Month: April 2014

Palestinians face sanctions for going to United Nations

US, Israel to punish Palestine for exercising right to join UN

Free Palestine won’t need aid – DfID
Is it a crime to go to the United Nations? Is it a crime for a country to sign up to UN conventions and join UN agencies?
Yes, according to the Americans.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, warned last week that America “will oppose any attempt to upgrade the status of the Palestinians everywhere in the UN”.
Yes, according to Israel.
Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu imposed sanctions on the Palestinian Authority for signing up to UN conventions this week by ordering his ministers not to speak to Palestinian ministers or their civil servants.
We’d rather you didn’t do it, says the FCO.
The Middle East minister told David Winnick MP that, while the UK would “ultimately” like to see a Palestinian state sign up to UN conventions, “at this stage” it believed the “only route” to ending the occupation was through negotiations and it should focus on that.
This was the bizarre reaction to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision last week to sign letters of accession to 15 UN treaties and conventions – exercising a right he has had since November 2012 when the UN voted by 138 to nine to recognise Palestine as a state.
The Palestinians agreed last summer not to exercise this right during the nine months of the peace talks provided the Israelis released 106 prisoners who have been in Israeli jails for more than 22 years.
The Israelis failed to release the last batch of 26 prisoners on Saturday March 29th and as a result President Abbas felt free to sign the letters on Tuesday April 1st.
However, he made it clear he would suspend action on the applications to the UN if and when the prisoners were released and he was willing to continue the talks until the final day of the nine months, April 29th.
If they are not released, he will in due course apply to join all 63 UN bodies – including the one the Israelis fear most, the International Criminal Court.  Once Palestine is a member of the ICC, Israeli generals can be tried for war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
At Foreign Office questions this week William Hague did his best to convince himself that the talks will continue – even though John Kerry has now washed his hands of them and blamed the Israelis for causing the collapse.
In the Lords Lord Turnberg urged him to start thinking of a Plan B.
At DfID questions in the Commons Aid Minister Alan Duncan said Israeli restrictions did tremendous damage to the Palestinian economy and to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians.
“The simple truth is that they are not allowed to develop their banking or information and communications technology sectors, or to build even their basic infrastructure.
“Were these restrictions to be lifted … within a relatively short space of time the Palestinians would probably not need our aid at all.”
During the so-called ‘peace talks’ there have been 56 Palestinians killed, 146 houses demolished, 550 attacks by settlers, 897 Palestinians injured, 3,061 arrested, 3,767 military raids and 10,509 new homes built in illegal settlements – enough to house 52,000 new settlers. 
Is any more proof needed that the Israelis use ‘peace talks’ as a cover for the accelerated take-over of the West Bank?



International Development Questions

WEDNESDAY 9 APRIL 2014 Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for International Development

Sir Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s support for the Palestinian Authority.

Aid Minister Alan Duncan: The UK is providing effective support for the Palestinian Authority in very challenging circumstances. The Palestinian Authority has developed institutions to the point where the international community has recognised it as technically ready for statehood, and it has made impressive progress in delivering improved outcomes in health and education.

Sir Peter Luff: Having just returned from a Select Committee visit to the Palestinian occupied territories and seen the excellent work being done there by the Department, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that its work to support the private sector would be much more effective if Israel lifted many of its restrictions, which can have nothing to do with its essential security, on the freedom of Palestinian business people to develop their economy in areas such as the banking sector, water supply, and even 3G telephone networks?

Mr Duncan: I am grateful to him for his appreciation of DFID’s work in the occupied Palestinian territories and glad that he and the Committee had such a useful visit. Israeli restrictions do tremendous damage to the economy and to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians. The simple truth is that they are not allowed to develop their banking or information and communications technology sectors, or to build even their basic infrastructure. Were these restrictions to be lifted, not only would DFID’s work to support the private sector be much more effective, but within a relatively short space of time the Palestinians would probably not need our aid at all.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that the World Bank has said that Area C of the West Bank, particularly the Jordan valley, is vital to the future economic viability of a Palestinian state? Presumably that is why the Department is looking to fund infrastructure projects there. What is his view of the fact that illegal Israeli planning restrictions are stopping those infrastructure projects being built, and for how long will the Government allow Israel to have a veto over economic development in the West Bank?

Mr Duncan: I fully understand what he says. I think the Select Committee saw a direct example of the destruction of olive groves when it was there. It is essential that area C is able, through planning arrangements, to develop its economy; otherwise there can be no sensible or useful economic future in the Palestinian territories.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): May I confirm what the Minister says—that without access to area C there is no future for a two-state solution or for an economically viable Palestine? The Palestinian Authority pleaded with us to put all possible pressure on Israel to allow access. We met someone from a company who is saying that the cost of land in areas A and B is prohibitive and that without access to area C he cannot develop his business.

Mr Duncan: I fully concur with him. I hope that a full understanding of this can be included in the peace talks that we hope are continuing towards a productive and useful conclusion.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations have the Government made to the Israeli authorities about the continued forcible removal of populations, and property demolition, in the occupied territories? Yesterday the Foreign Secretary met the Israeli Minister for International Relations: was this issue raised with him?

Mr Duncan: I was also at that meeting, and I can assure the Member that we raise such matters regularly. It is essential that some kind of normal activity can be permitted in the occupied Palestinian territories; otherwise, as Sir Malcolm Bruce said, there will not be a two-state solution and there is a danger of permanent conflict and tension.

Foreign Office Questions

Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of progress in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
William Hague: In the past few days, I have discussed progress with Secretary Kerry and President Abbas, and I will speak to my Israeli counterparts in the coming days. Secretary Kerry’s tireless efforts provide an unparalleled opportunity to achieve a two-state solution. I urge both parties to show the bold leadership needed to resolve this conflict once and for all.
Ann McKechin: The Foreign Secretary will be aware of press stories that the latest report by the European heads of mission in East Jerusalem states that Israeli policies in Jerusalem are aimed at “cementing its unilateral and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem”, with an unprecedented surge in settlement activity. Does the Foreign Secretary concur with that view and, if so, what is he doing to ensure the future of Jerusalem as a shared capital as part of the negotiations?
Mr Hague: Jerusalem, as a shared capital, is part of what we believe is a characteristic of achieving a two-state solution, along with a solution based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps and with a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees. It is vital that that possibility is kept open. That is why so many of us on all sides of the House have voiced such strong disapproval of settlements on occupied land, which are illegal. We make that point regularly to the Israelis—indeed, I will do so to an Israeli Minister this afternoon—and we urge them to take the opportunity of peace.
Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Last December, the Foreign Secretary said that the British Government have been “clear to the Palestinians that there is no alternative to negotiations” and that “we oppose unilateral measures”. What representation has he made to the Palestinian Authority following its return to unilateral actions last week, in violation of its commitment to abstain for the duration of direct peace talks?
Mr Hague: I called President Abbas last Thursday to repeat our view that the only chance of achieving a viable and sovereign Palestinian state is through negotiations. President Abbas assured me that he remains committed to negotiations, so we will continue to encourage him and Israeli leaders to make a success—even at this stage—of this opportunity.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is essential that both sides return to negotiations and that they recognise that they will both have to make great compromises to secure a negotiated peace. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the Palestinian leadership has been preparing the Palestinians for peace when terrorists freed by Israel have been welcomed in the Palestinian Authority as heroes? A broadcast by Palestinian Authority TV has honoured Dalal Mughrabi, who was responsible for a hijacking in which 37 Israeli citizens, including 12 children, were killed.
Mr Hague: Prisoner releases are always controversial in a peace process, as we know well in our own country, but I absolutely regard President Abbas, the leader of the Palestinians, as a man of peace, and I pay tribute to the bold leadership that he has shown on these issues in recent months. As she has just heard, I have urged him to continue with that, and we must focus on that point.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What is Government policy on Palestine applying as a state to be a member of international political or cultural organisations?
Mr Hague: Last week, President Abbas signed and submitted letters of accession to 15 conventions, including the fourth Geneva convention. No decision is imminent or necessary at the moment on these things, and given that our focus is on urging both Palestinians and Israelis to make a success of the negotiations, I do not believe that it would be wise for us or other countries to pass judgment on those applications now.

Free Marwan Barghouti meeting

On Tuesday 1st April Ahmed Kathrada came to speak at the House of Commons. He called on members of the All Party Parliamentary Britain-Palestine group and the invited guests to join the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti, Palestine’s most significant political prisoner.

Martin Linton, Richard Burden, Ahmed Kathrada, Dan Judelson, Fadel Takrouri and Andy Slaughter MP Copyright held by PalestineBriefing. Not to be used without permission.
Martin Linton, Richard Burden, Ahmed Kathrada, Dan Judelson, Fadel Takrouri and Andy Slaughter MP. Copyright held by Martin Linton of Palestine Briefing. Picture not to be used without permission.


The meeting was organised by the All Party Parliamentary Britain-Palestine group and Palestine Briefing, timed just after the expected release of the fourth group of Palestine’s political prisoners from Israeli prisons.

Ahmed Kathrada – like the man he was there to talk about – is of huge symbolic importance for Palestine solidarity.  The man who began the first campaign – in the 1960s – to free Nelson Mandela, a man regarded by the majority of the western world as a terrorist at the time – only to be jailed himself for many years. Ahmed Kathrada has shown huge personal, political and physical courage over his long life and heading up the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti.

He spoke about when Mandela was released from prison and was advised to break ties with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and few other liberation groups. Mandela refused, saying “when we came to you for help you disowned us as terrorists. It would be ungrateful of us to disown them now.”

Mr Kathrada told us of how he took Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife and Fateh Council member, to the cell in Robben Island that Nelson Mandela had occupied.

Ahmed Kathrada said he very much hoped the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti “will take on the proportions of the Free Nelson Mandela campaign.”

Mr Kathrada recounted how in 1985 Mandela was taken away and isolated by the Apartheid South African authorities. But during this time Mandela took the bold step of starting to talk to the Government.  He told them that negotiations would be impossible until they:

  • released the political prisoners

    Raed Debiy, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Ahmed Kathrada, Barbara Hogan, Sara Apps
    Raed Debiy, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Ahmed Kathrada, Barbara Hogan, Sara Apps
  • removed the ban on political organization
  • allowed exiles to return

It took time but eventually the authorities acceded to all those demands.

Palestinian Ambassador, Professor Manuel Hassassian, delivered a powerful speech, thanking Ahmed Kathrada for his presence. He pointed out that in fact pre-Oslo prisoners were meant to be released as part of the Oslo process, so in fact Israel has now failed to honour its commitment to free them several times.  This prisoner release was not part of the Kerry plan, but was in fact agreed before that: the Palestinian leadership agreed not to go to the UN bodies and the ICC in exchange for the release of the prisoners.

The Ambassador said it was right that Marwan should be the symbol for the struggle to release the Palestinian prisoners because of his outstanding popularity and he is the uncontested symbol of the Palestinian prisoners.

The invited audience included many notable individuals including: Afif Safieh from Fateh’s  council, Betty Hunter Honorary President of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ziad El Aloul from Palestinian Forum of Britain, Aimee Shalan from Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Afif Safieh talked about the moving first meeting between Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela, and how Mandela had said the liberation of South Africa was incomplete without the Palestinians.

It was notable what a strong presence of Palestinians there was in the audience, which is perhaps not surprising as Marwan Barghouti polls as the most popular Palestinian politician within the West Bank and Gaza. But Marwan Barghouti has been explicit himself that this is a campaign for all the political prisoners, of which he is a symbol.

Free Marwan Barghouti!

Sara Apps