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Britain places the onus on the occupied people for peace, rather than the occupation state

January 30, 2024 at 12:57 pm

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu (R) hold a joint press conference in Jerusalem on October 19, 2023. [Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)-Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images]

It is hardly surprising that the pro-Israel British government has suggested that the formation of a new administration in Palestine is one of its prerequisites for a permanent ceasefire. That the Conservative government could also insist that Hamas leaders must leave Gaza and thus, presumably, have no role to play in a “new” Palestinian Authority indicates the pro-Israel nature of the “recommended plan” for the future of Palestine. Britain is no honest broker in this, that much is clear.

Hamas, it should be remembered, is a major political player in Palestine. 

The movement won the Palestinian Legislative Council election in 2006 on the last occasion that the people of the occupied land were allowed a democratic vote to decide their leadership. That election result was not accepted by Israel and its allies, despite international observers declaring the vote to be “free and fair”.

It is significant that Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell made no mention of the Israeli occupation and the oppressive role that it plays in Palestine when he said that two other points are essential and “intricately linked” if a new Palestinian government is to be formed. “Removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel [and] the release of all Israeli hostages.”

READ: Israel forces hundreds of displaced Palestinians to flee again

Yet again, a Western ally of the Zionist state puts the onus on the people under occupation to enable a “suitable permanent ceasefire without a return to fighting between Israel and Palestine” when it is surely more applicable, and more in accordance with international law, to call upon the occupation state, Israel, to end its brutal military occupation as a starting point for peace.

International law is clear that: “[The] struggle of peoples for their independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination, apartheid and foreign occupation by all available means” is legitimate, “including armed struggle.” This was reaffirmed in a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1983 with reference to a 1977 Amendment Protocol of the Geneva Conventions.

An end to Israeli occupation would mean no need for armed struggle, or struggle of any kind. As the aggressor — an occupying state is, by definition, the de facto aggressor — the onus should be on Israel, but yet again a Western politician is trying to pull the wool over the world’s eyes, and making out that the problem in Israel-Palestine is Hamas, rather than the Israeli occupation. Israel was ethnically cleansing and killing Palestinians for 40 years before Hamas was even founded in the late eighties.

Furthermore, Mitchell’s highlighting of the 130 or so Israeli hostages held in Gaza since 7 October ignores the fact that Israel has detained more than 6,300 Palestinians since that fateful but not decisive date. Hundreds are held under archaic “administrative detention” with neither charge nor trial. They are forgotten by Israel’s allies in the rush to appease the apartheid state.

READ: Gaza death toll from Israel attacks surpasses 26,600

It is the people of occupied Palestine — in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the diaspora — who should have the final say on how a new Palestinian Authority should look, and who should be allowed to be part of it, not Britain or any other foreign country, and certainly not Israel. Instead of pushing for more Palestinians — the “key Hamas leaders” Britain wants “to leave Gaza” — to be consigned to life in the diaspora, Mitchell and the government in which he serves should be calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to fulfil their legitimate right to return to their land. The return of refugees was a condition of Israel’s membership of the UN, but it has never happened, and yet Israel is still a member of the international organisation. Why?

Moreover, Britain’s financial support for UNRWA should be reinstated immediately. It is disgraceful that it should be cut on the basis of so far unfounded allegations against just 12 out of 30,000 members of the agency’s staff. It is extremely suspect that the Israeli allegation surfaced on the same day that the International Court of Justice gave its decision about South Africa’s case against Israel for genocide. Neither Britain nor any other country can expect to convince Palestinians to take their “peace proposals” seriously when they appear to be dancing to Israel’s tune, and are determined to cause them even more hardship, affecting not only the refugees in Gaza, but also those dispersed across the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, where UNRWA operates.

Ministers like Mitchell need to understand that you can’t impose conditions for peace if justice is excluded from the equation. And justice demands an end to Israel’s occupation; an immediate, unconditional ceasefire; and the return of the Palestinian refugees to their land. The sooner that this fact sinks in, the sooner that a lasting peace might be possible.

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