Our promise to the Palestinians

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Britain appointed itself the ruling power in Palestine after the First World War mainly because it suited British geopolitical ambitions, but our government solemnly acknowledged a “sacred duty” to safeguard the rights of all the people of Palestine when British rule ended.  However, in 1948, Britain, bankrupted by World War II and dealing with the collapse of its empire, forgot its promise to the  Palestinians, and left them to their own devices.  The Jewish state of Israel was created in roughly the part of Mandate Palestine designated by the United Nations, and the rest was ceded to Egypt and Jordan.

This all changed after the 1967 war, in which the Israeli army overran large parts of neighbouring countries.  The areas they occupied when the fighting stopped were effectively the parts of Mandate Palestine which Israel had been unable to claim when it was created in 1948.  Continued military occupation is allowed in the immediate aftermath of a war, but occupied territory must be handed back, and permanent settlement by people from the conquering power is illegal.

Despite that, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and part of southern Syria immediately in June 1967, and have remained as an occupying military power in the West Bank and Gaza until the present day, some 53 year later.  During that time the Palestinians have struggled to have their rights recognised, mostly through peaceful protest and negotiations sponsored by third parties.  Some have resorted to violence, and there have been acts of terrorism, particularly in the early days of the PLO.  The Israeli response is usually disproportionate retaliation, based on the idea that ‘collective punishment’ means violent protest rebounds on the local community.  Collective punishment is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was ratified by virtually every country in the world, including Israel, but like the illegal settlements, it has been tolerated by the world community for decades, and rarely generates more than mild rebukes.

None of us was born when the unfolding disaster for the Palestinians began – with Balfour’s famous 1917 letter – and many of us weren’t around in 1948, but we are now at another pivotal moment in history, and it is one we can influence.

Formally annexing large parts of the West Bank would begin of the final chapter of the ‘Greater Israel’ project, and end hopes for a Palestinian State, but concerted international condemnation and a credible threat of sanctions will make it impossible for Netanyahu to go ahead.  Our government has expressed disapproval of the annexations, but in terms that imply ‘business as usual’ after the annexations.  We should remember the promise our forefathers made to the Palestinians, and tell MPs and peers that we, the British people, are not satisfied with meaningless hand-wringing.

Britain can, and must, threaten punitive sanctions.  If we take the lead, other countries will follow.

* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire

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  • Anybody know what happened to David ward in Bradford? Was he allowed back into the party? Hope so

  • UN Resolution 181 (II) needs to be remembered. Also the fact Arab countries threw out their Jewish populations.

  • David McDowall 29th May '20 - 8:40am

    I agree with Manfarang we should remember UN General Assembly (partition) Resolution 181 of 1947. It was a recommendation not a decree, the Security Council having shamefully ducked its responsibility. It is frequently argued that the Jewish leadership in Palestine accepted UNGA 181 partition. They said they did but clearly did not mean a word of it, otherwise they would have observed the proposed partition lines of UNGA 181 rather than seizing 78 per cent of Palestine, driving a large number of Palestinians from their towns and villages. It was done to a plan, Plan Dalet, based to some extent on the work of the Transfer Committee which Ben Gurion established in the 1930s to examine from which areas it would be essential to remove the native population. I also share Manfarang’s dismay at the shameful conduct of Arab governments, their intolerant instincts aided on occasions by Zionist agent provocateurs, though such provocateurs were probably unnecessary. It would be a wondrous thing for the great Jewish communities of Baghdad, Alexandria, Cairo etc to be restored. We are lucky to live in a multicultural societ, and we can see the profound misery and injustice caused where subject minorities, of which the Palestinians under occupation are one, are treated as inferior. There is a real lesson from all of this: ethnic and ethno-religious nationalism are utterly toxic, and we should have no truck with either but insist on the values enshrined in international humanitarian and human rights law.

  • John Marriott 30th May '20 - 7:49am

    Messrs Sykes and Picot have much to answer for, not forgetting, of course, Mr Balfour. If Trump gets re elected this November, we can expect even more trouble.

  • David
    Today in the Arab Middle East there is strong anti-Jewish feeling so there little likelihood of any Jews wanting to return to live there. I note there was also another expulsion, that of most Palestinians from Kuwait after the Iraqis were driven out (from what they can rightly believe to be part of their country).

  • Perhaps leaving the eu will allow us to push this issue harder than before; in any event it is a credible excuse for our inaction so far. If we were instrumental in creating the present situation, it behoves us to correct the injustice created. Whether the United Nations would follow our lead might well depend on the result of the American election later this year.

  • Andy Williams 1st Jun '20 - 12:23pm

    I’m learning a potted history of Israel/Palestine by listening to this BBC World service drama: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xtv38/episodes/player

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