Month: March 2019

What do you do when someone says the right thing, but doesn’t do it?

Foreign Office Questions
Questions Tuesday February 26th 11.30 am

This is the problem that faces MPs when they ask questions about Palestine.  The Minister for the Middle East says ‘yes, we will make representations to the Israeli government’.  But nothing ever happens. Or ‘yes, we will do that when the time is right’.  But the time is never right.

Sometimes MPs must wonder whether it is still worth asking the questions. But it is. For two reasons.

First, the pressure exerted by MPs does sometimes have an effect. International pressure is a major reason why the demolition of Khan al Ahmar – expected in August last year – has been postponed until now.

Second, the pressure for stronger action must be maintained to stop the situation getting worse. For the Palestinians it’s not true that things can’t get worse.  They have got worse under Trump because Israel is under less pressure from the US.

The UK has led on the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody. Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP raised the issue again, citing new cases, and the Minister was forced to repeat his mantra that “we regularly express concerns”. He could do far more. Pressure will help to persuade him.

Karen Lee MP raised the fear that the next Israeli government elected on April 9th will contain MPs from the extremist Jewish Power party who were supporters of Rabbi Meir Kahane jailed for his violent racist views.

The Minister replied that the composition of Israeli coalitions is “not a matter for the UK Government”, but in his very next sentence he was reiterating UK policy on Hamas, the Palestinian party the UK refuses to speak to, even when it is in a coalition government.

Stewart McDonald MP also forced the minister to repeat his mantra on the recognition of Palestine – “we are pledged to do that when it is in the best interests of peace” – as though it isn’t always in the best interests of peace. How can you believe in a two-state solution, yet recognise only one of the two states?

As  it appeared in Hansard

Question 6. Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown): What recent diplomatic steps he has taken towards helping to secure a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

Question 11. Karen Lee (Lincoln): What recent diplomatic steps he has taken towards helping to secure a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op) I have here the names of four young Palestinians, all under the age of 18, who are currently in prison: Yaccob Qawasmeh, Akram Mustafa and Ahmad Silwadi, and one who is 15 years old, Akram Daa’dou. In the early hours of this morning, in the presence of his family, Akram Daa’dou was dragged from his home by Israeli occupation forces. His family have no idea where he is. Will the Minister raise with his Israeli counterpart questions about where this gentleman and the other young people are, and ensure that their rights under the fourth Geneva convention are upheld, as they should be, in the Palestinian occupied territories?

Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt) Through the Consulate-General in Jerusalem we regularly express concerns to Israel about activity relating to minors on the West Bank. We have offered help and support for dealing with children who may have been detained and we are constantly in contact about any risk of incursion there and the effect on civil rights.

Karen Lee (Lincoln) (Lab) Labour is committed to a peaceful two-state solution that guarantees a secure Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine. For anyone working towards that goal it is worrying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has struck an election deal with two extreme nationalist parties whose leading members have advocated the forced expulsion of millions of Palestinians. Will the Minister commit to using all available diplomatic measures to ensure that that coalition does not threaten a peaceful two-state settlement?

Alistair Burt Coalitions in Israel and matters affecting the Israeli elections are not a matter for the UK Government. Our position on a two-state solution and a comprehensive solution to the Middle East peace process is exactly the same as that of colleagues on the other side of the House and, as I said earlier, it is a fundamental part of UK foreign policy that we will continue to press for that.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) One of the big problems the Palestinians have is that they do not speak with one voice. Is there any sign of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?

Alistair Burt He is correct: the issues between those in authority on the West Bank and those in Gaza—between Fatah and Hamas—have long been a difficulty in getting a consistent Palestinian voice. My understanding is that conversations about reconciliation are continuing, and they are being handled very much by the Government of Egypt. If there is to be the peaceful settlement of issues in the Middle East peace process that we want, it is essential that there is a consistent voice from Palestinians based around the Quartet principles and that the efforts made towards security and peace by the Palestinian Authority over a lengthy period are followed by others.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) Too often, resolution of this conflict feels like a lost cause, but the British Government could prevent that from being the case by recognising the state of Palestine formally. Why will they not do that?

Alistair Burt I have been anxious for many years to ensure that this is not a lost cause and that we have to keep at it. It remains fundamental in the region, and we will keep at it. The recognition of a state of Palestine would not, per se, end the issue, but we are pledged to do that when it is in the best interests of peace and of the peace process in the region.


Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, takes $138 million from Palestinians

The Israeli election is now in full swing and it has become a battle between the extreme-right coalition led by Benyamin Netanyahu that has been in power for the past ten years and a centre-right coalition led by Benny Gantz who was the Israeli Defence Forces Chief of General Staff during the 2014 assault on Gaza.

Benny Gantz launched his campaign with a video boasting that during the assault that he led “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age” and 1,364 Hamas militants were killed.

The UN disputes this figure. Not all the 1,364 were Hamas militants and another 1,462 who were killed were definitely civilians, killed as “collateral damage”. 504 children died, 503 Palestinian and one Israeli. Despite all this, Gantz is considered the “peace” candidate.

The mainly Palestinian Joint List has split in two with one part led by Ayman Odeh of Hadash heading for 8-9 seats and another led by Ahmed Tibi of Ra’am-Balad expected to scrape in with 4 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

The left-wing Meretz is hovering just above the 3.25% threshold which they have to reach to win any seats at all and the Israeli Labour Party is doing little better with a forecast 6-9 seats, down from 18 at the last election.

Last week Netanyahu was indicted on three corruption charges and may have to appear in court during the campaign to defend himself, but this has hardly dented support for his Likud party.

In any case his alleged corruption is small fry compared with what he has in store for the Palestinians. Two weeks ago he announced that he is going to withhold $138 million of tax revenues – which illegal belong to the Palestinians – unless they agree to block welfare payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.

On previous occasions when Israel has refused to hand over tax revenues as a way of twisting the arm of the Palestinian government, UK ministers have condemned the practice and urged them to release withheld funds.

This happened when the Palestinians won recognition at the United Nations, when they became signatories to the International Criminal Court, when they became members of UNESCO and when they elected a Hamas government in 2006, but in the end international pressure always forced him to hand the money back.

This time the condition Netanyahu has set for the release of funds is impossible for the Palestinians to meet.  Over a quarter of the adult male population have been in an Israel jail at some point in their lives, the great majority for acts that would not even be an offence in other countries, such as organising or taking part in a demonstration.

He also announced that he will push ahead with the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar before the election.

“I hope the eviction will take place before the elections, it will surely help”, he told journalists and according to an anonymous statement from two ministers demolition is “scheduled” to take place before the poll “in order to garner political capital on the right.”

Over 60 British MPs have visited the village in the Judean desert between Jerusalem and Jericho and 109 MPs have signed Lisa Nandy’s motion to stop the demolition, but stronger action will now be needed to yield a change of course.

Israeli army JCB bulldozers appeared at the site in July and demolition appeared imminent, but In October, Netanyahu’s office announced that the planned evacuation would be delayed indefinitely amid new talks between the government and village residents.

The decision to delay came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned ministers that a forced evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar could compromise the Israeli position vis-à-vis Palestinian claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

The delay drew angry responses from MPs from the governning parties, who have demanded the clearing of the village, which would make way for the expansion of the neighbouring Kfar Adumim settlement.