Month: March 2016

Demolition rising ‘faster than any time since calculations began’ – Minister

Ruth Cadbury.jpg

Two well-timed questions to the Department for International Development – on demolitions from Ruth Cadbury (Lab) and on recognition from Tom Brake (Lib Dem) – yielded hints that the Government is getting even more frustrated with the Netanyahu government and is considering an initiative.
Ruth Cadbury said the Government had already made “representations” over home demolitions in February when the rate of increase had trebled, so what more effective action or sanction would they impose now that it had quadrupled?
Aid minister Desmond Swayne confirmed that the rate of increase “is now faster than at any time since calculations began to be made” and it was essential that the occupied territories should be governed in accordance with international law.
[Israel is currently breaking international law by annexing East Jerusalem, building settlements, building the wall on Palestinian land, carrying out punitive demolitions and by expropriating Palestinian land, water and mineral resources for non-military purposes.]
He admitted that the Government’s only planned response was to make yet more “representations” and added: “I know she wants to push me further and I entirely understand the strength of her frustration and anger.”
Tom Brake asked if it was not time that the UK recognised Palestine as a sovereign state given that any prospect of a two-state solution was fast disappearing.
The minister gave a response that made it clear that it was purely a question of judging the right moment and having maximum impact: “We can only recognise Palestine once. It is essential, therefore, that we do so at a moment where we will have maximum impact on any peace process. That is a fine judgment.”
[The French have said they will recognise Palestine by the end of this year if their new peace initiative is not off the ground by then and up to eight other European countries, including Spain, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg, are said to be planning to follow suit.]

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth)(Lab) (right)What recent representations she has made to the Israeli government on the effect of home demolitions in the West Bank on the humanitarian situation in that region.

Aid Minister Desmond Swayne: Their increase adds to the sum of human misery, undermines any prospect of a peace process and is contrary to international law. I have left the Israeli Government in no doubt about the strength of our disapproval; our embassy continues to do so.
Ruth Cadbury:  The latest figures from the UN, from early this month, show that there have been 400 demolitions since the start of the year, more than four times the rate of demolitions last year.
The wave of demolitions is depriving Palestinians of their homes and their livelihoods and preventing European taxpayer-funded organisations from providing essential humanitarian support.
As the British Government made representations when demolitions trebled, what more effective action or sanction will the Minister impose now that demolitions have quadrupled?
Mr Swayne: She is right that the rate of increase is now faster than at any time since calculations began to be made, and it is essential that the occupied territories, and in particular Area C, are governed in accordance with the fourth Geneva protocol. We will continue to make these representations to the Government.
I know she wants to push me further, and I entirely understand the strength of her frustration and anger, but jaw jaw is better than war war.
Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): Will the Minister join me in condemning incitement to violence or glorification of violence on either side?
 
Mr Swayne: Absolutely. We are wholly opposed to incitement, and when instances of incitement are brought to my attention, I go straight to the telephone to raise the matter with the chief executives of those organisations and make absolutely clear our fundamental disapproval, and our requirement that things are put right.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): With any prospect of a two-state solution fast disappearing, it is of course right that we recognise Israel’s right to self-defence, but is it not also time that we recognised Palestine as a sovereign state?
Mr Swayne: We can only recognise Palestine once. It is essential, therefore, that we do so at a moment where we will have maximum impact on any peace process. That is a fine judgment.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): What recent checks have the Government made in relation to support offered in the West Bank to moneys that end up in the coffers of terrorist-supporting groups on the West Bank?
Mr Swayne: Absolutely none of UK British aid, multilateral or bilateral, ends up in the hands of terrorists.

He dares to say it, but does he dare to do it?

Idavid_cameronf he finds what the Israelis are doing “genuinely shocking”, there’s plenty he can do.

 

Why not give him a few ideas?

It’s been true for some years now – according to the opinion polls – that the majority of people in this country who have an opinion disapprove of the behaviour of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians.
So they should have been comforted to hear David Cameron say at Prime Minister’s questions that he also finds the actions of the Israeli government to be “genuinely shocking”.
But, on reflection, his answer is more troubling than comforting. He says the settlements are “illegal”. He says East Jerusalem is “occupied”.  He says the actions of the Israeli government are “genuinely shocking”.
But he is not just an ordinary punter.  He is the Prime Minister.  He can do something about it.
But he hasn’t.
The newspapers are full of stories about people were once in positions of authority in the past, but failed to uphold the law.  Bishops who failed to report evidence of child abuse. Chief constables who failed to act on allegations of sex with minors. Directors of international sports organisations who failed to blow the whistle on corruption.
And history has already passed its judgment on politicians who defended South Africa’s apartheid régime in the 1980s.  It won’t be long now before a similar judgment is passed on politicians of the 2010s who fail to uphold international law on the illegal settlement of the West Bank and the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.
David Cameron puts himself in a better place than many of his colleagues by saying he finds what is going on in East Jerusalem to be “genuinely shocking”, but this only makes it more important for him to answer the question: What will he do about it?
Far from being powerless, the UK is probably the country in the strongest position to lead. The US won’t, especially now (though Obama might lift the veto at the Security Council for a good European initiative). The EU can’t, because it needs all 28 countries to agree. So it is down to the major West European countries.
We all know why Germany won’t take the lead. France has already launched an initiative. If Cameron launched an initiative now, together with France or in parallel, it could use the prospect (or the reality) of a mass-recognition of Palestine by West European countries to put the Israelis in the right frame of mind.
It was in response to a question from Bradford West MP Imran Hussein that David Cameron said he found the current situation “genuinely shocking”. MPs can now table a question that will give the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to say what the UK is going to do about it.

MPs witness the utter hopelessness and despair of young Palestinians

Three delegations of British MPs were in Israel/Palestine in February and none of them can have failed to detect the sense of utter hopelessness and despair among young Palestinians.
It’s now nearly two years since the Kerry talks collapsed in April 2014 and the resulting political vacuum has led to frustration, to anger and to individual acts of violence – which are still continuing.
It is nearly a year since the election in March 2015 which Netanyahu won after saying that there would never be a Palestinian state while he was PM and making a racially provocative statement about Arabs “voting in droves”.

The first statement came in an election-eve interview when he said: “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel.”

The interviewer then asked him if that meant a Palestinian state would not be established if he was prime minister and Netanyahu replied: “Indeed.”
The second came on election day itself when Netanyahu recorded a 30-second clip for YouTube in which he said the government was “in danger” because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”
These two statements have profoundly affected the mood of Palestinians, especially the young generation who now mock the advice of the older generation to avoid violence and trust the international community.
“What did the Oslo accord achieve?  What did 20 years of peace talks achieve?” they ask.
The older generation have no answer. There is no hope, no prospect.  The Israelis have always rejected a one-state solution – at least with equal rights – and the two-state solution is now being buried by Caterpillar bulldozers laying the concrete foundations of yet more illegal settlements.
Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel MPs have tried to blame the upsurge in violence on ‘incitement’ and ‘radicalisation’ by the Palestinian Authority.
In fact the upsurge started on October 1 immediately after the burning to death of three members of the Duwabshe family by illegal settlers in the village of Duma.
It has been sustained by the Israeli army’s excessive force in dealing with demonstrations and suspected terrorist attacks. According to the UN 14,925 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces last year – about 150 for every Israeli injured by a Palestinian.
Very few of the injured were involved in any kind of attacks.  As the father of one teenage victim told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “The true source of incitement is the behaviour of the Israeli soldier and whoever gives him his orders.”
Even the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Lt Gen Gady Eisenkot, admitted last week that over-reaction by Israeli soldiers was a problem. Referring to a recent case he told a group of soldier that it was unthinkable that “you need to empty a magazine of bullets into a girl wielding a pair of scissors”.
The notion that the very mild-mannered, violence-hating president of the Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas has been goading Palestinian teenagers to acts of violence has caused nothing but mirth in the occupied territories. The 81-year-old Abbas is the most uninciting politician in Palestine.
The Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood pointed out to Labour Friends of Israel’s Louise Hanson that some of the acts of violence are not incited but are caused by the “frustration of some individuals who have lost faith in their own leadership.  The fact that youngsters can get out a knnfe and go off and kill an Israeli, knowing the consequences, reflects the dire situation we face”.
The Minister has told Louise Hanson MP that “we are concerned by the use of force by Israeli security personnel in response to protests and security incidents.  We regularly raise with Israel concerns over the use of force, including lethal force”.

Conflict between government departments on whether BDS is illegal for public bodies

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): (right) On the Foreign Office website there is very clear advice to private companies thinking of doing business with illegal Israeli settlements. It states: “Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities…in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks” and “we do not encourage or offer support to such activity.” Do the Government give exactly the same advice to public bodies, including local councils, with regard to their procurement decisions?

Mr Philip Hammond: Yes, we are clear with local authorities that they are bound by and must follow procurement rules, but we are clear that we do not support boycott movements. The Minister for the Cabinet Office was in Israel just last week and made that abundantly clear then.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I press the Foreign Secretary further on the answer he gave to the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)? Is there anything in World Trade Organisation or other rules that fetters a public institution’s ability to act on the advice that the WTO puts on its website, which quoted?
Mr Hammond: Public bodies in this country are bound by the EU procurement directive in their purchasing activity and must follow those rules.
Richard Burden: How will the Leader of the House arrange for parliamentary scrutiny of the changes that the Cabinet Office was intending to introduce to local government pension rules and procurement guidelines for public institutions. He may also know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office decided to announce the second of those changes last week, not in the House but in Israel, during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Given that there is now real uncertainty about what those changes mean, and the apparent conflict between what the Minister for the Cabinet Office considers to be the target of the guidelines and official Foreign Office advice warning of the risks to business of becoming financially involved with illegal actions by Israel in the occupied territories, we are still waiting to hear how all this can be scrutinised. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister for the Cabinet Office finally to come to the House, make a statement and answer questions?

Is the Foreign Office or the Cabinet Office right?

This all started in November 2014 with a motion to Leicester City council not to buy goods from illegal settlements “insofar as legal considerations allow”.  The motion was passed, but a pro-settler lobbying group filed for judicial review, so no action has been taken. Seven other councils have passed similar motions.
In December 2014 the Foreign Office and Business Department published their long-awaited guidance on trade with illegal settlements. This said that buying goods from illegal settlements carried risks, such as legal disputes over ownership of land or natural resources, over the abuse of human rights and they also carried “reputational implications” for companies, so the UK would not “encourage or support” trade with settlements.
This was a long way short of what many MPs had been calling for which was a complete ban on trade with illegal settlements or with firms complicit in the occupation, but at least it was a minimal step in the right direction.
The Israelis, alarmed at the success of the campaign against firms like Veolia and G4S who were at risk of losing local authority contracts, started to put pressure on sympathetic ministers to make it illegal for councils to follow Leicester’s example.
In October 2015 the Conservative Party issued a press release on the day before their conference saying the government would introduce new policy guidance to public bodies and new regulations for local authority pension funds to stop boycotts against countries that were not already being boycotted by the UK goverrnment.
This was announced as a joint initiative by the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office to stop ‘militant leftwing councils’ boycotting Israeli goods. The Leicester motion on settlement goods was cited as a target.
In November 2015 there was another setback for the Israelis when the EU unanimously agreed new labelling rules. Goods from illegal settlements would have to be labelled “Produce of West Bank (Israeli settlement)”. This extended voluntary labelling rules already in force in the UK since 2009.
Labelling was introduced to enable individuals to boycott settlement goods if they wished. The new business guidance had the effect of encouraging firms to stop  trading with settlements. Would it now be illegal for councils to do what individuals and businesses were being enabled if not encouraged to do?
In February 2016 the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock accounced the new public procurement guidance – at a press conference in Israeli with Benyamin Netanyah – claiming it would prevent “divisive town hall boycotts”, but the wording appeared to fudge the issue of how the guidance related to existing EU and WTO procurement rules.
Lawyers says that the guidance does not remove the power of councils to refuse a contract to a company on the grounds of gross misconduct, which can include using stolen land or mineral resources from an illegal settlement.
But campaigners fear that the guidance will put one more layer of difficulty in the path of councils considering action against illegal settlements knowing it will be contested by well-funded lobbying groups in the courts.
Councillors already take multi-million-pound decisions on contracts and procurement and pension fund investment involving companies that operate in illegal settlements, but so far no one has explicitly said they are taking that into account.
In any case the dividing line between financial and ethical considerations can be difficult to draw. The Foreign Office advises that it may be reputationally and therefore financially wise not to sign a contract with a company that is in breach of international law.
The government itself is facing in two directions on this issue, with the Foreign Office and the Department of Business warning companies and of the risks of doing business with illegal settlements while the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office try to make it illegal for public bodies to avoid these risks.
Please support Clive Betts MP and Richard Burden MP in their campaign to clarify that ethical procurement and investment policies are both legal and desirable.

The Ariel finger is pointing at the heart of the two-state solution – Minister

Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions
Questions Tuesday February 23rd 11.30 am
Middle East minister Toby Ellwood admitted at Foreign Office questions last week that the West Bank, already in danger of being divided into two by the E1 area to the east of Jerusalem, is now in danger of being divided into three by the Ariel ‘finger’ – a narrow corridor of settlements that may one reach through from Israel to the Jordan Valley – which will mean “that there will be no two-state solution”.
 
But when asked by Clive Lewis MP what we was doing about the announcements by Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu that he is building yet more illegal settlements, he could only say that he “made it very clear on the record that that is unhelpful”.
Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): (right) What assessment he has made of the effect of the outcome of the March 2015 election in Israel on the peace process in that region.
Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood: Much gets said, as we know, during election cycles, and we were concerned by some of the statements that were made during the Israeli election. I was in Israel last week, and I can confirm that I had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has made it very clear that he remains committed to the two-state solution.

Clive Lewis: It is more than 20 years since Oslo. There are now more than 350,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and 300,000 illegal Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, and the Netanyahu Government continue to announce the building of more illegal settlements. Does the Minister believe that that will aid the peace process? If not, what is he doing about it?

Mr Ellwood: The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have made it very clear on the record that that is unhelpful and takes us in the wrong direction. During my visit last week, I visited some of the settlements that are developing. Although announcements of new settlements have slowed, the existing settlements are starting to grow, and that happens without people seeing it. There is an area to the north of Jerusalem called the Ariel finger, which, if it continues to grow as it is doing, will eventually link up towards the north of Jericho. That will essentially mean that there will be no two-state solution. We need Israel to show that it is committed to the process and stop the settlements.

Cameron finds encirclement of occupied East Jerusalem “genuinely shocking”

Prime Ministers’ Questions Wednesday February 24th 12.00 noon

Last week I visited Palestine, where we went to the home of Nora and her family, who have lived in the old city of East Jerusalem since 1953. Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years. There are many other cases like that. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that illegal settlements and constructions are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations? What are this Government doing to help prevent these infringements into Palestinian lives and land?

The Prime Minister: The question is incredibly important. I am well known as a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say that the first time I visited Jerusalem, had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem—occupied East Jerusalem— I found it genuinely shocking. What this Government have consistently done and go on doing is to say that we are supporters of Israel, but we do not support illegal settlements and we do not support what is happening in East Jerusalem. It is very important for this capital city to be maintained in the way it was in the past.

Was it a change of heart or a slip of the tongue?

It is rare for a Prime Minister to give a completely unscripted answer to a question. Even at Prime Minister’s Questions he usually knows what questions are coming from his own side and his PMQs team anticipate questions coming from the Opposition.  Just occasionally he will be caught out by a unexpected question.

This seems to be what happened at PMQs on February 24th.  Maybe the question could have been anticipated, as there had been three delegations of MPs in Jerusalem the previous week, but the Prime Minister gave an answer that sounded – for once – spontaneous.
Visits to East Jerusalem often start at the top of a hill – Jabel Mukaber – from which one can see clearly how Palestinian areas are being encircled by a ring of Israeli settlements to make it impossible for them to expand.
Visitors are then taken through the Palestinian areas – potholed roads, no pavements, no bus service, no playgrounds – where 38% of the city’s population live, paying 40% of the taxes yet getting only 10 to 15% of the budget.
The visit then ends at the 12-metre concrete wall which snakes inside Palestinian areas to gerrymander them out of the city, yet loops round distant Israeli settlements to put them inside the city.
The Prime Minister recalled his own first visit to East Jerusalem – pausing to emphasise that he was talking about “occupied” East Jerusalem – and said he found what was happening with the encirclement of Palestinian areas “genuinely shocking”.
He made a mistake, referring to Jerusalem as a “this capital city” (only the Israelis regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; the rest of the world regards Tel Aviv as the capital),  but this will not have cheered up the Israelis as he immediately went on to say it was important for Jerusalem to be maintained “in the way it was in the past”. In the past East Jerusalem was the capital of the Palestinian Authority and the UK still does not recognise it as part of Israel.
So in the space of 111 words the Prime Minister managed to cause double offence to the Israelis – by finding their treatment of the Palestinians “genuinely shocking” and by reminding them that East Jerusalem does not belong to them anyway.
Is this a change of heart or a slip of the tongue? Only last year Cameron was hailed in the Israeli press as the most pro-Israeli prime minister in the UK’s history (which is saying something!), but last week Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat were quick to his criticise his comments.
The answer is probably the latter.  A little bit of candour that slipped out in an unscripted answer.  But if he is not prepared to take any effective action even when he does find things “genuinely shocking”, what difference does it make?

Can the upsurge in violence be blamed on Palestinian “incitement”?

Eric Pickles gave up his post as Secretary of State for Communities in May 2015 and on the following day he became chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. Ever since the the start of the current wave of violence in the West Bank he and his hit squad of CFI MPs have been trying to persuade ministers that the whole thing can be blamed on “incitement” by the Palestinian government – as though there were no other possible cause for the anger felt by young Palestinians.
He took it one stage further at Foreign Office questions when he contrasted the way the Palestinian and Israeli governments deal with violence and extremism:

 

SiEric Picklesr Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Israeli authorities deal with Jewish extremism—they investigate, they prosecute and they condemn—whereas the Palestinian Authority names schools after violent extremists, names sporting events after them and glorifies them on television. Will take this opportunity to condemn absolutely the attitude of the Palestinian Authority and urge it to cease this senseless encouragement of violence?

I accompanied a cross-party group of MPs on a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank last month and this point was put to an Israeli journalist. Is the Palestinian Authority guilty of incitement? Is it true that streets are named after murderers?
He said the MPs who believed this should visit his part of Jerusalem where “ALL the streets are named after murderers” – members of Irgun, Lehi and Haganah who fought for independence for Israel in 1948.
He was exaggerating, but there are streets named after Shlomo Ben-Yosef (who threw a grenade at an Arab bus), Eliyahu Hakim (who assassinated Lord Moyne), Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (who tried to assassinate Winston Churchill), Menachem Begin (leader of the group that blew up the King David Hotel killing 91 and later Prime Minister) and Olei Hagardom (the 12 militants executed by the British on charges of terrorism).
There are certainly public buildings in the West Bank named after people Israelis would regard as “terrorists” and there are posters celebrating “martyrs” who have died in the conflict, but the truth is that every country that has fought for its independence glorifies people that the other side regard as “terrorists”.
The irony is that the current Palestinian government is led by politicians who advocate non-violent resistance and are more often under attack for being too “moderate” while the current leaders of the Israeli government are rightly regarded as “extremists” in almost every country other than Israel.
Eric Pickles also holds up the way that the Israeli government deals with Jewish extremism as exemplary.  Not many would agree. The United Nations has recorded more than 2,100 settler attacks on unarmed Palestinians in the last eight years.  Often the attacks are witnessed by Israeli soldiers who take no action.  If Palestinian police are present, they are not allowed to arrest Israelis. Over 90% of complaints have not even led to a charge and only the most extreme cases (such as the burning alive of Mohammed Khdair and the fire-bombing of the Duwabshe family) have led to custodial sentences for settlers.
See Mehdi Hasan’s clip on this subject: