Gaza: Clegg demands UK suspends arms export licences to Israel, Ashdown writes to Warsi to discuss next steps

With the truce in Gaza in its second day, and indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives taking place today, Nick Clegg has stepped up the pressure for the UK government to work more actively to secure peace in the area. The BBC reports:

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel, adding to the pressure David Cameron is facing over Gaza. … Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Israeli military operation in Gaza had “overstepped the mark” and called for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel. He said he had been working with his Lib Dem colleague and business secretary Vince Cable to get the suspension finalised, saying an announcement would be made “very shortly”. Speaking about the potential suspension of licences, Mr Cable said senior Lib Dems had been “making this case inside government”, but said they had “not yet been able to get agreement” with Tory coalition partners. “I hope and expect that to change shortly,” he said.

Meanwhile Lord (Paddy) Ashdown has written to Baroness Warsi, the Conservative foreign office minister who resigned yesterday in protest at “our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza”:

Dear Sayeeda,

I am writing to you following your resignation this morning from the Government.

It must have been an incredibly difficult decision to step down as Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Your work on human rights, particularly on freedom of religion and belief, is admired by many – including me. I especially recall your efforts to commemorate the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

Like you, I believe the UK must stand firm on upholding international law. The UK’s international reputation suffers if we do not. I therefore understand the frustrations you voiced in your resignation letter.

You may feel as I do that this is an issue which transcends party politics. And that it is therefore important that those of us who recognise the part that international law and multilateral institutions should play in working towards a lasting peace in the Middle East should work together across party divides.

Of course Hamas’ actions in indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel are plainly illegal. But Israel’s response in Gaza, is clearly disproportionate and has resulted in the collective suffering of innocent men, women and children. As you know, Nick Clegg and I have not shied away from saying this publicly.

We believe Israel should lift the crippling blockade of Gaza and talk directly to Hamas, and we have pushed for the EU to play a greater role in the peace process.

Because of your expertise from the FCO working with international institutions I wonder if it might be worthwhile discussing the next steps needed to secure peace and a just outcome for all innocent victims of the latest crisis?

Yours

Paddy Ashdown

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12 Comments

  • David Evans 6th Aug '14 - 5:40pm

    Sadly this just looks like Nick trying to find another bandwagon to jump onto in order to hide the catastrophic failure of his leadership over the last four years. “Too little, too late” comes to mind much quicker than “Here’s a principled stand being made.”

  • Too little, too late.
    Israel’s game plan is always to commit as many atrocities as it can until the West starts to condemn them. By waiting until it’s over such a threat is completely ineffective.

  • David Evans 6th Aug '14 - 6:17pm

    Thanks Sid. It’s good of you to remind us all how some people would rather not listen to fellow lib Dems, than address the real problem in the party.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Aug '14 - 6:18pm

    It winds me up when people come onto complain about derailing and don’t talk about the article. There is as much derailing in pious messages about derailing as there is in the original comment. I didn’t think David Evans’s comment was too bad.

    When it comes to the article: I trust Paddy and Nick, but I’m nervous about jumping on anti-Israel bandwagons too. Nick and Paddy wanted to launch cruise missiles into Syria and we did do in Libya, so they should be weary of hypocrisy.

    In the wider context, I think Israel need to risk more of their own soldiers lives, but this outrage seems to be a fairly new phenomenon and is definitely linked to people’s opinions on the creation of Israel, because suddenly it seems children in Gaza are worth more than those in Libya, Syria, Iraq, the list goes on. Also, if we are against innocent deaths, then we pretty much have to get rid of nuclear weapons.

    Best wishes to all.

  • Richard Dean 6th Aug '14 - 6:25pm

    It does seem late, but things can flare up again. According to the BBC:

    Israel has withdrawn its ground troops from Gaza as part of a three-day ceasefire, brokered by Egypt. It says the main aim of its offensive – to destroy militants’ tunnels – has been achieved. Gaza officials say the four-week conflict has killed 1,800 Palestinians. Some 67 Israelis have also been killed.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28658836

    Finding and destroying tunnels is, in my view, not credible as a reason for Israel’s actions. There are plenty of civilian geophysical techniques by which tunnels and voids can be detected from above ground, even if they are hundreds of feet below ground And once detected, simple borehole technology, on the Israeli side of the border and with no civilian casualities, would have been capable of reaching and blocking them.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploration_geophysics

  • I just wonder sometimes, if one of the highly (over)paid SpAds and advisers, doesn’t think to tap Nick on the shoulder and say,…. errr,… “yes we should suspend sales of arms to Israel, but does it not leave us with a somewhat hypocritical ‘shadow’ over the fact that BAE systems sell £55 billion of arms and defence equipment to a country that beats and imprisons homosexuals, treats women as second class citizens, has zero democracy, and has its own private ‘Gaza’, in the form of Bahrain?”
    But I suppose principles are one thing, but a risk to GDP, is quite another?

  • A Social Liberal 6th Aug '14 - 11:01pm

    Can someone explain exactly what armaments we sell to Israel?

  • Lets send aid to Gaza by sea – that way we don’t have to rely on israel and Egypt to open her boarders – thats the way to rebuild gaza.

  • The review of arms sales to Israel is very welcome. We shouldn’t be stoking wars by supplying weapons especially where they are being used to such evil effect.

    In today’s report in the Independent about the debate within Government about this, the paper quotes a No 10 source as saying “A cross-Government review of export licences to Israel is under way following the sustained barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel which prompted Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge.” Even the Independent reprints things like this last clause uncritically. (We have got used to the BBC doing so.) It is extraordinary that still No 10 talks in this way and is so out of touch.

    There is plenty of evidence that Hamas was reacting to the deaths of over 60 civilians in the West Bank at the hands of IDF in the last year, the collective punishment (including killings and arrests of hundreds of West Bank Palestinians) following the kidnapping of the three Israeli youths, the burning to death of the Arab teenager in Jerusalem, the arrest and savage beating of his American cousin, the recent drone attacks in Gaza targetting Hamas leaders with civilian collateral casualties. All this gets overlooked with the efficient onslaught of Israeli propaganda that seems to have influential advocates in the heart of No 10. Please Nick Clegg deal with that as well.

    I hope the ICC will take up the Palestinian request for a war crimes investigation. The UK needs to make sure it is not complicit in war crimes by supplying weapons when there is clearly a prima facie case – on both sides of the conflict.

    John Kelly is Vice Chair of LDFP

  • Miranda Pinch 7th Aug '14 - 10:56am

    I totally agree with both Andi and John above, but I doubt that what we sell to Israel amounts to a fraction of what they receive elsewhere. However, to have an arms embargo is to make a strong point in the same way that individual BDS actions make little difference, but added together have a real psychological effect even where they have a limited economic effect. I think it is important to take these steps and others, because added together they might actually have a real effect. We know condemnation in words alone are useless. I too hope the ICC will take up Hamas’s request, but in the meantime this is something that we can do. What is more if the government wants to play the game of being even -handed then it can claim that it won’t sell arms to Hamas either!!!

  • A Social Liberal 7th Aug '14 - 1:16pm

    Well, the BBC answered my question even if no-one on LDV wished to. The answer of course is none.

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