Month: March 2021

Will UK respect Palestine election result?

Friday March 5th 2021

Following an agreement between Fatah and Hamas the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has announced that elections will take place on May 22 2021 for the Palestinian parliament (the Palestine Legislative Council) and on July 31 for the Presidency. There will be an election in August for the Palestine Liberation Organisation which represents all Palestinian including refugees living abroad.

The last national elections in Palestine were in 2006. Hamas, fighting an election for the first time, were the surprise winners. Many commentators said it was a vote against the Fatah old guard, accused of being out of touch and sometimes corrupt, rather than a positive vote for the policies of Hamas. Fatah were not helped by rival Fatah lists splitting the vote in some areas. Since 2006 there have only been municipal elections where support has see-sawed regularly between Fatah and Hamas.

There have alfready been three agreements to hold national elections which then collapsed. But this time both sides seem to be serious, perhaps because Palestinians realise they have to make progress or they may miss the opportunity presented by a Biden administration.

But organising national elections poses enormous political and logistical problems, leaving aside Covid-19. People have to be able to vote in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, in East Jerusalem under Israeli control and in Gaza under Hamas rule.

The UK government can help in three ways: 

  1. Persuade the Israelis to let people vote in Jerusalem. There are 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has said he is against allowing them to vote. In 2006 they were able to vote in a post office in Jerusalem, but only after pressure from the US President George Bush. 
  2. Persuade the Israelis to allow international election observers to enter Gaza. The 2006 elections were adjudged free and fair by international observers in the West Bank and Gaza. It will require Israeli agreement for them to be allowed into Gaza this time.
  3. Announce in advance that it will accept the result of the election. It was the refusal of the UK and other Western countries to accept the result of the 2006 election or even to talk to Hamas that led to the split and the Hamas take-over of Gaza and the 14-year blockade and the deep suspicion that still exists between the two parties. Have we learnt the lesson? Or will we do the same thing again?

Recent polling has Fatah leading in the parliamentary elections by 38 to 34%, but also Fatah losing the presidency by 43 to 50% if their candidate is the 85-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas against the Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh. However, if Fateh’s candidate were the prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh against Haniyeh, they would tie on 47% each. And if the jailed Fatah politician Marwan Barghouti stood in the election – as it has been reported he is considering – he is predicted to beat Haniyyeh and Abbas either separately or together. In every case Fatah would win more support in the West Bank and Hamas would win more in Gaza, but Barghouti is the only candidate who currently polls strong support in both. Maybe it’s a good thing that the two main parties are so evenly poised as each party’s belief that it could win will make them more likely to overcome all the logistical difficulties that present themselves.

The parliamentary election will be held under a new electoral system with a single national list for the whole country, as in Israel. In the 2006 election Hamas won one seat more than Fatah in the national list but that turned into a 29-seat majority as a result of the district lists where Fatah shot itself in the foot by allowing rival Fatah lists to stand in some areas.

This time both parties have welcomed the election and supported the new electoral system. There has been widespread speculation that they might even agree on a joint Fatah-Hamas list, which will make it far more certain that the election will go ahead, but will give the voters less effective choice. None of the other parties won more than three seats in the 2006 election.

Fatah is a secular party which sees itself both as a national liberation movement and a party of the left with links to social-democratic parties in Europe. Hamas is an Islamic party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood and a more recent history of armed resistance, though in the last few years it has been sporadically restraining other armed groups and its own fighters to enforce a Gaza ceasefire.  

Public Opinion Poll No (78) 27 December 2020 Palestinian Centre for Policy and Social Research


Will UK help Palestine with vaccines?

Friday March 5th 2021

Israel has achieved the widest coronavirus vaccine coverage in proportion to its population, but while we congratulate them on this achievement, we should urge them to extend the vaccine to the whole of the population under their control regardless of ethnic or religious heritage.

The fact that there is a Palestinian government doesn’t absolve Israel from its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention to facilitate relief schemes for the occupied population, including supply of medicines, and to ensure that the population as a whole receives vaccination in a timely way.

In any case it is in the Israeli government’s own interest to ensure that Palestinians living or working in Israel or in  Israeli settlements or anywhere in the West Bank are protected from Covid-19. The coronavirus does not respect borders, nor does it discriminate on religious or ethnic lines.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have had almost no access to vaccines yet, whereas Israelis of all ages living in Palestine (ie settlers) have either had the vaccine or are being urged to have one now.

Israel has offered 5,000 doses for medical staff in the West Bank and Gaza, but that is a tiny amount for a population of 5 million. The Palestine Authority has ordered Russian Sputnik vaccines but only 5,000 doses have arrived so far. 2,000 of them were forwarded to Gaza only to be held up at an Israel checkpoint before being finally allowed into the Strip. The World Health Organisation COVAX scheme is expected to cover only 20% of the population and to take months to arrive. Another 20,000 Sputnik vaccines have now arrived in Gaza from the Emirates, courtesy of possible election contender Mohammed Dahlan. 

The number of covid-19 cases in the West Bank and Gaza so far is 203,260 and the number of deaths is 2,216 as on 25-02-21. You can update this figure on:

Here are five things the UK Government could do about it: 

  1. help the Palestine Authority to procure enough doses of the vaccine to protect healthcare workers and the most vulnerable. The UK has 350 million doses on order for a population of 67 million.
  2. Urge the Israeli government to accede to the World Health Organisation’s request to provide extra medical staff in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
  3. Urge Israel to stop demolishing health-related buildings. During the pandemic the Israeli army has demolished a quarantine centre for people suspected of contracting coronavirus in Hebron, a Palestinian security checkpoint set up at the entrance of the city of Jenin to test for coronavirus and a first aid centre being built for Bedouin children in the Jordan Valley village of Ibzeek.
  4. Urge Israel to tell the government’s ambulance service Magen David Adom to issue Covid-19-related public health information not just in Hebrew but also in Arabic for the 20% of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  5. Remind the Israeli government of its obligation under the international law on military occupations and, if humanitarian appeals fall on deaf ears, point out that they cannot control the virus in Israel without also controlling it in the West Bank and Gaza.

Will UK cut aid to refugees?

Friday March 5th 2021

MPs are being warned of the danger of a massive cut in the UK contribution to UNRWA, the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, which could lead to the closure of schools and health centres and cuts in food aid for destitute families in Gaza.

With the UK aid budget tied to GNP, which has dropped 10% as a result of Covid, and the decision already taken to reduce the aid target from 0.7 to 0.5% of GNP – which implies a cut of 29% – there is a possibility of a cut of more than 35%.

The agency has not yet recovered from Trump’s decision to cut the US $365 million-a-year contribution to zero in 2019 and although President Biden has promised to reverse Trump’s aid cuts, no action is expected in time for the next annual budget.

As a response to Trump’s cut the UK announced an extra £5 million of emergency funding on top of its £60.5m contribution last year and other countries, including Germany, stepped in with one-off payments but that still left UNRWA with a massive shortfall.

Earlier this month the agency launched an appeal for $1.5 billion (£1.07 bn) to fund essential services.

UNRWA is already double-shifting 405 schools and teaching classes of 50+ to cut costs. It has pushed through internal economies cutting running costs to the bone. The effect if it has to close down would be horrific: 526,000 Palestinian children turfed out of school, 3.1 million Palestinians turned away from health centres, 250,000 of the poorest refugees deprived of the UNRWA food rations they depend on.

Dire humanitarian situation in Gaza

Friday March 5th 2021

The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is dire and about to get even worse if cuts are made in the UK contrbution to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.  

  • So far this year Gazans have had an average of 11 hours of electricity per day 
  • So far this year 227 West Bank homes have been demolished and 334 Palestinians displaced
  • As a result of the pandemic UNRWA will need to give emergency food aid to 1.25 million Palestinians
  • So far this year the UK has raised $62 million (14%)  towards the $420 million needed for Palestinians
  • As at 4th March 216,802 Covid cases and 2,314 deaths in Palestine but very few vaccinated 
  • According to UNRWA on 22nd February 80% of Gaza’s population currently need food assistance
  • Palestine’s humanitarian needs would soon reduce to zero if it had access to all its land and resources

Further information on UNRWA

Foreign Office questions and answers

Foreign Commonwealth & Development office questions
Questions Tuesday March 2nd 11.30

What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on forced evictions and dispossessions in East Jerusalem.

Middle East Minister James Cleverly: The United Kingdom provides legal aid to vulnerable Palestinian communities at threat of demolition. In 96% of cases, those receiving UK-funded legal support have remained in their homes. The UK ambassador joined ambassadors of European states to urge the Government of Israel to cease demolitions. He attended a meeting with Israeli authorities on 25 February. At the United Nations Security Council on 26 February, the UK permanent representative called on Israel to end demolitions of Palestinian homes and allow the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab):  I, like many colleagues, have heard repeated stories from Palestinians who are facing forced eviction, dispossession and demolition of their homes in areas such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem. I and many other people see that as a deliberate attempt to re-engineer the demographic make-up of occupied East Jerusalem. What more can the Government do, rather than just urge the Israeli Government to stop it? What more can the British Government do to bring an end to this unacceptable situation?

James Cleverly: The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen. She dismisses our urgings, but I remind her that the UK’s voice has had an influence on decisions made by the Government of Israel. We will continue to engage, as the Foreign Secretary did very recently with his counterpart Foreign Minister Ashkenazi and the Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James’s only last month.

What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (912769)

James Cleverly: The UK is actively encouraging both parties back to dialogue. The Foreign Secretary met his opposite number on 10 February. I spoke to the Palestinian head of mission here in the UK on 2 February. The UK has been working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, alongside the United States and international key partners, to progress specific areas of co-operation, including water and gas provision, energy infrastructure and trade facilitation. We are also seeking to re-establish formal Israeli-Palestinian mechanisms, such as the joint economic committee and its relevant sub-committees.

Sarah Atherton: The International Criminal Court’s controversial determination on jurisdiction relating to Israel and the Palestinians not only undermines the Middle East peace process but heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims by setting a precedent that non-state actors can initiate proceedings. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of reforms of the ICC?

James Cleverly: The UK respects the ICC’s independence, but we are working with other countries to bring about positive change within the court. The UK was instrumental in the establishment of the independent expert review, which reported in September, together with other state parties. Additionally, the UK is driving forward reforms to governance, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.

Jonathan Gullis: It has been almost a year since my Friend expressed his hopes that the European Union would produce a balanced and independent report into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum, which contains shocking material inciting violence against Israel and Jews. What steps will the Government take if the long-awaited report, due for publication this month, falls short of the required standard?

James Cleverly: I thank my Friend for raising this point and for the consistent approach that he has taken to this issue. We remain concerned about the allegations in Palestinian Authority textbooks and have lobbied European partners to bring forward their report in a timely manner. I have also discussed the issue directly with the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, and we have regular discussions with the EU to encourage it to get this report into the public domain. In the interim, the UK will continue to raise our concerns bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority at the very highest levels.

What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912777)

James Cleverly: The UK remains concerned about the fragile humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza. The UK is providing £4.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the OPTs, including £1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency appeal and £2.5 million to the World Food Programme for cash assistance. The UK supports UNRWA as a vital humanitarian force in the region and the FCDO is running a prioritisation exercise across all its programmes to ensure that every pound goes as far as possible.

Alan Brown: The Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. The proposed construction of 1,200 houses at Givat HaMatos is out to tender at the moment. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?

James Cleverly: The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear. We oppose the points that the Gentleman has put forward. We raise the issue of demolitions regularly with our Israeli counterparts, and we will continue to do so at every opportunity.

Andy Slaughter: [Inaudible.]—aid budget implies the loss of a third in UNRWA funding, and there are rumours that the Government could be planning to cut twice that. UNRWA is responsible for almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the education of 500,000 children, the healthcare of 3 million and emergency food aid for over 1 million. Because of the occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and surrounding countries rely on UNRWA for basic public services, so will the Minister give a clear and courageous answer and guarantee at least the current level of funding?

James Cleverly: The UK Government regard UNWRA as an important partner in support of the people in the OPTs and surrounding areas. We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.

Joanna Cherry: As schools around the world deal with the challenges of the covid pandemic, Palestinian schoolchildren face a further threat. According to the United Nations, 53 Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli Government demolition orders. Does the Minister agree that demolishing any school is wrong and that any such action should have consequences?

James Cleverly: The UK regularly raises the issue of demolitions and our position on this is clear. We will continue to do so, and we will continue to highlight the importance of education, which remains one of the Government’s priorities.

Wayne David: The Israeli covid-19 vaccination programme is the best in the world. However, the Minister has indicated that Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of Palestinians on the West Bank. Will he therefore join me in urging the Israeli Government to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated, as well as Israelis?

James Cleverly: The UK is justifiably proud of the work it is doing on the international stage with regard to vaccinations, including through Gavi and the COVAX scheme. We are pleased to see the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority co-ordinating their work with regard to vaccinations, and we look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the OPTs.

Angela Richardson: (Guildford) (Con): The growing ties between Israel and her Arab neighbours are extremely positive developments that provide an opportunity to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process, which has regrettably stalled for many years. Will my Friend outline what more the UK can do to help support the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, alongside our allies in the region? (912814)

Dominic Raab: We have supported the normalisation of relations, which is a good step around the region. Of course, this also led to the suspension of the threat of annexation on the West Bank, which was very important. As a result of that, I was able to go to talk to President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh and encourage them to resume dialogue on West Bank issues, which is very important for security, and to make sure that Palestinian public servants are paid. Plans are at least mooted for elections on both sides—both in Israel and on the Palestinian side. Ultimately, we need leadership from both sides to secure the peace that my Friend and other Members want. We need a two-state solution, and the UK will support all those efforts.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to War on Want’s new report into Israel’s military court system in the occupied West Bank. Does he agree that Palestinian civilians should not be tried in military courts? What is his Government doing to support Palestinian human rights defenders who are being tried in them? (912817)

Dominic Raab: She is right to draw attention to the treatment of Palestinians. The reality is that I do not think there is a bar on the use of military systems of justice under international law—let alone under the International Criminal Court system. Indeed, we use a military justice system with some of the highest standards in the world. What is crucial is that there is adequate due process to ensure that people’s rights can be fairly and duly heard.

Foreign Commonwealth & Development office questions
Questions Tuesday March 2nd 11.30

Israel may be listening, but they’re not taking any notice of what the UK says

Foreign Commonwealth & Development office questions
Questions Tuesday March 2nd

“The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen,” the Middle East minister James Cleverly told the Commons at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday March 2nd.

Unfortunately for the Minister MPs raised a number of issues on which the Israeli government may have been listening to him, but they certainly weren’t taking any notice of what he said.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab), who chairs the parliamentary all-party group on Palestine, raised the issue of evictions in East Jerusalem and the Minister said he had several times “called on Israel to end demolitions”

The Sunderland MP pointed out that the Israeli government went ahead regardless. “What more can the Government do, rather than just urge the Israeli Government to stop it? What more can the British Government do to bring an end to this unacceptable situation?”

SNP MP Alan Brown pointed out that “the Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?”

The Minister started his reply with the the answer he usually gives if anyone asks him about the campaign to boycott Israeli goods: “The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear.” But he had to perform a U-turn in mid-answer when he realised that a ban on settlement goods is not a boycott of Israel as the settlements are not in Israel. 

You can hear it for yourself on this tweet.

There was scarcely any more reassurance for Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) who asked him about the rumoured cut of two thirds in the UK contribution to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, “UNRWA is responsible for almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the education of 500,000 children, the healthcare of 3 million and emergency food aid for over 1 million.

“Because of the occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and surrounding countries rely on UNRWA for basic public services, so will the Minister give a clear and courageous answer and guarantee at least the current level of funding?”

The Minister would only say: “We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.”

Sarah Atherton (Conservative) (Wrexham) was concerned that the International Criminal Court’s inquiry into war crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza “heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims”. She called on the Minister to support “reforms” of the ICC that would prevent the inquiry from going ahead.

The Minister’s reply did little to allay fears of an attempt to stop the inquiry going ahead by starving the ICC of funds:  “The UK is driving forward reforms to governance of the ICC, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.”

Labour’s shadow Middle East minister Wayne David called on the minister to urge the Israeli government to accept that they had a legal responsibility to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated against Covid as well as Israelis.  :

The minister replied: “We look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the occupied Palestinian territory”.

Finally ICC launches inquiry into Gaza war and West Bank settlements

Friday March 5th 2021

Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered a diplomatic offensive to try to block the International Criminal Court inquiry into war crimes committed in Gaza and the West Bank since 2014, which was launched earlier this week.

A panel of judges gave the Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the go-ahead to start the inquiry on February 5th and she moved quickly to announce it on Wednesday March 3rd – before Netanyahu could mount any effective pressure. .

But there are still two ways in which the inquiry could be blocked. The ICC could be starved of funds and forced to cancel it for lack on resources. ,And the next chief prosecutor, Scottish barrister Karim Khan, who takes over in June, could be persuaded not to go ahead. 

It has taken six years to get to this stage.  Palestine submitted its complaint to the ICC in 2015.  And now it is vital that the inquiry goes ahead not only for Palestine but for the ICC itself.

Since the court opened its doors in The Hague in 2003 the vast majority of its investigations have been in Africa – Uganda; Congo; Darfur, Sudan; Central African Republic, Kenya; Libya; Côte d’Ivoire; Mali; Georgia, Burundi; Bangladesh/Myanmar and Afghanistan. If it pulled out of this inquiry, the organisation’s future would be in doubt. 

The investigation will consider Israel army attacks on civilians in the 2014 war, Hamas attacks on civilians in the same war, illegal settlements in the West Bank and Israeli Army for attacks on unarmed protesters on the fence protests in 2018.

The court can only take action against individuals, not states. The Israeli government has already drawn up a list of ministers, senior military and civil servants who could be sanctioned. They could be banned from visiting all countries that are members of the ICC, including the UK, but not the US. Assets could be seized.