Author: director@t2ptravel.com

Why we should press for Marwan Barghouthi to be let out of jail

The rule followed by British governments in the colonial era was always to
let the politicians out of jail first so the negotiations could take place.
In India both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were put in jail
by the British in August 1942. Nehru was finally released in May 1944
and two years later the British were negotiating Indian independence
with Gandhi and Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of an
independent India in 1947.


In Kenya Jomo Kenyatta was put in prison by the British in 1952 and
was released in 1961. One year later the British were negotiating Kenya’s
independence with Kenyatta and in 1963 he became Prime Minister and
later President of an independent Kenya.


In South Africa Nelson Mandela was put in prison in 1962 – he was
leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress – and he
stayed in prison 27 years till 1990. Within months of his release he was
negotiating with his captors and in 1994 he became president.

In each case it took less than four years for the leader of a national
liberation struggle to move from prisoner’s cell to president’s palace.
Closer to home, in Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness moved in a
few short years from H-block to Stormont Castle.

COVID – some facts and explanations

Tuesday January 26th 2021

The number of covid-19 cases in the West Bank and Gaza so far is 175,416 and the number of deaths is about 1,967. [Updated figures can be found here: ochaopt.org/covid-19]

The Palestinian citizens of Israel and the 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are entitled to vaccines from Israel. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are going to be vaccinated.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have had almost no access to vaccines yet. The Palestine Authority has ordered Russian Sputnik vaccines but only 5,000 doses have arrived so far. The World Health Organisation COVAX scheme is expected to cover only 20% of the population and to take months to arrive.

In the towns and villages of the West Bank (Areas A and B under the Oslo Accords) the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health has been providing health care since 1994. Hamas is running the Ministry of Health in Gaza, although they receive funds from the PA.

The position in international law is that the occupying power is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians, including basic health care. Vaccinations should be part of that medical care and it makes sense for Israel and Palestine treated as a single epidemiological unit.

Counter-claim

Israel counter-argues that the Oslo Accords gave responsibility to the Palestinian Authority. However, the Accords were written with a view to them lasting for 5 years. The World Bank has calculated the cost to the Palestinian economy of Israel’s occupation as $3.4 billion, so leaves the Palestinian Authority in a poor position to meet the health and other needs of the population.

Professor Ardi Imseis, an expert on the law of belligerent occupation, was asked a question about this recently. “Does the fact that there is a Palestinian government absolve Israel of its responsibilities as an occupier?” He answered: “No, it doesn’t absolve Israel from its duties. Article 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires occupiers to facilitate relief schemes for the protected population. This includes supply of medicines. Article 60 makes it clear that the occupier has an obligation to ensure that the population as a whole receives vaccination in a timely way. But leaving aside the law it seems monumentally stupid not to do so given the close proximity.”

The Independent reported that the Israeli Ministry of Health had refused to supply vaccines to Palestinian health workers.

Foreign Office questions briefing

To complete the picture, here is some information sent from Palestine Briefing for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday January 19th on the inequitable distribution of covid-19 vaccines in the Global South in general.

Palestine is a particularly flagrant example. Israel has achieved the widest coronavirus vaccine coverage in proportion to its population but whilst 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.

What the UK can do

Layla Moran MP has led the charge in calling for the UK Government to take action to help Palestinians receive the vaccine. She has written to the Minister, with many other MPs, setting out the necessary steps.

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

  1. Do all in its power to 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. The PA has so far been promised vaccines for only 20% of its population and that is “some months” away.
  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. So far it has refused.
  3. Urge Israel to stop demolishing buildings in the occupied territories, including 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 (Articles 59 and 60 of the 4th Geneva Convention) to facilitate relief schemes for the occupied population including supply of medicines and to ensure they receive vaccination in a timely way (see footnote).
  6. Remind the Israeli government that it is in its own interest to ensure that Palestinians living or working in Israel or in illegal Israeli settlements are protected from Covid-19. The coronavirus does not respect borders, nor does it discriminate on religious or ethnic lines.

Briefing on Palestinian elections

Tuesday 26th January 2021

Following an agreement between Fatah and Hamas the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has announced that elections will take place on May 22 for the Palestinian parliament (the Palestine Legislative Council) and on July 31 for the Presidency.

There will also be an election in August for the Palestine Liberation Organisation which also represents all the Palestinian refugees living abroad.

This is the third time that an agreement has been reached between the two parties to hold elections, but on all the previous occasions one or other side has pulled out of the agreement before the elections could be held.

One would not need to be very cynical to conclude that obstacles were put in the way of an election by the party that thought it was likely to lose if the election was held at that time. 

This time it is the election of President Biden that has put pressure on both sides to get their act together. It is clear that the US government would be less likely help a Palestinian government that has long outlived its democratic mandate.

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 putting up rival Fatah lists in some areas. Since 2006 there have only been municipal elections where support has seesawed regularly between Fatah and Hamas.

But organising national elections poses enormous political and logistical problems.  People have to vote in the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control, in East Jerusalem under Israeli control and in Gaza under Hamas rule. Will the Israelis let people vote in Jerusalem? Will international election observers be allowed into Gaza?  Will there be a single list from each party?

The most recent poll in December predicted that Fatah would lead in the parliamentary elections by 38 to 34%, but also that Hamas would win the presidency by 50 to 43% if the Fatah candidate was the 85-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas.

Jailed Barghouthi to stand

The current prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh would fare better as the Fatah candidate tying with Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh at 47% each. However, if the jailed Fatah politician Marwan Barghouthi stands in the election – as he intends to – then he would beat Haniyeh 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 Barghouthi is the only candidate who wins strong support in both.

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 to enforce a Gaza ceasefire.  

If the two parties submit a joint list, the most important unknown factor will be the attitude of the West to the outcome of the election. Will the West accept the result if Hamas wins or if a joint Fatah-Hamas government is formed?  It was the refusal of the UK and other Western countries to accept the result of the 2006 election 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?

Public Opinion Poll No (78) 27 December 2020 Palestinian Centre for Policy and Social Research http://www.pcpsr.org/en

Another chance for MPs to question Foreign Secretary on response to annexation

International Development Questions
Questions Wednesday July 15th 11.30 am

You thought DfID had already been abolished? Well, so did the Foreign Office. They styled themselves “Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office” at question time a couple of weeks ago as though the merger had already taken place.
But the parliamentary timetable has scheduled one last question time for the Department for International Development on July 15th – the day of Boris Johnson’s last question time before the summer recess.
This will give MPs a chance to mourn the passing of DfID – a Government department that has done a huge amount of good since it first broke away from the Foreign Office in 1964 – and also a chance to interrogate Foreign Office ministers about what, if anything, they are going to do about the annexation of the West Bank.
Boris Johnson wrote an article in an Israeli newspaper last week saying that th UK will not recognise any annexation as it would be a “violation of international law”. That was a welcome statement of UK policy but it says nothing about what he will do.
The French foreign minister has said there will be “consequences” if Israel goes ahead. The Belgian parliament has voted for sanctions. Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, has called for a ban on settlement trade. There have been several attempts to get the issue debated in Parliament before the summer recess, but the Government doesn’t seem to want to answer the obvious question: if it’s illegal, what are you going to do about it?
There are three theories about why annexation did not happen on July 1st. Israeli government spokesmen say July 1 was never supposed to be the annexation date, just the beginning of the period in which the issue can be formally considered. Netanyahu himself has sasid that officials are still working out the final details with their US counterparts and annexation can be expected later in July. Others say annexation is a decoy to allow Netanyahu to seem statesmanlike if he decides not to go ahead and to make continued occupation seem a reasonable compromise.
There will be little scope for annexation to be raised in DfID questions, though it’s worth asking whether the Foreign Office will continue DfID’s funding of schools and health centres in the Jordan Valley if it is annexed. That would mean the UK was spending money in areas which Israel considers to be part of Israel, thus relieving Israel of its responsibilities. The UK will have to choose between subsidising the Israeli taxpayer or impoverishing Palestinians even further.
BRIEFING ISSUES

What criterion will he use to judge when recognition of the state of Palestine will best serve the cause of peace?

Since November 2011 UK policy has been that Palestine is ready for statehood and that the UK should recognise Palestine. The only stipulation made by the then foreign secretary William Hague was that it should be done “at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”. But every time it could have helped the peace process – in April 2014 when the Kerry talks broke down, in October 2014 when the House of Commons voted 274-12 in favour of recognition, in January 2016 when France said it would recognise Palestine – the UK has refused. Now would be a perfect time to recognise Palestine. Countries like Ireland and Spain are likely to follow suit if the UK takes the lead.

What action will he take to end UK financial involvement with illegal settlements in the West Bank?
Hundreds of times ministers have made “representations” to Israel over “illegal” settlements in the West Bank. But no action is ever taken. As early as 2011 our Foreign Secretary started talking about imposing “incentives and disincentives” on Israel to comply with international law. In 2014 the Foreign Office issued guidance to UK business that “we do not encourage” and “we do not offer support” to firms that firms that trade with illegal settlements. But look at the contrast. When Russian troops were first spotted in Crimea in 2014, it took just 17 days for the EU to impose sanctions . After 50 years of settlements Israel continues to escape any action, even though the Foreign Secretary announced sanctions on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea only this week.  Israel has come to the conclusion that the threats were empty. We didn’t really mean them. As former Conservative aid minister Sir Desmond Swayne has said, “by our refusal to act we make ourselves complicit”.
Will he strengthen guidance to UK businesses and banks against trading with illegal Israeli settlements?
Other than recognition, the only action the UK can take that will help the peace process is to make sure peace is in the economic interest of the Israeli government. We could start by strengthening existing business advice, so that we discourage and advise against trade with illegal settlements. Another approach would be to stop public procurement contracts with companies operating in illegal settlements or supplying checkpoints or walls inside occupied territory. There are many steps that can be taken short of full economic sanctions. In the case of Crimea the EU did not immediately reach for the heaviest sanctions but used imagination to devise appropriate actions, such as travel bans and asset freezes. A similar step-ladder approach could be adopted, targeting banks that offer mortgages in the settlements or outposts, travel bans on leading settlers and asset freezes on companies benefiting from land, water or mineral resources taken illegally from the occupied territories.
What estimate has he made of the number of Palestinian children currently held in Israeli prisons?
Does he accept that holding Palestinian children in prisons inside Israel constitutes a war crime under Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention?
And that that the UK is obliged under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing “unlawful transfer”?

According to figures released by the Israeli Prison Service there are 205 Palestinian children from the West Bank held in Israeli prisons for conflict-related reasons and nearly half of them – 100 – are held in prisons inside Israel.  This means their parents can only see them on short infrequent visits organised by the Red Cross and many parents are refused permits to visit them at all.  As a result most young Palestinians arrested in night raids in their villages see neither parents nor lawyer until they appear in court and after they have been persuaded or coerced to sign ‘confessions’ in a language they don’t understand on the basis that it will get them out of prison sooner.  This practice is illegal under international law which bans occupying powers from transferring occupied populations, as ministers often acknowledge in written answers. They should also be made to acknowledge that it constitutes a war crime (under Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and that the UK is obliged under Article 146 to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing “unlawful transfer”.

https://www.btselem.org/statistics/minors_in_custody
http://militarycourtwatch.org/page.php?id=J5V0bQevz8a19020AWwFbv7lxv2
https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/380-600168?OpenDocument
https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/380-600168?OpenDocument
page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons&use-dates=True&answered-from=2018-06-01&answered-to=2018-06-30&dept=16&keywords=judges%2cBritish-Israeli

A stepladder of sanctions to stop Israel’s annexation of the West Bank

A lot of politicians have come round to the view recently that the only way to stop Israel annexing Area C of the West Bank is to impose sanctions.  Not before time!  But what sanctions would be the most effective? And what sanctions stand the best chance of being adopted by the Government?

Suspend the EU-Israel trade agreement

Suspending Israel’s privileged access to the EU market would stop the annexation and probably the occupation as well. The Israelis love being part of Europe even more than they love the settlements.

The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner with more than a third of imports and exports. Israel is tiny by comparison with less than 1 per cent of the EU’s trade. So the EU’s negotiating position is very strong.

In fact it doesn’t need to negotiate. Article 1 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement gives the Israelis tariff-free or low-tariff access to the EU. Article 2 makes it conditional on “respect for human rights and democratic principles”. All they have to do is to invoke Article 2.

The only problem is that the EU needs the agreement of all 27 members to do this. And there’s always at least one country that will cast a veto.

The UK has now negotiated a post-Brexit UK-Israel Agreement[i] that reproduces the EU-Israel trade agreements as closely as possible and comes into force on January 1st. Even after we leave, we are still Israel’s 3rd biggest trading partner (after the rest of the EU and the US) and they are 42nd on our list of trading partners, so we also have a strong negotiating hand.

Recognise Palestine

Recognition may not have an immediate impact on the welfare of Palestinians in the refugee camps, but it would send a very strong signal to Israel and it has the added advantages that it costs nothing and is a decision that is entirely in the hands of the UK government. It’s also the measure that the Palestinians say would do the most good. When he was foreign secretary William Hague promised to recognise Palestine “at a time when it can best help bring about peace” and that time has surely come. If we recognise, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Italy might join us.

Ban settlement trade

The Government keeps telling us that Israeli settlements are illegal. Why, then, is it legal to sell settlement products in this country? There is no sensible answer to this question. The Irish Dail is currently considering a Bill to ban settlement products from Ireland. A similar move in the UK is supported by senior MPs from the LibDems and the SNP and by Labour’s shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David who has said it “would send out a clear message that such a blatant breach of international law is not without consequence”.

There are no official figures on settlement goods sold in the UK because Israel makes no distinction between Israel and West Bank, but the most recent estimate put EU imports from settlements at €229 million[ii] a year, equivalent to less than 2½ per cent of EU-Israel imports, so a ban on settlement products would not in itself be a heavy blow. But if it was broadened to include a ban on trade with the companies that trade in the settlements, especially the banks, it would very effective. The United Nations recently published a list of 112 companies that trade in settlements, including three based in the UK, JCB which sells bulldozers to the Israeli army, Opodo, who promote tourism in the settlements, and Greenkote, who have a factory in a settlement. Three major Israeli banks, Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount, saw their share prices nosedive on (sadly unfounded) rumours of an EU ban on banks that trade in settlements, revealing just how nervous this makes them.

End the zip code deal

Since 2000 Israel has benefited from zero or low tariffs to the EU. Settlements are not in Israel, so they don’t qualify. The Israeli government did not want to say publicly that settlements are not in Israel, so they did a deal with the EU whereby they would just provide zipcodes for Israel so national customs officials could check whether goods qualified for zero tariff at each port of entry.

The “Technical Arrangement” of 2004 led to a lot of attempted fraud.  In the first five years UK customs intercepted 597 consignments where preferential rates of duty had been claimed for goods originating from illegal settlements, according to UK Treasury figures. More up-to-date figures are not available, but enforcement by customs authorities is said to be “patchy”. Anecdotally, the postcode most often claimed by exports from settlements is the postcode of Tel Aviv airport.

The solution is to insist that settlement goods are accompanied, like most other goods, by an EUR1 Movement certificate stamped by the Customs and Excise Department of their country of origin, ie Palestine. If the Palestine Authority won’t stamp their forms, which they won’t, it’s because the goods are produced on stolen land using stolen water and often containing stolen natural resources.  A similar approach was adopted in Crimea where the annexationist government was told that Crimean goods could be exported only if they were stamped by the customs department of their country of origin, ie Ukraine.

Differentiation

When Russian troops annexed Crimea in February 2014, it took just 17 days for European leaders to impose travel bans and asset freezes on named Russian government officials. They followed up with other sanctions costing Russia $100 million a year and they were all justified on the basis of “differentiation” – ie you should refuse to treat the annexation as legitimate in any way.

In December 2018 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution by 14 votes to nil (the UK drafted it and voted for it) describing Israeli settlements as “a flagrant violation” of international law and calling on all countries “to distinguish in their relevant dealings between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

This is the official policy of the UK Government. The European Council for Foreign Relations has spelt out some of the possible sanctions that could be imposed on settlers on the basis of a thorough implementation of this policy of differentiation:

  • Imposing asset freezes and travel bans against officials of Regional Settlement Councils in the West Bank and Israeli government officials involved in planning and implementing annexation measures.
  • Denying entry to the UK of Israeli citizens known to have engaged in or called for violent acts (including ‘Price Tag’ attacks) against Palestinians or suspected of human rights abuses.
  • Requiring tourism operators and educational publishers to follow regulations on consumer protection and advertising standards by not describing East Jerusalem or Bethlehem as in “Israel” and not describing Jerusalem as the sole “capital” of Israel.
  • Refusing to engage with Israeli ministries and government agencies located in occupied territory, such as Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and Antiquities Authority.
  • Stipulating that Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory should access the same UK consular services as Palestinians, ie in East Jerusalem.

Stronger business guidelines

In 2014 the UK Government published some very weak guidance to UK firms that trade in settlements. This advises them that “we do not encourage” and “we do not offer support” to firms that trade with illegal settlements. UK Embassy support was no longer provided to help UK firms in the settlements. This advice could be made more effective with stronger words such as “discourage” (as in Scotland) and “disincentivise”. Former foreign secretary William Hague promised a policy of “incentives and disincentives” in 2012, so it’s a policy already in the UK’s armoury.  The Department of Business and the Foreign Office, who publish the guidance on the UK Trade & Industry website, could take a far more proactive role in advising UK firms and banks to stay out of the West Bank.

Labelling

In 2009 the last Labour government introduced labelling guidelines to distinguish Israeli settlement products from Palestinian West Bank products. The former were to be labelled ‘Produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement produce)’ and the latter ‘Produce of the West Bank (Palestinian produce)’. The agreement was voluntary and applied only to agricultural produce, but the supermarkets agreed to abide by it and successor governments have continued to apply it.

Many EU governments, such as Denmark and Belgium, and some countries outside the EU, such as South Africa, followed the UK example with labelling guidelines and in 2015 the EU issued its own guidelines on labelling agricultural products and cosmetics produced in settlements so that they could not be labelled as “Made in Israel”. A ruling by the European Court of Justice reaffirmed this in 2019.

Procurement

Since 2009 the Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, under which it withdraws trade from disputed or illegal territories such as Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara. The Co-op says this does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses and it remains committed to sourcing produce from Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements. At least seven local authorities have voted to ban procurement from settlements and the TUC has supported this policy since 2009. The Government has tried to make public sector procurement or investment bans illegal, but was defeated in the Supreme Court. It is planning new legislation aimed at local authorities and pension funds.

A stepladder of measures

The task for MPs now is to hold the government’s feet to the fire until they agree on a course of action that will bring enough pressure to bear on the Israeli government. The most effective is likely to be not a single measure, but a stepladder of measures, starting with moderate steps, such as recognition or settlement trade, but with more radical steps held in reserve in case a greater degree of persuasion is needed. If the Israeli Government believes that the international community means business, then none of these measures will be needed, other than as a threat.

It has been Israel’s time-worn tactic they have used over decades, building illegal settlements little by little and especially when the world is distracted by some other crisis. They may do this again by annexing less territory than expected and hoping that is regarded as a victory.

The objective most be not just to stop the annexation. If that is all the international community asks for, then the Israeli Government will take that as tacit consent for the occupation and for the two annexations they have already carried out (East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights).  What we have do is exert enough pressure, not only to stop them going ahead with annexation but to lift the occupation and to reverse the earlier annexations and to give equal political rights to all.

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-israel-sign-trade-continuity-agreement

[ii] Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements’, October 2012, available from: www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/Trading%20Away%20Peace%20October%202012_tcm15-63607.pdf

40 MPs sign Andy Slaughter’s EDM on annexation: Check here: EDM #2344

 

ILLEGAL ANNEXATION OF OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN AND SYRIAN TERRITORIES

That this House condemns any annexation by the State of Israel of any part of the territories occupied in 1967; notes it has already illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; further notes that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened during Israeli elections to annex part of or all of the West Bank; recalls that international law prohibits the acquisition of territory by force; believes that any such move threatens any solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict; and calls on the Government to make clear that any such Israeli annexation would entail significant consequences for UK-Israeli relations.

UK raises concerns over Trump and Netanyahu annexation threat

The UK raised concerns with Israel over Netanyahu’s  threat to annex part or all of the West Bank on April 30. It also raised concerns over  the US decision to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel on March 26.

New UK Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison, told the House of Commons that being America’s closest ally “does not prevent us from criticising it from time to time, but that is what being friends is all about”.

The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard ask what he will actually do if President Trump’s “deal of the century” includes proposals that support the Netanyahu administration’s plans to go ahead with annexation, but the  Minister replied: “I am not going to speculate on the matter he raises.”

Former Conservative minister Andrew Selous said that the ability of the UK to broker peace in the Middle East was undermined by “a perception that the West applies the rule of law partially…. So what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the international rule of law is applied equally to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements?”

The Minister pointed to the postponement of the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in Area C of the West Bank as an example of the effectiveness of UK diplomatic pressure, although the threat had been postponed, not lifted. “We urge Israel to convert that postponement into something permanent.

‘If Israel does something edgy, we’ll be keen to discuss that with them” – Minister

“In general we would support the Israeli Government, who are the only democracy in the Middle East and a firm friend of this country. Where we find that our friends are doing something that we consider to be edgy or with which we disagree, we will certainly be keen to discuss that with them.”

This did not impress shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) who said little had changed in the year since the slaughter on the Gaza border. Netanyahu was now backing legislation to give himself immunity from prosecution and was attacking the freedoms of Israeli Arabs, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and completing the annexation of the West Bank.

“Does the Minister agree that now is finally the time for the British Government to take a different step by recognising the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise?”

The minister gave the usual reply: “We support the two-state solution. When the time is right, that inevitably implies that we will support—recognise—the state of Palestine, but in the meantime ​we are engaged in building institutions that are necessary to sustain such a state.”

Ms Marie Rimmer asked the minister for international protection for the human rights of Palestinians given Netanyahu’s call for the annexation of part or all of the West Bank and Trump’s endorsement of the acquisition of territory by force.  In his reply Dr Murrison said: “We want to see a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I hope that makes our position clear.

In welcoming the new Minister for the Middle East to his post, Emily Thornberry pointed out it had taken the Government seven weeks to replace Alistair Burt after he resigned over Brexit and it was “a disgrace that, at a time like this, we should have 50 days without a dedicated Minister for such a critical region”.

Unlike most of his predecessors Dr Murrison does not appear to have been a member of either Conservative Friends of Israel or the Conservative  Middle East Council and there is no record on the House of Commons register of members’ interests of his visiting either Israel or Palestine.

The UK must stand by the Palestinians when they need us

Ask your MP to ask a question for Nakba Day

Foreign Office Questions
Tabling by Wednesday May 8th 12.30 pm
Questions Tuesday May 14th 11.30 am

With President Trump’s “deal of the century” due to be published at the end of Ramadan – just a few weeks away – his son-in-law Jared Kushner dropped a hint of what it may contain when he said on Thursday in Washington:  “What we need to start doing is just recognising truths – and I think that when we recognised Jerusalem, that is a truth – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that would be part of any final agreement anyway.”

Israel’s strategy has always been to build “facts on the ground” in contravention of international law and hope that sooner or later the international community will accept them. For many decades it did not work. The whole world – including the US – refused to recognise East Jerusalem or any part of the West Bank as part of Israel.

But in the last few months the situation has changed. Last summer Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved his embassy across the Green Line. Just last month he recognised the Golan Heights – a part of Syria under military occupation – as sovereign Israeli territory.

Netanyahu then said – two days before last month’s election – that he planned to “extend sovereignty” (in other words annex) all parts of the West Bank covered by settlements,  both the large settlement blocs close to the border and the “isolated settlements” deep inside the West Bank.

Are these the “truths” that Jared Kushner will want the world to recognise when he unveils the “deal of the century” in early June?  Will his plan allow Netanyahu to annex all the areas controlled by settlements (42%) or the whole of the area administered by the Israeli army – the so-called ‘Area C’ (62%)?

That would leave the Palestinians with between 12% and 8% of the territory of historic Palestine and roughly 50% of the population.

One  thing is already clear. Trump has gone back on the founding principle of the United Nations – and the basis of the entire post-world-war consensus – that territory can no longer be taken by military force.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already made it clear that he disagrees with Trump on Jerusalem and on settlements.  But will he stand up to Trump if he tries to pressure the Palestinians to accept his deal?

If that happens, then clearly statements in the House of Commons will not be enough.  Hunt will have to do something substantive if it wants to stop President Trump from steamrollering the Palestinians into submission.  The obvious weapon he has in his hands is the UK’s long-promised recognition of Palestine.

Recognition would have significant legal and diplomatic consequences, but it would have little tangible effect on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, so it would need to be strengthened with stricter “differentiation” against settlement products. It has even been suggested that Palestine should be invited to join the Commonwealth.  That invitation might well be declined, given the UK’s role in Palestine’s history, but it would send a powerful message.

The day after Foreign Office questions – May 15th – is the 71st anniversary both of the foundation of the state of Israel and the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees to create a Jewish majority in the new state.  It is known as Independence Day in Israel and as Nakba Day (the day of the catastrophe) to Palestinians.

The 14th would be a good day for MPs to tell the world that they will stand by the Palestinians when they need us to stand by our principles.  Ask your MP to ask the Foreign Secretary a question on Palestine.  It needs to be tabled not later than 12.30 on Wednesday. If it is drawn in the ballot, it should be answered on May 14th – in time for Nakba Day.

Hunt asked to clarify ‘Hamas principally responsible for Gaza deaths’ remark

The Foreign Secretary has been asked for clarification of the statement made by UK Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, that “Hamas bears principal responsibility'” for the killing of 187 Palestinians and the injuring of more than 23,000 during the protests at the Gaza fence last year.

In a letter the director of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights Tareq Shourou says: “Bearing in mind the fact that Israeli forces carried out these killings and injuries, this seems like a mistaken gross misstatement.”

He points to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report‘s finding that “all 189 fatalities at the protests in Gaza from 30 March 2018 to 31 December 2018 were caused by unlawful use of force – with the possible exception of two incidents – and that medical workers, journalists, some children and some people with visible disabilities were shot intentionally”.

The same was true of more than 6,000 who were shot directly with live bullets, including more than 4,000 shot in the legs. As Commission member Sara Hussein said: “Our investigations found that Israeli snipers used high-velocity bullets and long-range sniper rifles equipped with sophisticated optical aiming devices. They saw the target magnified in their sights and they knew the consequences of shooting, but still pulled the trigger, not once or twice but more than 6000 times.

“The snipers killed 32 children, three clearly marked paramedics, and two clearly marked journalists. They shot at unarmed protesters, children and disabled persons and at health workers and journalists performing their duties, knowing who they were.”

A joint statement by 11 UK charities – including Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians and War on Want –  said the UK’s abstention on a motion endorsing the UN report was “a regrettable dereliction of the UK’s responsibility to uphold respect for the rule of international law and human rights”.

It says the Government’s justification for this abstention – that the inquiry did not “call explicitly for an investigation into the actions of non-state actors such as Hamas” – is lacking genuine substance, because the inquiry was set up to investigate ‘all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law’.

It did not explicitly say Hamas, but it did not explicitly say Israel either. It said “all alleged violations” and indeed Hamas was investigated and they did make critical findings. Hamas , they said, “encouraged or defended the use of incendiary kites and balloons; failed in due diligence obligations to prevent and stop the use of these incendiary devices; and is obliged to investigate these failures of international human rights law.”

The letter also criticised the Foreign Secretary’s threat to vote against any motion on Israel if the United Nations Human Rights Council continued its practice of listing complaints against Israel as a permanent item 7 on every agenda, but did not do the same for other countries such as Syria.

“A preferred approach,” the letter said, would be for the UK to “use its influence as a prominent member of the Human Rights Council to urge the inclusion of other prolonged and serious human rights crises, such as the situation in Syria, as permanent agenda items”.

Julian Braithwaite is also UK Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and there was an attempt by the leading Brexiteers in the European Research Group to draft him into the Brexit negotiating team, but it was ultimately blocked by Number Ten.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-rights-council-40-item-2-uk-explanation-of-vote

UK abstention fuels continued killing of health workers at Gaza fence, says MP

Foreign Office Questions
Questions Tuesday April 2nd 11.30 am

Question 21 Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown): What diplomatic steps he is taking to help protect health workers operating in Gaza.

The UK’s refusal to support a UN motion criticising Israel over live-fire deaths at the Gaza border grants an impunity to Israel that is fuelling the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters.

This was the accusation made by Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op) (right), citing the recent death of volunteer medic Sajid Muzher, 17, shot by the Israeli army while wearing a reflective vest. Final terms and conditionsrussell-moyle

The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field), standing in for the Middle East minister Alistair Burt who resigned over Brexit, said the UIK had abstained at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the grounds that the motion was not “balanced” because it did not “explicitly call for an investigation into … Hamas”.

The Speaker also called Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con)Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) who are both members of Conservative Friends of Israel and Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Ind) who is chair of Labour Friends of Israel.  All three focused their remarks on Hamas.