue of Palestine.

It is likely that the candidates will gloss over the issue or, at best, skirt around it in the usual patronising manner, with the “two states living side by side” mantra. They would love to have the British electorate believe that the Palestinian struggle revolves around the establishment of a state, when in fact it is about the restitution of all Palestinian rights usurped by Israel, including the right of return for Palestinians refugees.

If the hustings covered by MEMO in Harrow, Hendon and Bethnal Green are anything to go by there is deep concern among the electorate about Palestine, and this concern cuts across religious, ethnic and ideological divisions. Earlier this month, Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) representing fifty-eight affiliated unions with around 6.5 million members, joined with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in calling on consumers not to buy goods sourced from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Launching the campaign, the TUC’s General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said, “We’re also calling on the UK Government to make sure that the EU bans the sale of these goods.”

Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and its expansion of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have reinforced its image in the minds of the electorate of a colonial state in a world which has long outlawed colonialism. Indeed, its discriminatory policies, stockpiling of nuclear weapons and wars of aggression against the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours brand Israel as an “apartheid state”.

Why should this issue figure prominently in the party leaders’ debate? Well, it has been festering for more than sixty years, with ethnic cleansing and incredible suffering along the way. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has violated international laws and conventions with sickening regularity. Although it has been held to account, albeit somewhat toothlessly, by the UN Security Council and General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, human rights treaty monitoring bodies and the International Court of Justice, it has continued to act with apparent impunity.

To his credit, an overwhelming majority of Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democratic Party signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion [502] stating “that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts.” Despite the compelling evidence corroborated by the Goldstone Inquiry the stance of the other two party leaders, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, continue to vacillate between denial and apology in order to protect Israeli war criminals.

Four years ago the UN Alliance of Civilization submitted its first report to the Secretary General: “Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and the unresolved status of Jerusalem – a holy city for Muslims and Christians as well as Jews – have persisted with the perceived acquiescence of Western governments and thus are primary causes of resentment and anger in the Muslim world toward Western nations. This occupation has been perceived in the Muslim world as a form of colonialism and has led many to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel is in collusion with ‘the West’.”

This resentment has been further exacerbated not only by Israel’s recent war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip but also by its attempt to lure Britain and the West into another war of aggression, this time against Iran, on the basis of unproven claims, as it did in 2003 on the pretext of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; now the pretext is Iran’s “nuclear threat”.

The British electorate will watch with interest to see how Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg explain their acceptance of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons while calling for sanctions against Iran. Unlike Iran, Israel is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not allow inspectors in to its nuclear facilities. Britain’s support for Israel and opposition to Iran in this respect reveals a perverse aspect of our foreign policy. Hence, all three would-be prime ministers must explain why Britain should support a state that practices colonialism and apartheid, is guilty of serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, and has the potential to unleash a nuclear holocaust.

How effectively they meet this challenge may determine the way the vote swings. A failure could lead to long term and very tragic consequences. If Israel is allowed to continue with more of the same, acting as if it is above the law, we should prepare for increased disaffection, disenchantment and radicalization at home and abroad. Which of the leaders, if any, will demonstrate genuine leadership qualities and tackle this vital issue in a just and equitable manner?