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Why we are on hunger strike in Israel’s prisons

barghouti wall 2By MARWAN BARGHOUTI

APRIL 16, 2017

from the New York Times

HADARIM PRISON, Israel — Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.

I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.

A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.

The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.

Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.

Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.

How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?

Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

The Israeli authorities and its prison service have turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including those painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges they decide to grant us or deprive us of. Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.

Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.

Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.

Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian

 

Umm Al Hiran: the Arab village that Israel plans to demolish 

Villagers say: ‘Why evict us when we can both live here? There’s plenty of space.’

From Palestine Briefing February 2015

Umm Al Hiran is the village that the Israelis plan to demolish in its entirety and replace with a new village on the same site with the same name – Hiran – but with Jewish inhabitants instead of Arabs.

The 500 Arab residents of the village have lived in the village for nearly 60 years and were in fact ordered to move there by the Israeli military commander of the Negev who gave them a lease to build a village, farm the land and graze their sheep.

The village leaders say there is no need to evict them as the Jewish settlers can move onto a site nextdoor. “We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours,” says Atwa Abu Alkia’n.

They point out that there is plenty of space – 3¼ million acres – in the Negev and the settlers don’t need to move to the one small acre of land where they have been living since 1956.

Thirty Jewish settler families are currently living in portakabins a couple of kilometers away waiting for the new houses to be built so they can move in.

The Israeli state has made it clear that the new village is for Jewish residents only and the Arabs must move out.

See the village on YouTube:

Villagers want coexistence but the Israeli government sends in the bulldozers

Two people were killed and several others wounded when large numbers of police officers entered the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in southern Israel, to demolish the village at dawn on Wednesday January 18th. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.

Among those wounded was a Member of Parliament and leader of the Israeli Arab Opposition in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, whom police shot in the head and back with sponge-tipped bullets. Odeh was brought to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba in stable condition at the time of this report. The other casualties were both local residents and security forces.

Police said officers killed a resident of Umm el-Hiran, Yaqub Al Qi’an, after his vehicle struck and killed at least one officer. The police officer who was killed was named as 34-year-old Erez Levy. Local residents and activists at the scene said that Qi’an’s car veered toward the officers only after he was shot and lost control of the vehicle.

Hundreds of fully armed police arrived at Umm el-Hiran around 5 a.m., pulling drivers out of vehicles, and attacking and threatening others, according to Israeli activist Kobi Snitz, who was in the village Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Shortly thereafter, shots were heard, Snitz said, adding that he saw a white pickup truck about 30 meters from police. “They started shooting at the car in bursts from all directions,” he said, adding that only after the driver appeared to have been wounded and lost control of his vehicle did it strike the police officers.

Police reportedly sealed the village off and barred any additional journalists from entering by mid-morning.

Snitz said that state authorities had been pressuring residents to sign an agreement to leave voluntarily up until around midnight Tuesday night, but that negotiations broke down.

MK Odeh showed up at Umm el-Hiran early Wednesday morning in order to stand alongside the villagers, who were told by Israeli authorities that the demolition would take place imminently.

By late morning, bulldozers, trucks, and demolition equipment had begun preparing to clear and demolish the village.

Umm al-Hiran is one of dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages” in Israel’s south, in which approximately 100,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel live without electricity, water, and other basic services the state refuses to provide.

Here is a quick summary of this history of Umm al-Hiran: Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area of the western Negev desert called Khirbet Zubaleh.

In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to the location where they live today. (Their former land was expropriated and given to the Israel Kibbutz Shoval as agricultural land.)

This forced land “swap” is well documented in state archives, but despite the fact that the Qi’an family was settled in its current location by the state itself, its homes have never been connected to the electricity or water grids.

In 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the state can change its mind and take back the land it gave to the al-Qi’an family. On the ruins of their village Umm el-Hiran, from which they are being expelled, a new township for religious Jews will be established.

For the past few years, Orthodox Jews who will be the future residents of the Jewish village of Hiran – to be built on Umm Al Hiran’s ruins – have been waiting for their new homes at an encampment in the adjacent forest of Yatir.

“The government has no problem with Jewish citizens living on this property – so why should they have a problem with us?” Raid al-Qi’an, a resident and activist from the village, told +972 in 2015. “They allow rural communities to be built for Jews across the Negev – why not us?”

“We have always said, and continue to say, that we have no objections to Jewish families living here or nearby us – but not in place of us. That is racism and injustice,” he added.

Read latest from Umm Al Hiran

Now is the time for Britain to recognise the state of Palestine

Vincent Fean

Read original article in The Guardian

Quiet diplomacy hasn’t worked. Britain needs to push for international recognition of Israel and Palestine – and then robustly defend the rights of both.

Without change soon, the option will not be there. Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestiniavincent_feann territory harms us all. The British minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has deemed it “unacceptable and unsustainable”.

US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements
Hope of change came when the UN security council, after eight years of silence, adopted a resolution with strong UK support once more condemning Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and when the US secretary of state, John Kerry, set out his framework for a just peace. This Sunday, France will host an international conference seeking an equitable basis for ending the occupation.

Our prime minister, Theresa May, is a firm friend of Israel. Friends should tell each other the truth. Already, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected the resolution, bizarrely accused Kerry of anti-Israel bias, and dismissed the Paris conference without bothering to await its outcome. In truth, this is disregard for the law, and the express will of the international community. So systematic settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes and the closure of Gaza are set to continue in this low intensity, asymmetrical Israel/Palestine war.

The world is weary of this unending occupation and of entrenched, callous disregard and hatred, one for the other. The status quo is anything but static. It is going wrong fast – increasing injustice for the Palestinians, storing up trouble for Israel’s children, and causing grave concern here among those responsible for Britain’s national security.

Netanyahu has ignored the advice of his own law officer by supporting unprecedented Knesset legislation which would legalise most of the 100 settler outposts in the Palestinian West Bank, hitherto illegal even under Israeli law. If that bill passes, Britain and our partners will need to respond decisively to an act designed to prevent the solution of two states long espoused by both peoples – Israeli and Palestinian – and by us. Kerry called the one state outcome “separate and unequal” – apartheid by my definition, inevitably provoking chronic violence.

Indiscriminate Palestinian violence is morally wrong and futile, whether labelled terrorism or resistance. The Palestinians should be pressed to reunite on the basis of Palestine Liberation Organisation principles, first among them the recognition of the state of Israel on pre-1967 borders, done by Yasser Arafat in 1993 and reaffirmed by Mahmoud Abbas. Elections are overdue in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the occupied Palestinian territories recognised as the state of Palestine by over 130 countries – although not yet by the UK.

This conflict is emphatically not between equals, but between the occupier and the occupied. Israel is creating new facts on the ground “leading towards one state and perpetual occupation” as Kerry warned. Before asking what Britain can do now to promote a just peace, it is worth saying what won’t work. Quiet diplomacy, for one. We’ve tried that. Quiet diplomats get ignored. Second, US-led shuttle diplomacy, such as Kerry conducted for nine months. The US is necessary but not sufficient to resolve this conflict.

And while no one can be sure what hand President Trump will play, the omens are bad.

And we can’t leave it to the two conflicting parties to sort it out. The Middle East peace process became just that – a process. Direct unconditional negotiations between the strong and the weak only leave the weak weaker. That’s not how to end the occupation. It will need an initiative by the international community, shaping the outcome, providing security guarantees, upholding the law, ensuring a better tomorrow for both peoples. The Paris conference should develop a wider consensus based on Security Council Resolution 2334 and re-commit all Arab states to recognising Israel in return for a sovereign Palestine.

It is not enough to offer more carrots to both parties, hoping that both will bite. Israel has had a surfeit of carrots over the decades. Incentives to the Palestinians are contingent on ending the occupation – which only Israel can do.

So there are two things Britain should do. They go together. First, recognise the state of Palestine on 1967 borders now, or as soon as the Knesset “legalises” outposts, in breach of international humanitarian law; and secondly uphold that law without fear or favour – with serious consequences for whoever breaks it.

British recognition of Palestine acknowledges the Palestinian right to self-determination, affirmed by the UK 18 years ago at the Berlin European council. Far from delegitimising Israel, it reaffirms our 1950 recognition of Israel on the borders created two years before, unless both parties agree to any change. I commend a petition asking our government to recognise Palestine.

If we mean what we say about two states, we need to will the means. By recognising both states in the two-state solution, we legitimise both. Affirming the equal rights of both peoples is consistent with our values and in our national interest. One state – separate and unequal – would be unjust, unstable and violently divisive: an avoidable disaster for Israelis, Palestinians and us. Five years ago, the then foreign secretary William Hague said: “We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”.

I’ve said it before, but never has it been more true – now is the time.

Sir Vincent Fean is a former British Consul-General in Jerusalem

“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence” – ex-Minister

In an article in the Mail-on-Sunday an unnamed former minister in David Cameron’s government claims successive governments have allowed donors’ money to shape our policy on Israel

 Read the whole Mail-on-Sunday article

“Last month Theresa May, like David Cameron each year before her, spoke to the annual lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

“She oozed praise for Israel as a democracy, spoke of the constant terrorist threat they face, and condemned the way that Palestinians supposedly incite violence and anti-Semitism.
“Her own policy that considers Israeli settlements on Palestinian land illegal received only a passing mention.

 

“The reason is clear: the Conservative Party wants pro-Israel donors’ money, and principle in the Government’s foreign policy has been relegated.

 

“Matters deteriorated further over Christmas after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful condemnation of the extremism and conduct of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

 

“Instead of agreeing with his comments – which are identical to her own policy – she criticised Kerry.
“Behind this inconsistent and concerning attitude lies a serious and troubling problem.

 

“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.

 

“For years the CFI and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), have worked with – even for – the Israeli government and their London embassy to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK Government policy and the actions of Ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights.

 

“Lots of countries try to force their views on others, but what is scandalous in the UK is that instead of resisting it, successive Governments have submitted to it, taken donors’ money, and allowed Israeli influence-peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of Ministers.

 

“Even now, if I were to reveal who I am, I would be subjected to a relentless barrage of abuse and character assassination.

 

“The CFI is not affiliated to the Conservative Party. It is incorporated in a way that means it is not too transparent about donors. Yet it arranges for the support of MPs and funds regular visits to Israel which distort the truth.

 

“Cameron turned a blind eye to Israeli misconduct – if he ever cared about it – because he was persuaded any criticism would reduce party donations.

 

“It now seems clear people in the Conservative and Labour parties have been working with the Israeli embassy which has used them to demonise and trash MPs who criticise Israel; an army of Israel’s useful idiots in Parliament.

 

“This is politically corrupt and diplomatically indefensible. The conduct of certain MPs needs to be exposed as the poisonous and deceitful infiltration of our politics by the unwitting agents of another country, which acts in defiance of international law, and whose government Kerry called its most extreme ever.

 

“We need a full inquiry into the Israeli Embassy, the links, access and funding of the CFI and LFI, and an undertaking from all political parties that they welcome the financial and political support of the UK Jewish community, but won’t accept any engagement linked to Israel until it stops building illegally on Palestinian land.

 

“This opaque funding and underhand conduct is a national disgrace and humiliation and must be stamped out.”

UN Security Council Resolution – as it happened day by day

Wednesday December 21: In a surprise move late on Wednesday Egypt circulatedkerry a draft of the resolution to other members of the Security Council and asked for it to be put to the vote the following day. It was put on the agenda for Thursday 6pm.

The last time that the 15 members of the Security Council voted on a motion calling for a freeze on settlement building was in February 2011. At that time the vote was 14 in favour and one against. Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China were in favour and only the US against, but the US vote is a veto.

Obama said in the spring of 2015, when he had just 18 months of his term left, that it was too late to launch any new initiatives on Israel-Palestine, but in the last few months – since the summer – there has been speculation that he might nevertheless come up w
ith something in the transition period between the election of a new president in November and his or her inauguration in January.

American presidents have the opportunity when they leave office to continue to exercise power for about 73 days (in this case between November 8 and January 20). From a British perspective this doesn’t sound very democratic, but in America it is accepted as part of the system. Both President Reagan and President Clinton used their transition periods in ways that helped the Palestinians, in Reagan’s case by recognising the Palestine Liberation Organisation and in Clinton’s by holding the Taba peace talks.

Despite these precedents and despite a lot of careful position-taking by Obama during the autumn, suggesting he was at the very least keeping his options open, very few commentators picked up on the fact that the White House was planning an initiative. The few that did assumed that it would come in January when several new states join the Security Council.

So when the news agencies reported on Wednesday that Egypt had asked for a vote the following night, it had an electrifying effect, especially in Israel. It was seen as an attempt to gain the advantage of surprise, of leaving the Israeli goveernment with too little time to put pressure of the smaller, more vulnerable countries to change their minds. Netanyahu cleared 15 hours in his diary for a sustained campaign of lobbying. His aim was simple: to cajole, browbeat or bully Egypt’s President Sisi to take his motion off the table.

Thursday December 22: Thursday did not start well for Netanyahu’s team. They read in the Times of Israel an interview with the French Ambassador to Israel, Hélène Le Gal, saying she thought the draft motion circulated by the Egyptians was “balanced” and that France would probably vote for it.

She made it clear the Israeli government had only itself to blame for that. It was the vote in the Knesset in favour of a law to legalise illegal settlement outposts and the calls from more extreme MPs for a new wave of settlement construction that was pushing Egypt and other members of the Security Council to sponsor this anti-settlement motion, she said.

Netanyahu spent the day on the telephone and so did many of his officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By the middle of the afternoon, the word was that they were in celebratory mood. They had persuaded the American President-elect Donald Trump to call Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the phone and persuade him to postpone the motion.

What threats or promises were issued over the ether is not known but it would be surprising if it did not involve the possible reduction or withdrawal of the State Department’s annual allocation of $1.3 billion in military aid to the Egyptian Army.

Despite his celebratory (and self-congratulatory) mood, Netanyahu cautioned his colleagues against assuming the Egyptians had withdrawn their motion for good and pointed out that it was they had only agreed to postpone the vote. They could table it again after Christmas.

In the event the motion came back a lot more quickly than that. The Palestinian delegation at UN did not let the Egyptian reverse paralyse them and contacted four other countries who currently have seats on the Security Council, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

It turned that all four countries were happy to pick up the resolution that Egypt had wanted to postpone. They issued a statement saying that if Egypt did not clarify by midnight whether it planned to call a vote on the resolution, then they reserved the right to table the motion themselves on Friday.

Friday December 23: The mood turned from joy to panic in record time when Netanyahu heard that the Spanish Chairman of the Security Council had put the motion on the agenda for Friday’s meeting, with a vote scheduled at 19.00 UK time, this time sponsored by New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

Netanyahu was back on the telephone, phoning foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, anyone he could reach in the 15 countries currently on the Security Council. His repertoire wasn’t limited to persuasion and rational argument. He quickly resorted to threats and sanctions.

The prime minister’s bureau announced that Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal had been recalled and that sanctions would be put in place against both countries.

A senior official in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem called New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, and warned that if New Zealand’s move came to a vote, Israel might close its embassy in Wellington in protest.

When this didn’t work, the Israeli PM called Murray McCully, the foreign minister of New Zealand, and told him: “This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not to promote it.

“It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Jerusalem.”

McCully must have wondered whether he was hearing correctly on the telephone line when he heard the voice say: “If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war.”

Netanyahu’s threats are perhaps unprecedented in relations between Israel and another Western country. Israel has a population smaller than London’s (8 million) but it has the fourth best-equipped armed forces in the world according to international defence publications. Nevertheless the foreign minister of New Zealand (population 4 million) refused to budge.

Indeed Netanyahu’s threat is being treated as a joke in his own country. As the Haaretz columnist Zvi Barel said: “A country that declares war on members of the Security Council is either a superpower or a joke. And Israel, despite the fancy dress, isn’t a superpower. Its prime minister has gone out of control, and it has become a country that shoots wildly in all directions, thereby destroying any chance of mobilizing an international coalition to deal with its real threats.”

Netanyahu made similar phone calls to Senegal, a developing country in West Africa that is taking its turn on the Security Council. The Israeli PM has been boasting in recent months of his successful strategy of building up support for Israel among African, Asian and Latin American countries.

He had courted Senegal in particular and felt betrayed by its support for the motion. So he instructed his Foreign Ministry to end all aid programs to the West African country and to cancel a planned visit to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister.

As the hours ticked by, none of these threats seemed to be having the desired effect. Then, a few hours before the vote, Netanyahu called the Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin asked for a closed consultation of the Security Council. A Western diplomat said that Churkin shocked the other ambassadors when he proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas. He said the problem was not the content, but the timing. He got no support at all. They all wanted to go ahead. Churkin backed down.

At 7pm the Spanish chairman called the meeting to order and asked the Malaysian representative to introduce the motion. The speeches were not long. The arguments were familiar. After all it has been the near unanimous view of nearly every country for years that Israeli settlements are illegal and that settlement building should stop. This has been the view of the United States for a long time too, even though Obama found an excuse to veto the last resolution to come before the Security Council in February 2011. The only issue was whether he would tell the US representative, Samantha Power, to veto again or to abstain. For many weeks the answer from the White House had been the same. No decision has been taken. It will depend on the wording. A decision will be taken nearer the time.

Sooner than expected, the Spanish chairman suggested they should move to a vote. There was a strong mood of expectation in the Security Council. The chairman called for those in favour. 14 hands went up. He called for those against. No one stirred. Samantha Power’s hands could be seen on the table in front of her. He called for abstentions. She raised her hand. The chairman read out the result: Resolution 2443 carried by 14 votes to nil.

Ever since President Jimmy Carter in 1980 Israeli governments have felt secure in the belief that – whatever they did – the Americans would guard them from any serious consequences at the United Nations by wielding their veto on their behalf if necessary.

This meant that Israel enjoyed impunity and the United Nations suffered impotence. The Israeli government could flout international law without fear of consequence. The United Nations were powerless and more and more discredited. Obama’s abstention was “a breath of hope in a sea of darkness and despair” according to Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy.

It’s worth sticking with Gideon Levy for a moment. He is no dewy-eyed admirer of Obama. “We must ask U.S. President Barack Obama in fury: Now you’re doing something? And we must ask the world in frustration: What about actions?” But even though it’s too little, too late, it does nevertheless put on public record a truth that will survive all attempts by the Israeli government to change the subject or to discredit the speaker.

In another column Gideon Levy says to his fellow Israelis: “So you can say ‘the entire world is against us.’ You can scream ‘anti-Semitism!’ You can ask ‘What about Syria?’ But in the end this clear-as-crystal truth will remain: The world thinks that the settlements are a crime. All the settlements and all the world.”

The fact that the entire world had spoken, the Security Council of the United Nations had passed a resolution, without dissent, did not in any way inhibit Prime Minister Netanyahu from giving vent to his fury. Within minutes the internet was reporting that he had said the resolution was “crazy”, “absurd”, “underhand”, “reckless” and “destructive”.

Israel’s relations with the United Nations, he said, would be reviewed, and as a first step, Israeli funding for UN institutions that he said were particularly hostile would be halted immediately.

As a parting shot, the Prime Minister’s Bureau accused President Obama of “colluding” against Israel at the UN. “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes,” the bureau said following the vote.

“Collusion” is a loaded word. A Palestinian delegation came to Washington in early December for the explicit purpose of urging the State Department to lift its veto and discussing with them the wording that would be most likely to enable them to do so. This is a part of normal diplomatic process.

At a later stage British lawyers and diplomats were working directly with the Palestinians on the wording of the resolution even before it was distributed by Egypt the first time on Wednesday evening.

The British objective was to advise on how to make the resolution acceptable to Obama without the need for the Americans to intervene directly in formulating it. Again, this is part of normal diplomatic process.

The venom against Obama is likely to continue, especially from Netanyahu, ignoring the fact that from any objective perspective he has been one of the most pro-Israeli presidents in history.

As Haaretz columnist Barak Ravid described the scene after the vote: “The prime minister let loose with a campaign of attacks on Obama that seemed like fake news on a delusional right-wing website in the US. The most bizarre accusation was that Obama was part of a conspiracy with the Palestinians and had in fact abandoned Israel and stabbed it in the back. Yes, the same Obama who just a few weeks ago gave Israel $38 billion in security aid. Netanyahu doesn’t dare say even one tenth of such things about Putin, May or Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

Sunday December 25: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassadors of the UN Security Council member states. An Israeli official said each ambassador would be personally reprimanded.

It wasn’t quite clear whether the American ambassador Dan Shapiro was summoned or “asked to come in” but the result was that he had to see Netanyahu on Christmas Day.

The calling or summoning of the American ambassador was considered a most unusual step. Even more unusual is the fact that unlike the other envoys who were summoned on Sunday to the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu conducted the conversation himself at his office.

Netanyahu also decided to cancel a visit by Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who was scheduled to arrive in Israel in the coming week. A senior official in Jerusalem noted that the decision was taken in light of Ukraine’s vote at the UN.

Tuesday December 27: Netanyahu had said on Friday that nothing would change as a result of the vote. And, as if to prove him right, an article in the Israeli press revealed that the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee was expected on the following day to approve permits to build 618 new settlement units in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

It pointed out that, since President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, there has been a sharp increase in the number of plans being submitted and subsequently approved for Jewish housing for in East Jerusalem. So far this year plans for 1,506 housing units have been approved, compared to 775 units in 2014 and only 395 units last year.

Until recently, there had been a marked slowdown in the number of plans approved for East Jerusalem, with city planning officials repeatedly complaining that the Prime Minister’s Office was blocking plans seen as diplomatically sensitive.

No one can fault American Secretary of State John Kerry for effort. During what became known as the Kerry initiative he travelled endlessly and worked tirelessly with both the Israelis and the Palestinians for nine months to try to move the peace process forward.

It was supposed to end with a great speech in which Kerry would reveal his blueprint for peace, but the talks finally broke down in April 2014 when the Israeli government made yet another announcement of new settlement building.

On Wednesday John Kerry finally got to make that speech and was finally able to say what he had thought all along. It’s clear he puts the blame mainly on the Israelis.

“The Israeli Prime Minister publicly supports a two state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.

“The result is that policies of this government – which the Prime Minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history” – are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.

“If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won’t ever live in peace.

“The US and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, consistent with the transition called for by Oslo.

“Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes – effectively reversing the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority called for by the Oslo accords the vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution.

“Let’s be clear: settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security; many settlements actually increase the security burden on the IDF.

“If we had vetoed this resolution, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose That’s the bottom line: If we are serious about the two state solution, it is time to start implementing it now.

“We reject the criticism that this vote abandons Israel. On the contrary, it is not this Resolution that is isolating Israel. It is a policy of permanent settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.

“Virtually every country in the world other than Israel opposes settlements.”

In an official UK government response Theresa May said: “We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” she said.

“The government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN security council resolution 2334 last week.

“But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

However the US state department reacted with some bluntness to May’s statement. A spokesperson said: “We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks—which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements—were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

The statement also said: “We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry’s speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others.”

Aid suspension will undermine peaceful politicians and play into hands of Hamas

 

International Development Questions Wednesday November 16th 11.30 am

Mrs Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) T2. I welcome the work the Secretary of State is doing to ensure that UK aid to the Palestinian Authority does not directly fund payments to terrorist prisoners, but will she assure the House that she is doing everything possible to ensure that they do not indirectly fund such payments by freeing up resources that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day PA activities?

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Rory Stewart) We have made it clear that our focus will be very much targeted on health, education and co-existence projects. We ensure that any support going in is carefully vetted, with an independent auditor; is directed to what will provide value for money; and, above all, will benefit the Palestinian people.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP) T5. Further to an earlier question, will the Minister commit to fast-track the review of aid for the families of Palestinian prisoners, in the knowledge that any reduction in that aid will bankrupt the Palestinian Authority, undermine politicians who are working for a peaceful solution and play into the hands of those, like Hamas, who want to pursue a course of violence?

Rory Stewart The Department remains entirely committed to the following principles. First, anything we do must encourage a two-state solution by ensuring that the Palestinian people are served with proper services. Secondly, we must make sure that the money goes in the right way to the right people. That is all about auditing, vetting and making sure that the real beneficiaries are there. Of course we will ensure that the review is done as efficiently as possible to serve the interests of the Palestinian people and the stability of the region.

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