The Palestinian Olympic Team Competing In London
The Foreign Office revealed last night that it would be challenging the Israelis over their treatment of Palestinian children after a report by a delegation of senior British lawyers revealed unconscionable practices, such as hooding and the use of leg irons.
In the first investigation of its kind, a team of nine senior legal figures examined how Palestinians as young as 12 were treated when arrested. Their shocking report Children in Military Custody details claims that youngsters are dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, have their wrists bound behind their backs, and are blindfolded and made to kneel or lie face down in military vehicles.
Children from the West Bank are held in conditions that could amount to torture, such as solitary confinement, with little or no access to their parents. They can be forced to stay awake before being verbally as well as physically abused and coerced into signing confessions they cannot read.
The team – led by Sir Stephen Sedley, a former Court of Appeal judge – heard that “every Palestinian child is treated like a potential terrorist”. In a damning conclusion, the report points out repeated breaches of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
“We were sitting in court and saw a section of a preliminary hearing when a very young looking child, a boy, was brought in wearing a brown uniform with leg irons on. We were shocked by that. This was a situation where we had been invited into the military courts for briefings from senior judges,” explained one of the report’s authors, human rights barrister Greg Davies. “To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture,” the report said. Last night the Foreign Office, which backed the report, said it would be taking up the claims with the Israeli authorities:
“The UK government has had long-standing concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, and as a result decided to fund this independent report. While recognising that some positive recent steps have been made by the Israeli authorities, we share many of the report’s concerns, and will continue to lobby for further improvements.”
While the legal team said it was in no position to prove the truth of the claims of cruelty made repeatedly by Palestinian children, but denied by the Israeli authorities – which offered unprecedented access to the delegation – it pointed to the disparity in the law.
Israeli children must have access to a lawyer within 48 hours and cannot be imprisoned under the age of 14. But Palestinian children as young as 12 are jailed and can be kept for three months without legal representation. Between 500 and 700 are jailed each year.
“The other shocking thing is they are incarcerated in breach of many conventions. The practical effect is parents can’t get there because they can’t get permits,” said Marianna Hildyard QC.
While the investigating team welcomed improvements introduced by the Israeli authorities, both Palestinian and Israeli lawyers on the ground insisted much of it was “rhetoric ra ther than real change”.
Last night, Israeli Embassy spokesperson Amir Ofek said the country appreciated the efforts of the delegation but blamed Palestinians who “glorify terrorism”. He said: “As a result [children] are frequently involved in lethal acts. With the Palestinian Authority unable or unwilling to meet its obligation to investigate and prosecute these offences, Israel has no choice but to do so itself.
“Israel notes the detailed recommendations in the report and will study them closely as part of its ongoing efforts to find the most appropriate balance between preventing violence and treating perpetrators with humanity.”
The report details claims children are dragged from their beds, bound and blindfolded
Dozens of international activists detained and arrested at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for the crime of declaring their intention of visiting Palestine, Palestinian prisoners announcing the start of a mass hunger strike protesting Israel’s policy of administrative detention and occupation, and it’s business as usual when it comes to the world’s only apartheid state.
Who now apart from the ignorant or wicked can continue to deny the fact that for the State of Israel crimes against humanity are the norm rather than a departure from the norm? More, they are the very foundation upon which its government, institutions, armed forces, social relations, and entire history rests.
The fly-in organised by the international Palestine solidarity movement has succeeded for the second year in a row in laying bare the lie of Israeli democracy. However this year hundreds of those booked on flights to take part in the fly-in were prevented from doing so by airlines in their country of origin in response to a request by the Israeli authorities. This alone reveals the vulnerability of Israel to its apartheid heart being exposed. It also speaks to the shameful complicity of international companies and corporations in apartheid, illegal military occupation, and ethnic cleansing.
It is worth recalling that today four million Palestinians are incarcerated in the giant open prison otherwise known as the Palestinian Territories. Under the rubric of security, which occupying powers have always upheld as justification for barbarism, Israel operates an apparatus of military occupation, economic strangulation, settlement building, ethnic cleansing, harassment, arrest and imprisonment without trial, plus regular bouts of state-sanctioned murder. Taken together it makes the dystopia described in Orwell’s 1984 almost seem like Tenerife by comparison. Compounding the aforementioned crimes further is a massive propaganda operation designed to deny the Palestinians, forced to eke a semblance of a human existence out of this state of affairs, the right to be classified as victim.
Instead, utilising the inverted logic of an upside down world, they are deemed responsible for, to paraphrase former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, forcing Israel “kill their children”.
A particular insult to the very concept of human decency are the settlers, among them the most committed of Zionist thugs and terrorists, who act as the vanguard of the right wing Israel establishment’s objective of a Greater Israel. Imagine if the KKK in the southern states of the US enjoyed the tacit support of its government and you begin to understand the role eagerly played by these religiously and politically committed racist settlers in Palestine.
When it comes to the prisoners, according to the Palestine Monitor over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. This forms approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Of the just under 5000 Palestinians currently being held in detention by Israel, around 300 exist in what is categorised as ‘administrative detention’, an Orwellian term designed to sanitise indefinite imprisonment without trial, charges being brough, access to legal counsel or any of the rights afforded prisoners in a civilised society. At present 11 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike in protest at administrative detention, with two of those now having refused food for 46 days.
The case of one hunger striker, Hana Shalabi, recently became an international cause celebre to the extent that her plight became an embarrassment to the Israeli authorities. Originally from Jenin in the West Bank, Shalabi initially spent 25 months in administrative detention before being released as part of the prisoner swap with Israel last year for Gilad Shalit, who up to this point was the only Israeli being held prisoner by the Palestinians. Shalabi was re-arrested in February of this year and spent 43 days in hunger strike in protest before the Israelis agreed to release her, deporting her to Gaza. The commencement of a mass hunger strike of an additional 1600 prisoners will focus even more international attention on the injustice being suffered by the Palestinians both in and out of prison – though again who could argue that the West Bank and Gaza are not themselves glorified open prisons?
Previously, the injustice, cruelties, and depredations suffered by the Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories would have remained more or less concealed from the world. Such was the ability of western governments and Israel’s supporters to provide effective political and moral support to the apartheid state. Not anymore.
Since Operation Cast Lead, described by Amnesty International as “22 days of death and destruction”, was unleashed on the Gaza Strip in 2008/ 09, a veritable army of activists from around the world has emerged. In the three years since it has organised and delivered numerous aid convoys to Gaza by land and sea – in the process being assaulted and murdered by Israeli commandoes – organised peace walks which have likewise broken the siege, and conducted fly-ins to Israel demanding open access to the West Bank. Most important of all has been the building of an international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) with the aim of isolating Israel economically, politically, and culturally. It has grown exponentially since its inception in 2005, when the call for a boycott by Palestinian civil society was first made, and has succeeded in bringing the issue to public consciousness and awareness across the world.
The tangible result has been to increasingly turn support and cover for Israel from a political net gain to a political albatross for politicians and public figures in the West, cutting through the pro-Israel nexus of professional lobbyists and supporters, who despite their access to political power are now finding their influence on the wane.
It is only right that it is so. Israel is an apartheid state.
This is a guest post from Norma Turner. Thanks to Richard Searle for the video.
30 people had committed themselves to flying to Tel Aviv from Manchester Airport as part of “Welcome to Palestine”. These people were all ages, from 20s to 70s. They represented a wide range of professions, including teaching, nursing and other skills useful to the project of building a much needed school in Bethlehem. They all intended to travel peacefully and were at no time going to disrupt the flights or the airports.
The Jet2.com flight was due to leave at 10.00 am on Sunday 15th April 2012. They would be joining at least 1,500 activists, mostly from Europe, who had been planning to travel directly from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv to Bethlehem in the West Bank for a week-long programme of educational and cultural activities under the banner of “Welcome to Palestine”. Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank.
Everyone had booked and paid for their flights with Jet2.com and most had checked in online. Midday on Friday 13th April through to Sunday morning people started to receive emails from Jet2 saying that they would not be allowed on the flights, because Israel would not receive them. Jet2 also said they would not refund the tickets.
Israel had distributed a list of about 1,200 names of personae non grata to airlines, demanding they be barred from flights. “Failure to keep this instruction could lead to imposing sanctions against the airline,” said a letter from the immigration authority. Carriers were told they would bear the cost of repatriating deported activists.
Hundreds of ticket-holders across Europe were told hours before their flight that they would not be permitted to board planes.
At the time of check-in at Manchester Airport there were 10 people remaining who had not received emails telling them they could not fly. The decision was made that those 10 would go through to the departure lounge individually without joining in any demonstration.
Meanwhile 60 people gathered to demonstrate in the Jet2.com check in area. Together with the participants in “Welcome to Palestine” who had been denied their flights, there were between 3 and 6 police who were handling the security. Once the demonstration was confident that the 10 had got through to the departure lounge, the remaining people who had booked flights approached the check-in desk, demanding they would be allowed to fly. They were followed by a demonstration who unfurled banners, slogans and Palestinian flags.
At the check-in desk the Jet2.com manager told the first person to try to check in, Mick Napier from Edinburgh, that he could not fly. She took his boarding pass and tore it up into little pieces in front of his eyes. The same treatment followed for everyone else. Jet2.com managers through this action began to lose control of themselves in the face of pressure of the demonstration and a senior police officer was brought in to negotiate. This resulted in Jet2.com backing down and agreeing to refund. We demanded that this was put in writing and the managers went away to organise printing the refund letters.
The cowardly shamefaced managers of Jet2.com would not even show their faces and the police had to deliver the letters to protestors outside.
Jet2.com was doing Israel’s work for it. They were extending Israel’s apartheid system to Manchester. The slogan shouted was “Jet2 – shame on you; doing what Israel told you to”. In the face of a large peaceful protest they had to back down – which was a minor victory. But a more major victory was getting 10 people onto the plane in order to demand the right to visit Palestine.
Many visitors, from around the world, did however get through to Tel Aviv – but were arrested or put on return planes. Those from the North of England will be supported when they arrive back at Manchester Airport.
MPs will be raising the behaviour of Jet2.com in Parliament this week. Encourage your MP to join them.
“It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.”
― Albert Einstein
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once—there has to be a limit”
― Edward W. Said
You want irony? How about Jews becoming colonizers at just the moment when other Europeans had given up on the idea?”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22
“In a public dialogue with Salman in London he [Edward Said] had once described the Palestinian plight as one where his people, expelled and dispossessed by Jewish victors, were in the unique historical position of being ‘the victims of the victims': there was something quasi-Christian, I thought, in the apparent humility of that statement.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22
“The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.”
― Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
The world sees a great and ongoing injustice. They want a just Israel. They see an Israel that occupies and is clearly unjust, and they believe they should do something. We should thank them for this from the bottom of our hearts.
– Gideon Levy, 2006
“The public almost automatically associates Jews and Israel. The press continues to refer to “the Jewish State.” Israeli politicians often speak “in the name of the Jewish people.” Yet the Zionist movement and the creation of the State of Israel have caused one of the greatest schisms in Jewish history.
– Yakov M. Rabkin, 2006
“Yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the Occupied Territories… More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital; less than a crime earns a trip to jail… If apartheid ended, so can the occupation. But the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his work against apartheid in South Africa
“The so-called ‘Palestinian autonomous areas’ are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system.”
– Nelson Mandela
“I imagine that if I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would, at some stage, have joined one of the terror organizations.”
– Ehud Barak, Israeli general, and Prime Minister 1999 – 2001
“What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived.”
– Moshe Dayan, Israeli general, 1956
“For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested “negotiations”. This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annexe foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.”
– Bertrand Russell, 1970
“No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate?”
– Bertrand Russell, 1970
By Noah Tucker
“No place in politics for those who question existence of state of Israel” declaimed Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, in the tweet that prompted the resignation from her party ‘whip’ of a member of the British House of Lords. But the question of the likely future non-existence of Israel is already raised- albeit more tentatively than Baroness Tonge put it- in current official UK policy, endorsed by all three of Britain’s main political parties.
No doubt Miliband, who is constantly derided for being weak, was trying to sound tough; perhaps he also felt the need to appear stridently pro-Israel to counterbalance (in the eyes of the pro-Israeli lobby) the British Labour Party’s decision last Autumn to support the Palestinian bid for recognised statehood at the United Nations. Either way, his message, along with the rest of the clamour following Baroness Jenny Tonge’s remarks on 23rd February at a meeting of Middlesex University’s Free Palestine Society, as part of the ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ programme, seemed to be predicated on the existence, for all time, of Zionist Israel: a sacred cow whose holiness is presumably above that of ones own country- because no British politician living in the 21st Century could possibly pronounce that there is no place in politics for those who question the existence of the United Kingdom.
Not only that, but a cow which, if we are to take seriously the outrage at Baroness Tonge’s comments, appears to be held more sacred by UK politicians than it is by Israeli politicians. As Medhi Hasan pointed out in the New Statesman, Ehud Olmert, who was Israel’s prime minister from 2006 to 2009, argued that Israel will cease to exist if it continues on its present trajectory. The BBC reported in November 2007:
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said failure to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians would spell the end of the State of Israel.
As quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Olmert predicted:
“If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
A not dissimilar point has since been made by another former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, who is currently the Israeli Minister of Defence. The Guardian reported on 3rd February 2010:
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, last night delivered an unusually blunt warning to his country that a failure to make peace with the Palestinians would leave either a state with no Jewish majority or an “apartheid” regime.[…] Barak, a former general and Israel’s most decorated soldier, sought to appeal to Israelis on both right and left by saying a peace agreement with the Palestinians was the only way to secure Israel’s future as a “Zionist, Jewish, democratic state”.
“As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic,” Barak said. “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
Returning to the comments by Olmert, it is notable that in his view the end of Israel would be due in large part to the loss of support from Jewish groups in the USA. He said:
“The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”
Baroness Tonge also predicted, although not quite in the same way, a future cessation of support for Israel in the United States. Her recorded words, which resulted in such a stir, were as follows:
“As I said in my introduction, beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present performance because one day the United States of America will get sick of giving 70 billion a year to Israel to support its, what I call, ‘America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East’, that is, Israel. One day the US people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA ‘enough is enough’. Read that book by Walt and Mearsheimer called ‘The Israel Lobby’. But, it will not go on forever, it will not go on forever. Israel will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
As if to demonstrate the solidarity of the UK’s main political parties on the exclusion of Jenny Tonge, it was a Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, who appeared on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on 2nd March to argue against her. Mr Halfon, who is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, used the phrase “delegitimise Israel” no less than three times during the interview, to describe what, he asserted, Baroness Tonge was seeking to do.
“Delegitimisation”, according to a 2010 report in Haaretz, is “the new buzzword in the world of pro-Israel activism.” The phrase, it would appear, has a two-fold aim: the first one being that of splitting critics of Israel into those whose views are ‘legitimate’ and those who are beyond the pale, for instance those who describe Israeli policies as Apartheid (notwithstanding the references to Apartheid by previous and current Israeli leaders); however, as for what might be considered ‘legitimate’ by the Israeli establishment, one can note that it is now against the law in Israel even to advocate a boycott of goods made in the illegal settlements. The second aim is clearly to corral Jewish and other potential support into an uncritical pro-Israel stance on the basis of fear that people are trying to ‘delegitimise’ the Jewish State.
But does not the perceived legitimacy or otherwise of Israel depend, in large part, on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Israeli actions which have made, and make, the state of Israel what it actually is? In the 2nd March Radio 4 interview, Baroness Tonge expressed the view that Israel “was a good concept at the beginning and many people supported it”, but that she wished that they had left the Palestinians where they were, and included them. She added: “If they’d done that, rather than persecuting them, and now trying to take the whole area for themselves, it would have been a very different story.”
It hardly needs to be added that Israel is in defiance of scores of UN resolutions, including- despite the USA’s energetic use of its veto- Security Council resolutions.
Before going further, it should be noted that, in Israel, there is a substantial group of people who would very much like to see the end of Israel as a Zionist and specifically Jewish state; that group being those of the descendants and survivors of the original Arab population who were not ethnically cleansed to the West Bank, Gaza, or refugee camps elsewhere- the Palestinians who live within the internationally recognised (ie, 1967) borders of the country, forming about 18% of the population, and who face constant discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity.
Jenny Tonge’s recorded remarks at Middlesex University, delivered as an ‘off the cuff’ response and under pressure of assertive heckling by zionist activists, contain an error and two apparent ambiguities. Although they have been made much of by right-wing bloggers and other critics, a consideration of these by no means detracts from the cogency of the points she made.
As has been pointed out, the official annual grant from the USA to Israel is $3 billion not $70 billion (although a cumulative $70bn figure for this aid has been cited); however that is very far from being the total financial cost to the US government of its support to the Israeli state. Given that Israel is the centrepeice of the USA’s military and diplomatic activity in the Middle East, and a key source of the USA’s regional and global unpopularity, it can be concluded that a significant proportion (one might hypothesise at least 7%) of the United States’ annual military budget of approximately $1 trillion is required because of the USA’s unstinting backing of Israel.
But whatever its cost to the US taxpayer, there is no getting round the fact that American support is essential for Israel.
This brings us to one ambiguity, on the issue of the nature of the relationship between the USA and Israel, and the role of the ‘Israel lobby’. In an apoplectic opinion piece, published in the Independent, Howard Jacobson frothed with accusations against Jenny Tonge, ranging from “loathing Jews” and wishing for “genocide” to “stupidity”. But Jacobson also sought recourse in logic:
Even for someone holding an unreasonable position, she reasons badly. Take her point that Israel is “America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East”. If she means thereby to accuse America of using Israel to spearhead its aggressive foreign policy, then she can’t also cite with enthusiasm, as she likes to, the Mearsheimer and Walt conspiracy-fantasy that the Israel lobby has America in its pocket. It’s make-your-mind-up time, Baroness: just who is pulling whose strings? If you think America is jerking Israel’s at the same time as Israel is jerking America’s, then you’re describing nothing more sinister than identity of purpose.
Unsurprisingly, to Jacobson (to whom it is so obvious that Israel can do no wrong that for him its critics, including its critics who are Jewish, must be motivated by anti-semitism) the “identity of purpose” between the USA and Israel can be ‘nothing sinister’. But it is precisely that “identity”, which was consummated after Israel conquered (amongst other territories) Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, that has ensured that the Palestinians have since then been subject not only to never-ending occupation but to illegal colonisation, land and water theft, mass imprisonment without trial, cantonisation, checkpoints, seiges, assassinations and massacres.
And while the work of the US academics Mearsheimer and Walt has been extremely useful in detailing the political, organisational and financial machinations of ‘the Israel lobby’ which is a key means of ensuring US backing for Israel- and hardly a ‘conspiracy’, as pro-Israel organisations proudly boast of their successes in influencing US policy- that does not require Jenny Tonge (or anybody else) to also accept the claim by those authors that there has been, since the end of the Cold War, no US strategic interest in promoting and facilitating an intransigent and militaristic Israel.
Until the mid-to-late 1960s it was Britain, and to an even greater extent France, who were Israel’s main foreign sponsors. They had both conspired with Israel (and that conspiracy was real enough) to invade Egypt in 1956; and it was the French, after all, who gave the Israelis the nuclear bomb and nuclear-capable missiles. The USA’s later adoption of Israel as ‘its own’ took place during, and as an important part of, the process in which the United States supplanted the European former colonial powers as the dominant imperial force in the Middle East. Notably, Baroness Tonge’s description of Israel as the USA’s aircraft carrier follows the remark by top US military commander Alexander Haig, who was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, that Israel is America’s “unsinkable battleship in the Middle East.”
It should be added that the ‘who is pulling whose strings?’ question is often applied also to the political process within Israel. It is suggested, by some of the Jewish people in Israel who are in favour of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, that the ultra-zionist fanatical minority which forms the militant core of, and lobby for, the half a million Israelis who are illegal settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, does not represent Israel’s real interests; even that this ‘settler lobby’ has taken the country hostage. Nevertheless, the Israelis subsidise and expensively protect their extremist settlers, and authorise illegal construction of dwellings for more and more of them, despite (or because of) the trouble which that causes. And the United States, despite its own official policy against further Israeli settlement building, permits Israel to carry on doing so under the US military and diplomatic umbrella- including using its UN Security Council veto to prevent condemnation of the settlements- thus obstructing any prospect of a peaceful solution.
End of the window
As for the other ambiguity in Baroness Tonge’s remarks, the phrase “Israel is not going to be there forever in its present performance” that has been interpreted as meaning either that Israel will not continue to exist for ever ‘in its present form’ or that, ‘on the basis of its present performance (ie, behaviour)’, Israel will not carry on existing forever. But these are not incompatible concepts, and it seems quite possible that Jenny Tonge had both these thoughts in her mind when she uttered that phrase.
It might actually be more productive to consider what Ehud Olmert meant when, following his pertinent comparison between Zionist Israel and Apartheid South Africa, he predicted that the State of Israel would be ‘finished’ if the prospect of a two-state solution collapses. Presumably, he meant that there would no longer be, on the territory on which Israel currently exists, a state which could continue to define itself as Jewish, explicitly privilege Jews over members of other ethnicities, and be imbued with the Zionist ideology.
Connected to this, there is the question which is raised by Britain’s official policy position on the future of Israel and Palestine. This position was confirmed in Parliament on 6th February, in response to the following question, which, as it happens, was asked by Baroness Tonge:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement on 17 January referring to Israeli settlements on the West Bank as ‘vandalism’, what proposals they have made for an alternative peace plan if the window for the two-state solution closes.”
To which the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford) replied:
“The Government continue to believe that the way to resolve the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through negotiations, resulting in two states, giving the Palestinian people the state they need and deserve and the Israeli people long-term security and peace.
“We are making clear to both parties that the window for the two-state solution is closing and there is an urgent need to make progress towards resolving the conflict.
“Should we judge the two-state solution is no longer a viable option, we will revise our approach in consultation with key partners in the international community.”
That is the official British view, supported by all three main political parties: the window for the two-state solution is closing. On 17th January, as cited by Baroness Tonge, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had made a clear and repeated statement of this UK position, during which he described the Israeli settlement policy as ‘vandalism’.
Prior to her resignation, Jenny Tonge was a member of Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat Party, and following the fuss that was fanned by Ed Miliband among others, it was Clegg who forced her to resign. But it is the UK’s position, enunciated by Nick Clegg, that the possibility of a two state solution- that is, a solution which includes the survival of Israel- is closing. Why is the window closing? Because, as the Deputy Prime Minister emphasised, of the Israeli policy of building and expanding illegal settlements, thus creating ‘facts on the ground’ that will sooner or later make a two-state solution impossible to deliver. Then what happens? Though the official British position trails out after that, concealing its embarrassment with ‘consultation with key partners’ etc, where can it go, apart from towards Ehud Olmert’s prediction that the State of Israel will be finished?
The crime of the Right Honorable Lady Tonge was twofold: that she pronounced the logical conclusion of what is officially the British position; and that she did so from a standpoint quite distinct from that of the British establishment. Whereas Nick Clegg began his statement with the remark that there is no better friend of Israel than himself (the usual phrase ritually uttered by Western leaders to open or accompany their statements on the Middle East conflict) the sympathies of Baroness Tonge are unmistakeably with the Palestinians.