A Voice for Palestine in Every Constituency

By Hugh Lanning.

If you are a Palestinian two things are very clear. There is no peace, there is no plan.

For Palestinians living in Israel, in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem or in the many refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, there is no peace. The UN’s fortnightly reports document deaths, injuries, displacements and settler attacks.

We have become immune to the statistics, but if you are a Palestinian the day-to-day reality is one of a constant risk and threat that you will become the next person to become a number in those statistics.

Second, it is patently obvious that the world has no plan and no commitment to bringing about a peace that is going to change the status quo.

Donald Trump’s alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu does not have peace as an objective — its intention is to legitimise and rebrand the militarily enforced subjugation of the Palestinians as normal and permanent. Trump is in the process of abetting the implementation of Israel’s wish list.

It matters little if Netanyahu survives the forthcoming Israeli elections or not — all the major parties are competing to see which can be crueller to Palestinians in what they say and do.

They all believe that the world is going to continue to let them behave as they wish — exempt from punishment, free from any consequences of their actions.

The latest UN Report on Gaza details the potential war crimes committed by Israel in shooting and maiming protesters taking part in the Great March of Return.

It makes no difference to Israel’s behaviour. Just last week, according to the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, one Palestinian boy was killed, during the Friday demonstrations at the perimeter fence in Gaza, and 449 Palestinians were injured.

This brings the number of children killed to 40 out of 260 fatalities and the injuries to 27,094 between March last year until January 31.

An ethical policy for Labour

In the context of Trump’s hostile foreign policy on Palestine, Labour’s policy needs to develop to give meaning and substance to Jeremy Corbyn’s long held commitment to “give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

The newly established Labour and Palestine — in its launch statement — calls for Palestine to be a priority issue for Labour’s ethical foreign policy, which Emily Thornberry has said would place “peace, universal rights and international law” at its heart.

This means going further than the step forward made in the last manifesto in 2017 — committing to the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine.

This was acknowledged by the delegates at last year’s party conference who voted for a freeze of British government arms sales to Israel.

A policy on Palestine governed by the ethics and values of support for human rights and international law will mean applying these principles to all British trade with Israel.

This should include applying international law fully to the goods produced by illegal settlements and any new post-Brexit trade agreements with Israel.

Palestine is the litmus test for any ethical policy. An ethical policy means ensuring that no British funds are supplied and no arms are bought or sold that are used to violate the human rights of Palestinians.

It will be Palestinians that will hold Labour’s policy to account. To have substance, rather than just rhetoric, there must be consequences for Israel’s actions that breach international law.

No-one expects Labour to be able, single-handedly, to resolve the many injustices that are daily committed against the Palestinian people, but it needs to demonstrate not just good intentions but meaningful and transparent action, and a positive change in policy attitude towards Palestine and Israel.

The starting point must be for Labour to recognise that there is a basic asymmetry in this conflict: Israel is an occupying power, failing to meet many of its obligations as the military occupier under international law, and Palestinians are an occupied people.

There is no point pretending there is a balance while Israel continues to subjugate Palestinians by force of arms.
Labour will not be able to address the issues of peace, universal rights and international law unless it recognises this core fact, this asymmetry.

Its moral compass will not work otherwise. The requirement to uphold the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis, needs recognition of the fact that there exists an organised and systematic discrimination against Palestinians within both Israel and occupied Palestine.

In practice an ethical policy means that Labour needs to be an active supporter of equal rights and of the people and organisations that seek to defend them.

The violations include the unlawful detention and abuse of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, the demolition of entire villages, the “lawful” discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including the recently passed “nation-state law” which creates two levels of citizenship.

An ethical Labour needs to be on the front line in challenging these grave human rights abuses by the Israeli state.

Labour should also be a proud defender of the human rights defenders, such as Temporary International Presence in Hebron, the international observers recently excluded from Hebron.

If Israel wants to be treated as a democracy, it needs to behave like one.

  • This article originally appeared in the Morning Star here.