Martin Horwood MP writes… Why Nick Clegg’s response to Jenny Tonge was right

The controversy surrounding Jenny Tonge’s resignation from our party in the House of Lords has attracted a lot of comment online. I’m co-chair of the parliamentary party’s international affairs committee (although writing here in a personal capacity) and I think the stance which Nick took as leader was right.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine – for whom I have a great deal of time – have suggested that Jenny’s ‘intention was to imply that Israel’s wilful failure to uphold and respect the human rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians is behaviour which is likely to lead to its self-destruction’. Interpreted this way, say LDFP, her words were ‘entirely reasonable’. Well I’m not sure I agree with that but those are typically careful words from LDFP. But they’re not what Jenny said.

Jenny’s whole comment was:

Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. … Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.

To me that clearly seems to anticipate not ‘self-destruction’ but some kind of violent end to the state of Israel following the withdrawal of American military support. That is not something I have even heard responsible Palestinian politicians talking about and it is not something a responsible democratic politician should be talking up in this way, even at the end of a long and bad-tempered meeting. These kinds of comments can only help to inflame and encourage hardline opinion and that is deeply, deeply unhelpful.

But Nick’s response should not be interpreted as some kind of pro-Israeli stance either by him or the party or even the government. The government has maintained its financial support for the Palestinian Authority, condemned illegal settlement activity, maintained its diplomatic mission in East Jerusalem (to Israel’s extreme irritation) and its pressure on Israel as well as the PA to participate in peace talks without obstructive preconditions.

In November William Hague said:

I repeat today our call for negotiations on a two-state solution, without delay and without preconditions… In our view, the parameters for a Palestinian state are those affirmed by the European Union as a whole – borders based on 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps; a just, fair and realistic solution for refugees; and agreement on Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.

He went to ask Israel,

…to make a more decisive offer than any it has been prepared to make in the recent past. That is an indispensable ingredient of any successful negotiation.

In that same debate, and speaking on behalf of the party, I condemned Israel’s military court system in the west bank and regretted that government had not committed to a positive vote in favour of Palestinian membership of the UN and said that Israel had to realise that ‘by responding so aggressively to the peaceful and diplomatic approach to the United Nations made by the Fatah administration—by responding with extended settlements and threats to the economic and financial viability of the Palestinian Authority—Israel is surely playing into the hands of the.. extremists, bomb-makers and rocket-makers’.

On other occasions I have raised the issue of illegal settlements, the plight of the Bedouin in Israel and Palestine and other human rights issues. Many colleagues including Sir Bob Russell and Simon Hughes have spoken out about human rights in Israel and Palestine. Kishwer Falkner – my opposite number in the House of Lords – has done so there.

But we also need to cultivate peace-minded Israeli and Jewish opinion and not cause quite unnecessary offence. It is quite possible to condemn injustice without doing that. As Kishwer put it very well last year:

I am absolutely no apologist for anyone who seeks the destruction of Israel. It is for Israel’s survival that I urge that it sits down and talks to its opponents.

Of course, none of these comments are reported as widely as inflammatory remarks by Jenny – but that is precisely why they were so harmful and Nick was right to respond as he did.

* Martin Horwood is Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South West of England & Gibraltar. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation. He is Borough & parish councillor for Leckhampton, Gloucestershire.

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  • Tony Greaves 14th Mar '12 - 12:39pm

    Martin is a party member I have respected for many years, long before he became an MP. I am sorry therefore that he is resurrecting this matter here and now and doing so in a way that some of us find provocative. On the other hand anything anyone says about Israel/Palestine is thought to be provocative by someone.

    (And I am prepared to support what Jenny said because it seems to me to be relevant and quite likely to happen. The point is that continued support for Israel in the long term is what is put at risk by Israel’s appalling behaviour).

    The issue

  • Simon McGrath 14th Mar '12 - 10:02pm

    here’s an idea. She says that she is not anti semitic ( and i dont think she is). why doesn’t she help to prove it by condemning with equal vigour to that she uses to condemn Israel ,the 160 missiles fired at Israel this weekend?

  • Julian Tisi 15th Mar '12 - 8:30am

    I completely agree with you Martin.

    Israel rightly deserves a lot of criticism, but the road to peace is a diplomatic one and Jenny Tonge has not helped herself, our party or indeed the cause of peace by her ill-judged comments, both the other week and indeed so often before. I thought Nick dealt with it very well – by the sound of things she was given the chance to apologise which she chose not to take. In the circumstances I think that was more than fair.

  • Michael Seymour 15th Mar '12 - 10:27am

    As I have said before, read some history, Ilan Pappe’s ‘Ethnic cleansing of Palestine’ and Avi Shlaim’s ‘Israel and Palestine’ for a start. Both well regarded Israeli historians. And see if you can download this map
    /Users/michaelseymour/Desktop/Maps of Palestine046 copy.jpg

  • The current Israeli Government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu leads a government whose polices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are less than democratic. To reject the United Nations from visiting the West Bank to probe illegal settlements is illogical since Mr Netanyahu claims to support a Palestinian State (but not based on the US President’s 1967 lines).

    Nonetheless, I believe that there is a desire by most people in the world to see a full and comprehensive peace in the Middle East but this vision has been hampered by Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu, who relentlessly is building settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    To put the conflict into context with respect to international law and the feelings of the world, may I convey the following.

    Last November, there were a further 6 UN Resolutions on Palestine and the Middle East. One resolution on Jerusalem was supported by 166 nations plus the UK. Israel disagreed. In fact, there are over 150 UN Resolutions (including 181, 191 and 194) – all remain unimplemented in full.

    Furthermore the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague pertaining to the ‘security barrier’, which is 3 times the length of the Berlin Wall, has been sadly ignored by Mr Netanyahu. Perhaps if the ‘security barrier’ had to be built at all, it would have been better to have constructed it on the 1967 borders – instead of inside the internationally recognised Palestinian Territories (including East Jerusalem).

    Nonetheless once this ‘separation barrier’ and the settlement enterprise is completed, Palestinian communities will be separated into pockets of territory that lack contiguity, surrounded by settlements only accessible by settler only roads. ‘Natural growth’ settlements too were not acceptable as part of Phase I of the internationally agreed Road Map (2003). Day by day, the ‘security barrier’ and settlements erode the possibility of a two-state solution and the viability to bring about a fully comprehensive peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

    There are 130 nations in the world that recognise Palestine including India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil. More recently Iceland and Thailand have added to that recognition. Lastly UNESCO’s recognition last year of Palestine (supported by France, Spain, Ireland and Norway amongst many European nations) was still a positive step forward and a counter balance to those who deny Israel or Palestine’s right to exist.

    Dignity and peace is paramount for both peoples and recognition of both states ensures that those in the rejection camps are marginalized even further.

  • I agree with Linda Jack 100 per cent. It’s time to stop saying we are against Israel’s brutal and racist occupation and start doing somthing about it. The Israeli lobby say santions don’t work – but the same lobby are asking everybody to impose santions on Iran – somthing Clegg has only been so willingly to do. Ask for Jenny Tongue we have two choices. We either bring her back into the party or we let the Jewish lobby think (and with jursdiaction) that anybody who specks out against Israel will be thrown out the party. A dangerous precedent.

  • Andi Ali
    An extraordinarily late contribution to this debate!! I don’t think Jenny Tonge is “out of the party” at all.

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