Author Archives: Kerry Hutchinson

Opinion: Gaza – can anyone recall the root causes?

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishIsrael’s current actions – indeed its actions since 1948 – are based on three core drum-beat principles; it has a right to exist; it has the most moral Armed Forces in the world; and it is surrounded by enemies intent on its destruction, But there is a fourth ‘truth’, never acknowledged by Mark Regev or other spokespersons, that Israel itself caused all of the current conflict decades ago by taking more land than the UN allotted to it in 1948 (1), and driving out …

Posted in Op-eds | 42 Comments

Opinion: The automaton body-politic

Not for nothing was England once known as ‘Perfidious Albion’ – it would change policy stances more often than a modern quick-change model on a catwalk. Ah yes, those days when foreign policy was as reliably firm as blancmange in a microwave set on high. But not nowadays, of course.

No, Foreign Secretaries and their FCO policy officials who devise and draft policy these post-Great Game days can be relied upon to issue policy that is robustly embedded in the nine points of policy-making as set down by the Cabinet Office and the Better Regulation Executive (BRE). To which all Government …

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Opinion: Giving voice to the afraid

Qassam rocket attacks are to be condemned. House demolitions and land theft are also to be condemned. But whilst we condemn, this does not mean that we should not strive to comprehend. One senior Party member – Jenny Tonge – showed comprehension and was sacked. Her offence was to say she understood the desperation that drove Palestinians to become suicide bombers. And her critics seized on this as evidence of sympathy when it was not. And comprehension – expressing understanding – should not be condemned as sympathising.

Yet we should all have sympathy for the Israeli inhabitants of Ashkelon and Sderot, whose towns are subjected to daily arrivals of Qassam rockets. We should sympathise too, for the beleaguered Palestinians living in equal fear in Old Hebron, their front doors welded shut by settlers who spray Stars of David on Palestinian houses, and who terrify Palestinians too fearful of walking the streets of Old Hebron.

But for too long we dared not show understanding or sympathy for this latter group, for fear of being labelled a supporter of terrorism, or of running the risk of being labelled ‘anti-Semitic’.

All three UK Parties have had a voice safeguarding and propagating the case for Israel, through their ‘Friends of Israel’ groups. Yet until 2007 there was no such voice advocating the case for the Palestinians in any of the 3 Parties. Folk seemed reluctant to be seen to be sympathising with ordinary Palestinian families for fear of being labelled ‘terrorist sympathisers’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ as was Jenny Tonge. So the afraid remained unrepresented and voiceless.

Posted in Op-eds | 19 Comments

Opinion: Two cheers for our foreign policy?

On a recent visit to Jerusalem I was given a history lesson by a Palestinian shopkeeper that was the more blistering for his quiet humility in delivering it. He did not blame the US or even the Israelis, he said, for the situation his people had been enduring for nearly 40 years.

No, it was all firmly down to you British (pointing at me). To its policy failures and double-dealing in selling out on the Arabs post World war 1 and again in 1948 in abandoning the mandate of Palestine to the UN and doing a runner. What could I say?

Are we doing it again? Last September saw the launch at Conference of a foreign policy document that was informative, not so much by what it said, but by what it didn’t say. Iraq featured highly, as did global corporate responsibility. But were there missing components?

How clear and instantly recitable by us, is, for example, the Party’s position on Lebanon, Iran, and that ‘burning coal’ as Paddy Ashdown recently put it, of the Israel/Palestine problem? Personally, I’d be struggling, if challenged, to come up with the key messages on the Middle East outside of Iraq. So what?

Well, the issues of freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom to dissent – bedrock principles of any liberal democracy – matter. Because these core pillars are not just issues relevant to Iraq. They count throughout the whole of the Middle East. And supporting these liberal democratic principles must surely be the guiding direction across the board – an ‘a la carte’ approach might be criticised as failing the peoples of Palestine, the Lebanon and the other Middle East nations, nearly all of whom are sovereign States, if we major solely on Iraq alone.

This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine is being launched at the 2007 Brighton Conference – to highlight the lack of the three basic core liberal democratic principles that many in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian electorate, do not yet have. To add to our Party’s foreign policy debate to help it address that ‘burning coal’ and help it back onto an agenda that oft overlooks the issue in the pursuit of easier political point-scoring ‘wins’.

At the same time and for similar reasons, revitalising the hitherto quiescent Lib Dem Middle East Council (MEC) may go a long way in stimulating policy debate within the Party, by beefing up the foreign policy debate and present a more inclusive and robust approach to all the regional components – not just Iraq.

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