Israel/Palestine in 2021

As 2021 approaches and as Trump prepares for an undignified exit from the White House, can we hope for some positive moves towards a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict?  Joe Biden may in due course try to get the peace process going, but nothing much will happen for a few months until yet another Israeli election has taken place in March.

There are also plans for long overdue elections in Palestine which may lead to a power shift to a younger and more credible generation of political leaders.  Even if Netanyahu loses (and all liberal democrats will surely pray for that) the truth is that none of the major political parties in Israel really show much intent to end the occupation and pull back to 1967 boundaries.  Netanyahu has convinced the Israeli electorate over many years that Israel can do whatever it likes without any danger of interference or consequence in its relations with other countries.

This lack of “consequence” is well illustrated in the answers by UK minister Ahmad to three recent questions in the House of Lords which are copied below.  He says all the right things – making clear that even this Tory government totally disapproves of: 1) unnecessary levels of violence, and denial of proper healthcare to victims, by the Israeli Defence force, 2) of the recent attacks on Gethsemane church by settlers in East Jerusalem, and 3) the constant destruction of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces.

And yet, the UK Government does nothing more than wring its hands.  It still allows trade in arms with Israel which can be used to enforce that occupation.  It still allows young Britons to serve in the Israeli Defence Force which brutally enforces the occupation.  It allows Israeli settlers visa free access to the UK without allowing the same privilege to Palestinians in neighbouring villages. And, it still allows trade with the illegal settlements which are on land which is stolen – according to  international laws to which Israel signed up.

Question: Baroness Tonge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Israel about reports that Palestinians who have been shot by the Israel Defence Force are being denied medical care.

Answer: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

29 December 2020
The long-lasting movement restrictions and the serious constraints imposed by the occupation can impact the provision of medical care. Under International Humanitarian Law, Israel, as the Occupying Power, has the duty of ensuring and maintaining public health in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) to the fullest extent of the means available and with the cooperation of the local authorities. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv regularly raises the matter of access to healthcare with the Israeli authorities. We have also publicly and privately expressed our longstanding concerns about the use of live ammunition and excessive force by the Israel Defence Forces.

 

Question: Baroness Tonge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that an Israeli settler attacked Gethsemane Church in East Jerusalem; and what steps they are taking to protect Christian churches from any damage caused by Israeli settlers.

Answer: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

29 December 2020
UK Consul General Jerusalem visited the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane on 7 December, following the attack on the church. The UK stands in solidarity with Christian communities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and condemns all attacks on freedom of religious belief. Holy sites in Jerusalem hold particular significance for many groups around the globe, especially the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. We condemn all forms of violence, including against places of worship, and raise this with the authorities when necessary. We also condemn any incidence of violence by Israeli settlers.

 

Question: Baroness Tonge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that the government of Israel has charged Palestinians for the demolition of their homes by the Israel Defence Force.

Answer: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

29 December 2020
We are seriously concerned by increasing rates of demolition of Palestinian property by the Israeli authorities. In all but the most exceptional of circumstances demolitions are contrary to International Humanitarian Law. The practice causes unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and is harmful to the peace process. The UK is focused on preventing demolitions from happening in the first place through our legal aid programme, which supports Bedouin communities and Palestinians facing demolition or home eviction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We continue to urge the Government of Israel to develop improved mechanisms for zoning, planning and permitting in Area C for the benefit of the Palestinian population, including by facilitating local Palestinian participation in such processes.

 

* John Kelly is a member in Warwick District, Secretary of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine, and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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12 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 31st Dec '20 - 8:49pm

    When I was a member of another political party, I was told I had no right, having an opinion on Children’s Law. I was openly ridiculed for my belief in Judaism.
    I believe in the history of Torah and Israel. The issue’s are complex, but my love of Human Rights and Justice are deeply embedded in my beliefs.
    I can only hope, that other’s treat me fairly, as my Christian family continue to do.
    I hope that 2021 will bring Human Rights and Justice where there is darkness and despair, I ask for this within our borders, the world is very confused at present.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Jan '21 - 10:00am

    I am uneasy about the fact that this article quotes – with apparent approval – a series of questions asked by Jenny Tonge, but makes no mention of the fact that Jenny Tonge was suspended from the party.

  • David McDowall 1st Jan '21 - 11:10am

    By house demolition on various pretexts, since 1967 Israel has rendered homeless a population roughly equivalent to the population of Oxford. We should be shocked. While Israelis enjoy full legal rights, Palestinians remain subject to arbitrary house demolition, arrest and detention without trial, the hallmarks of a police state, to which there is unlikely to be an end while the West tolerates the dark fruits of Israel’s colonialism. As a party we should make it absolutely clear that until the West insists on full respect for the requirements of international law and principles and the moral imperative of equal rights for both Jews and Palestinian Arabs, both communities will continue to suffer the multiple physical and psychological consequences of injustice perpetrated by one group on another.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Jan '21 - 12:44pm

    It is obvious that Israel will only change its attitude to the Palestinian people when it sees that it’s in its own interests to do so. Any sovereign country is subject to pressures and it is up to the global community to do what it takes to allow it to make these changes.

  • Stephen Booth 1st Jan '21 - 1:15pm

    Anyone read todays excellent article by Desmond Tutu in The Guardian on US support for arming Israel (340bn and counting) plus unacknowledged acceptance of Israel’s nuclear power status and the threat this poses to Middle East peace.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland’s statement about Jenny Tonge is inaccurate and an unnecessary slur on someone who has in the past given enormous service to the Party including as an MP and Peer.
    As she has raised the matter and lest it distract from the important questions that Baroness Tonge asked – the most recent questions on this topic in Parliament – let me set the record straight.

    On 25 October 2016 Baroness Tonge hosted a meeting at the House of Lords to launch the Palestinian Return Centre’s Balfour Apology Campaign. One member of the audience – a Rabbi in fact – made some confused comments about the holocaust which were interpreted by some present as amounting to holocaust denial. Jenny Tonge did her best to interrupt him and move the discussion on to other matters. Other members of the audience made comments that were strongly critical of Israel. Newspaper reports gave a rather misleading account of the meeting and suggested that the whole tone and purpose of the meeting was anti-Semitic. On the morning after the meeting a member of the Whips Office advised Jenny that the Party was suspending her pending investigation of what happened at the meeting – anti-Semitism was not mentioned. The Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards also announced an investigation the same day, as she had herself received complaints from a number of peers.

    Jenny decided she would rather be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner as she thought that would be more thorough and ultimately more important and she resigned from the Party to save it any embarrassment in the meantime. She did not receive written confirmation of suspension from the Party or hear anything more on the matter.

    Over the ensuing months the Commissioner did investigate the complaints very thoroughly and examined each of the alleged anti-Semitic statements. Not only did she reject the charges of anti-Semitism in the various statements made at the meeting (including the remarks by the Rabbi), but she exonerated Baroness Tonge in every respect – except for allowing the meeting to be filmed. Although the Commissioner did acknowledge that without the film it would have been difficult for her to investigate exactly what was said and what happened at the meeting. Her full report can be read at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldprivi/142/14205.htm Her summary conclusions were as follows:
    57.It is clear from the transcript that the event as billed—to launch the Palestinian Return Centre’s Balfour Apology Campaign—was what took place, and that the event was not intended to promote antisemitism. I find that there was no takeover of the event by people promoting antisemitism, and that therefore Baroness Tonge was not obliged to deal with any such takeover.
    58.For the above reasons I find that Baroness Tonge did not breach paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct in her hosting and chairing of the meeting on the parliamentary estate on 25 October 2016.

  • Steve Trevethan 1st Jan '21 - 2:35pm

    Thank you for an interesting and important article!

    Among other things, it draws our attention to significant inconsistencies in U. K. foreign policy.
    We talk about promoting democracy but went along with the bombing of a democratic Yugoslavia.
    We express great concern about migrants/refugees but helped to smash Libya, which absorbed many refugees as well as creating some of the best conditions in Africa for its citizens.
    We express concerns for civil rights but are inconsistent in the nations we help to attack or weaponize allegedly to support the human rights of their peoples.

    Alas, might our inconsistencies indicate that our Foreign Policies are fronts of humanitarianism, peace and defence to cover the furthering of the war-based component of the “Western” economy?

    Where is a coherent foreign policy or theory or policy which is clear and consistent and applied clearly and consistently?

    Might our party produce and publicise a foreign policy which could be applied honestly, humanely, clearly and consistently?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Jan '21 - 6:36pm

    John King, the accusations against Jenny King were based on far more than just that one meeting. There were a whole series of offensive remarks, over a number of years. She resigned the Lib Dem Whip in the house of Lords some time before her suspension from the party – Nick Clegg had given her the choice of apologising for some offensive remarks, or resigning.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Jan '21 - 6:37pm

    Sorry, I mean *Jenny Tonge* in my last comment, obviously!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland makes an interesting point. The government is rightly being held to account over its failure to adequately condemn human rights abuses in Palestine, but we can’t claim the credit for the questioner being a Liberal Democrat peer, because Baroness Tonge and the Lib Dems have parted company. A rather more important point than the one Catherine was trying to make is that John Kelly’s excellent article reminds us that the government always answers with weasel words which appear to give Israel a mild ticking off, while allowing business as usual to continue unabated.

  • Miranda Pinch 2nd Jan '21 - 8:26am

    I think Catherine keeps missing the point. It does not matter who asks any Parliamentary question. The reason that John Kelly quoted the questions was not for the question, but for the answer. It worries me greatly that the UK government positon on Israel/Palestine can be being side-lined and ignored by criticising the questioner. How can we have a serious debate in such circumstances. Please see: https://balfourproject.org/british-governments-current-position/ where you can find a comprehensive list of questions and answers. It is true that many questions are asked by Baroness Tonge, but, as said, what is important are the answers.

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