Author: martinlinton

Once Trump reveals his plan, it’s up to the UK, France and Germany

Now that the mid-term elections are over, President Trump has promised to deliver his Middle East “deal of the century” within two months, ie by January 6.

It’s true that no one knows exactly what it is going to say, but the drift is clear. Trump has spent the last two years undermining the three bargaining chips that the Palestinians still had.

  • For the last 70 years the international community – including the US – has funded the UN agency that houses, educates and where necessary feeds the Palestinian refugees forced to flee in 1948 and never allowed to return.
  • For the last 51 years the entire international community – again including the US – insisted that Jerusalem could only be the capital of TWO states and they kept their embassies in Tel Aviv until that was agreed.
  • For the last 28 years every President from the late George Bush Snr onwards has red-lined the building of settlements in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, the so-called E1 planning area.

By cutting off funds to UNRWA, moving his embassy to Jerusalem and turning a blind eye to new settlements and the demolition of Khan al Ahmar, Trump has removed any reason for the Israelis to negotiate.  They already have what they want.  Why would they negotiate?

The Palestinians made their historic compromise in the Oslo accords in 1993 when they recognised the State of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine even though they are now more than 50% of the population. It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect them to cede any more land or make any more concessions.

The next chapter in this saga can already be written.  President Trump will publish his “deal of the century”.  It will be rejected by the Palestinians, by the Arab states, by all the mainly Muslim states and by the great majority of the United Nations.

The chapter after that is more difficult to predict. UK policy is totally at odds with US policy over all these issues – Jerusalem, refugees, settlements. Will the UK stand up for what it believes, for what the UN believes, or will it engage in fudge?

That is up to the members of the UK parliament.  You have the power and you may be called upon to exercise that power in the next few months. It is only the UK, France, Germany and other West European states that have the power to change the course of events.

The Palestinian Authority – for all its many faults – has stood up to President Trump, refusing to speak to him or his envoys, and to Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has tried to forge a regional alliance with the Israelis. The Palestinians have lost most of their territory and most of what little bargaining power they had, but they will not lose their dignity.

As the cat-and-mouse game over the imminent demolition of the Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar shows, the Israeli government is adept at playing a waiting game. They can make small concessions or allow minor delays in order to deflect the protests of Western countries, but then as soon as the world is distracted by some other hotspot, they will move forward on their strategic path which is to annex or assimilate the majority of the West Bank and to normalise their annexation of east Jerusalem.

The only way to reverse this process is to grasp one of the many levers that Western countries have to put effective pressure on Israel – by recognising Palestine, stopping trade with settlements or stopping companies from facilitating the occupation.

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Trump peace plan is ‘only’ solution to Israel-Palestine conflict, says Minister

Foreign & Commonwealth Office questions
Report-back from Tuesday December 4th

Middle East minister Alistair Burt told the Commons at Foreign Office questions that the long-awaited Trump plan is the “only thing” that will bring a resolution to the long-standing crisis. .

Asked by Labour MP Alex Cunningham about the escalation of violence on the Gaza border, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the ending of support for refugees, the Minister said “the only thing that will deal with the concerns that he raises” is the Trump plan.

Referring to Trump’s son-in-law and his lawyer, who have been entrusted with the job of sorting out the Middle East, he said: “We are keen to ensure that when the envoy’s proposals come forward, they get a strong reception, and people can work on them to try to bring a resolution to this long-standing crisis.”

Jason Greenblatt has already provoked strong reactions. Israelis Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has already called his plan a “waste of time” and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas refuses to speak to him and has urged Trump to sack him.

The UK opposes the two decisions President Trump made in the run-up to the publication of his peace plan – moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and more recently the defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which prompted Jeremy Hunt to say explicitly: “We do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue.”

But Palestinians fear that the UK will offer only mild verbal resistance when President Trump unveils his plan – due by January 6.

The minister also brushed aside questions about recognition and settlement trade. Asked by Labour MP Andy Slaughter why the Government allowed the import of goods from settlements it declared to be illegal, the minister replied: “We allow the import of goods, but the labelling makes that clear, so customers can make their own choice about whether to buy goods from those areas.”

Pressed by Alex Cunningham on when he would announce the UK’s long-promised recognition of a Palestinian state, the minister would only say: “We have said very clearly that we recognise a two-state solution.”

The MP also pressed him on his promise earlier this year to push for an international element in the Israeli army’s inquiry into the use of live fire at the Gaza border.

The minister said: “We are still pressing the Israeli authorities in relation to exactly what we said previously.”

Since the Great Return March protest began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 214 Palestinians and wounded more than 18,000 according to Al Jazeera on 11 Nov 2018.

As reported in Hansard
Questions Tuesday December 4th

Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): What discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on the recent escalation of violence in the region.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What recent steps he has taken towards establishing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt: The recent upsurge of violence in Gaza reminds all of us of the need to ensure that the Middle East peace process gets moving, because that is the only thing that will make a difference. Both the Foreign Secretary and I have recently seen US envoy Jason Greenblatt, and we will continue all our efforts.

Maria Caulfield: The UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas for the increasing violence and attacks on civilians and for the worsening situation in Gaza. Will the UK Government be supporting that resolution?

Alistair Burt: We do not disclose the intention to vote in advance. What I would say is that it is very clear that we condemn Hamas’s action and conduct; we call for a ​permanent end to its terror and rocket attacks in relation to Israel; and we continue to proscribe the military wing of Hamas, to impose sanctions against individuals and to have no contact with Hamas. [The UK voted in favour of the motion but it failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority with 87 countries voting for and 57 against, so it was not carried.]

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Given the Government’s view, which I know the Minister shares, that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, why do the Government allow the import of goods from those settlements and investment by British companies?

Alistair Burt: We allow the import of goods, but the labelling makes that clear, so customers can make their own choice about whether to buy goods from those areas.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What assessment has he made of the Hezbollah terror tunnels from Lebanon into Israel that have been discovered?

Alistair Burt: The tunnels demonstrate the continual threat to the state of Israel from those who would mean it harm. Again, however, that emphasises the need—I am sure the whole House shares this view—to ensure that there is a resolution of the issues between Israel and its neighbours, so that there can be permanent peace and security for all in the region.

Alex Cunningham: Ministers keep telling us that they want to wait and see President Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. In the meantime, we have seen an escalation of violence, death on the Gaza border, a worsening humanitarian crisis, continued demolition of Palestinian homes and the ending of US support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Is it not time that the UK said very clearly, “You cannot have a two-state solution if you only recognise one state”?

Alistair Burt: We have said very clearly that we recognise a two-state solution. We are keen to ensure that when the envoy’s proposals come forward, they get a strong reception, and people can work on them to try to bring a resolution to this long-standing crisis. It is the only thing that will deal with the concerns that he raises.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Earlier this year, in response to deaths on the Gaza border, the Minister said that the Government would support Israel’s investigation into them and push for an international element to those investigations. How is he getting on with that?

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt): We are still pressing the Israeli authorities in relation to exactly what we said previously. That is the best way to try to find an answer to the tragedy that happened in Gaza.

UN appeals for $350 million to plug gap left by Trump aid cut

DfID boosts UK aid to £65.5 million

This week the UN and the Palestine Authority issued an appeal for $350 million to plug the gap left by the withdrawal of the United States’ $365 million contribution to the UN agency dealing with Palestinian refugees.

A new assessment of humanitarian needs by the UN found that:

  • 10,000 Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank are at risk of forcible transfer
  • 13,000 homes in Area C have demolition orders not yet carried out
  • 25,000 Palestinians (including 6,250 children) have been injured by Israeli forces or settlers in 2018
  • 26,000 children in Gaza are in need of mental and psychosocial health support
  • 70% of UN schools in Gaza operate two or three shifts a day
  • 96% of water extracted from the Gaza aquifer is unfit for human consumption

According to the UN: “Following a deterioration of the humanitarian situation during 2018, some 2.5 million people have been identified as in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019.

“The long-standing Israeli blockade and the internal Palestinian political divide are expected to continue, alongside demonstrations, clashes and casualties.

“As a result, the health system in Gaza is likely to remain overstretched, clean water and sewage treatment will be insufficient, and unemployment will remain severe.

“In the West Bank, a coercive environment, including discriminatory planning policies, access restrictions, settlement expansion and settler violence will continue, placing Palestinians in vulnerable communities in Area C, East Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron city, at risk of forcible transfer.”

UNRWA provides assistance for 5.15 million refugees, education for 526,000 children, health centres for 3.1 million patients and basic food rations for 255,000 refugees living in extreme poverty.

The UN’s Relief & Works Agency UNRWA is funded by a voluntary levy of UN members. The agency runs 59 refugees camps, 143 health centres and over 700 schools for 4.3 million refugees in five countries. It provides emergency rations for 400,000 refugees in Syria and nearly a million in Gaza.

After President Trump’s withdrawal of funds, Alistair Burt immediately announced that the UK was increasing its contribution by £7 million to £60.5 million and added a further £5 million yesterday to provide emergency food including rice, sugar and chickpeas to 62,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza who are at risk of going hungry.

The minister has however resisted calls from Labour shadow minister Fabian Hamilton and LibDem MP Layla Moran for an emergency conference of donor nations to discuss strategies for dealing with the shortfall caused by President Trump’s announcement.

Pressure has been growing on the minister to step up to the plate and take an initiative – in the absence of the Americans – to ensure that the world does not allow another humanitarian disaster to follow on from the starvation in Yemen.

World Bank studies have shown that Palestinian refugees would soon outgrow the need for aid if the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank were lifted. What they need is not aid but action.

Read the UN’s 2019 Response Plan for the OPT:
https://www.ochaopt.org/content/humanitarian-needs-overview-2019
Read the joint UN/PA appeal issued this week: https://www.ochaopt.org/content/us350-million-appeal-address-critical-humanitarian-needs-palestinians-launched

Merkel shows western leaders CAN stop the demolition of Khan al Ahmar

Angela Merkel has demonstrated the power of Western leaders by threatening to cut short her visit if the army go ahead with the planned demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar this week.

The army turned up at 4 am and remained parked on the main road for half an hour (see below),  but then as quickly as they came they left.

Villagers put up posters of the German chancellor in the hope that she would persuade the Israelis to call off the bulldozers already on site, ready to raze their homes and their famous mud-and-tyre school to the ground.

Sadly there is no evidence that Angela Merkel or any other European leader will make anything more than verbal protests when, as now seems inevitable, the bulldozers move in.

Meanwhile a strange lake has appeared in the desert, caused by a leak from the nearby settlement’s sewage pipe.  At first the villagers thought this was another Israeli strategem to encourage them to leave, but now the lake is being drained.

Last week the army put up notices ordering villagers to demolish their own houses by Monday. Hundreds of activists and journalists gathered in the village for the expected confrontation.

Short of a dramatic intervention by the UK or another European country, they now expect demolition to start soon after Mrs Merkel leaves.
PHOTO-2018-10-03-04-23-15 (002)

Board of Deputies accused of antisemitism by its own members

A senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the body at the forefront of the campaign for the IHRA code on antisemitism – is herself facing a vote of no confidence for criticising Israeli in a way that breaches the IHRA code.

Dr Sheila Gewolb issued a press release on behalf of the Board of Deputies in July criticising the Nation-State Law which says that only Jewish Israelis have a right to self-determination and downgrades the status of the Arabic language.

“Being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to doing down others. All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society,” it said.

Two members of the Board of Deputies say this breaches example h) of the IHRA code by “applying double standards to Israel by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

This means that they consider the press release antisemitic.

They have told chief executive Gillian Merron that they already have the signatures of 32 members and are confident of getting the 50 required to table a motion of no confidence – effectively sacking Dr Gewolb from her post as vice-president.

The Board has itself used example h) to accuse the National Union of Students of antisemitism for voting to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The Board also used example h) to accuse academics of antisemitism when they wrote to the Guardian to support an academic boycott in 2015.

Now the same catch-all clause is being used against the Board’s own vice-president, proving – if proof were needed – that the loose wording of the IHRA examples allows almost anyone to be accused of antisemitism.

And if the vote of no confidence is carried against Dr Gewolb,  then the whole leadership of the Board of Deputies will need to resign – as the press release was issued officially on behalf of the Board.

The two members – Jacob Lyons and Martin Rankoff – say that the Board of Deputies has been “hijacked by individuals …with so-called ‘progressive’ views” and that they are a Trojan horse inside the organisation.

They also say: “Anything that might be construed as a foreign entity interfering in the democratic process of another sovereign nation is categorically off-limits.”

This will be a problem not only for the Board of Deputies, but also for all the other mainstream Jewish organisations who have criticised the Nation-State Law.

  • According to the New Israel Fund, the law is a “slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
  • According to Yachad, “we must speak up in opposition to this racist bill which turns minorities in Israel into second-class citizens”.
  • According to the American Jewish Committee, the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic”.

Hundreds of flags greet Labour’s first-ever debate on Palestine

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For decades Labour Party managers have kept motions about the Israel-Palestine conflict off the floor of its annual conference for fear of the arguments they might cause.  Finally at this year’s conference a motion on the conflict was debated and their fears proved to be unfounded. There was near-unanimity. Every speaker spoke in favour and very nearly every delegate voted in favour. Observers saw only three hands raised against.

The motion called for a ban on arms sales to Israel and an independent inquiry into the deaths of young Palestinians killed by Israeli army snipers on the Gaza border.  It also broke the taboo against referring to the “Nakba”, the Arabic name for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel.

Far from revealing divisions it revealed a very broad consensus in the Labour Party. This was obvious from the hundreds of Palestinian flags that were waved in all parts of the conference hall as Colin Monehen from Harlow and Zahid Ali from Wolverhampton SW spoke to their motion – an emotional moment for many delegates who have been campaigning for years in favour of Palestinian human rights.

“I want us to send a message to Mr Trump,” the Harlow delegate told the conference, “that cutting the funding of UNRWA, the UN humanitarian agency set up to assist these people in exile, born homeless, born stateless, in refugee camps, will not crush their spirit. It will not lessen their resolve to return home.

“I want us to say this to every Palestinian. We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy.”

Zahid Ali, seconding the motion, held up a picture of the woman paramedic Razan al-Najjar shot dead by Israeli Army snipers while she cared for injured protesters by the Gaza fence.

The motion urged the Government to:

  • increase its level of annual assessed contributions to UNRWA, providing much need reassurance and stability to Palestinian refugees, and to
  • encourage other member states to do the same.

and it called for:

  • an independent international investigation into Israel’s use of force against Palestinian demonstrators;
  • a ban on UK government arms sales to Israel; and
  • an immediate unconditional end to the illegal blockade and closure of Gaza.

According to delegates the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry had asked the movers of the motion to drop a reference to the Nakba, but they refused.

This is what the Harlow delegate referred to when he said: “There are those that are nervous about the word Nakba. But the Nakba did happen and those people were forcibly removed from their homes, and there has to be a recognition of that.”

She also resisted the proposal in the Wolverhampton motion to suspend arms sales to Israel pending the result of an independent inquiry, but in fact the motion ended up calling for a permanent ban on arms sales to Israel.

The debate and the vote to ban arms sales to Israel were widely reported in the Israeli press, but there was almost no mention of it in the mainstream media in Britain, apart from the BBC.

Corbyn pledges Labour will recognise Palestine ‘as soon as we take office’

Liverpool, September 26 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won a standing ovation on theCorbyn final day of Labour’s Liverpool conference when he promised to recognise the state of Palestine “as soon as we take office”.

He called the occupation, illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children as “an outrage” and condemned the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza and the recently-passed Nation-State Law.

“And let me next say a few words about the ongoing denial of justice and rights to the Palestinian people.

“Our party is united in condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation-State Law.

“The continuing occupation, the expansion of illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children are an outrage. We support a two-state solution to the conflict with a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state.

“But a quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords we are no closer to justice or peace and the Palestinian tragedy continues, while the outside world stands by.

“As my great Israeli friend Uri Avneri who died this year put it: “What is the alternative to peace? A catastrophe for both peoples”.

“And in order to help make that two-state settlement a reality we will recognise a Palestinian state as soon as we take office.”