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Ending British complicity in Gaza war crimes could influence election outcome

October 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

On May 5, 2010, support for the Liberal Democrats flourished; many were swayed by their position on the Middle East, disillusioned by 10 years of Tony Blair. In the years preceding the general election they spearheaded demonstrations against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and were a permanent face at rallies denouncing Islamophobic, anti-terror legislation and Israeli atrocities in Palestine.

Entering into a coalition with the Conservatives restricted the Lib Dems’ power to act on their pre-election pledges. They began with a limited number of MPs, many who went on to take government positions, which severely hampered their ability to be the voice of reason. In some respects they have pressed ahead despite this. Nick Clegg recently echoed the calls he made in 2009 for an arms embargo on Israel in light of the recent attack on the Gaza Strip which left over 2,000 Palestinians dead, most of whom were civilians, including some 500 children.

Yet just a few months after entering office the deputy prime minister had already declared his support for a law which granted immunity to suspected war criminals from “friendly” states. An overwhelming majority of Lib Dem MPs signed an Early Day Motion to keep the law unaltered. The legislation was amended anyway which meant officials accused of war crimes can now visit Britain without fear of prosecution.

In December 2009, Tzipi Livni, a key architect of the 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza, cancelled a trip to London after a Westminster magistrate’s court issued an arrest warrant. Thanks to this change in universal jurisdiction law she was granted “special mission” status and was able to visit London in 2011 and later in 2014.

Whilst changes to the law were put in motion under Gordon Brown, the Lib Dems seemed to forget their opposition on changing the legislation once they came into government.

At a Prime Ministers Questions in 2010, filling in for David Cameron, Clegg said that the former foreign secretary Jack Straw would have to account for his role in the illegal decision to invade Iraq. He later clarified his position and insisted this was a long-held personal opinion, rather than an official view of the government. The Lib Dems won huge respect as the only mainstream party that didn’t support the war on Iraq.

The fact that Nick Clegg has gone up against David Cameron on pushing for an arms embargo shows that there is still a swathe of support left in his party for a fair policy on the Middle East. This is reminiscent of the backing the Palestinian cause enjoyed from the Lib Dems prior to their term in government.

Recently, thousands of protestors took to the streets to protest against the Israeli war on Gaza and the government’s silence over the massacre that took place. A lack of policy change even led to Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation from government.

With a general election in less than eight months, the Lib Dems have a chance to become the voice of reason once again. If they follow through on an arms embargo, so British weapons are not used to violate international law and kill Palestinian children, perhaps they will have a chance to set a more balanced agenda on the Middle East.

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