The Labour Party’s reaction to the military action by Israel against Gaza was extraordinary. One could be forgiven for thinking that Jeremy Corbyn had been reinstated as leader of the party.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Lisa Nandy, set out the party’s position in a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on 15 May 2021  before a ceasefire was reached. In it, she proposed a series of actions that the Government should take, including that the UK should recognise Palestine as a state.
The letter didn’t condemn the rocket fire out of Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, nor did it provide justification for the continuing Israeli military attacks on Gaza by saying that Israel had a right to defend itself (as the Foreign Office had already done). Instead, it urged the Foreign Secretary to join the international calls for an immediate ceasefire. That of itself qualifies the Labour Party as an enemy of Israel – in Israel’s eyes.
Ban arms exports to Israel?
Worse still, as far as Israel is concerned, the letter demands that the Government assess “the use of exported arms and equipment in this conflict”, in other words, whether the export of arms to Israel should continue. The letter says:
“There ought to be a report to Parliament setting out whether any further licences issued for the export of arms and equipment to the Israeli security forces could be used to commit acts of internal repression or external aggression or violations of international humanitarian law.”
This is in line with the 2019 Labour Paty manifesto , which promised that, if elected, the party would
“Immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel for arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians, and conduct a root-and-branch reform of our arms exports regime so ministers can never again turn a blind eye to British-made weapons being used to target innocent civilians” (p98)
That is not going to happen any time soon, but it is amazing that the Starmer-led Labour Party has (apparently) retained this distinctively Corbynite policy,
A two-state solution?
Lisa Nandy also says that “the UK must … work with our allies to refocus attention and effort on the drivers of injustice and insecurity”. It is no surprise that, according to her letter, the Labour Party “remains committed to a two-state solution”. But, she says, “that objective is becoming more difficult to realise”, because
“continued violations of international law, forced evictions and expansions of illegal settlements are changing the facts on the ground and making the prospect of a viable, sovereign Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel far harder to achieve.”
It is more accurate to say that a two-state solution is no longer realisable, but at least she makes it clear that Israel, and Israel alone, is responsible for the fact that a two-state solution has not been achieved.
In November 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) declared its objective to be the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. With that declaration, the Palestinian leadership accepted the goal of a state on just 22% of their historic homeland, with Israel continuing to exist in the other 78%.
This was an historic compromise of extraordinary generosity on the part of Palestinians, which opened the way for a “two-state solution”. It hasn’t been realised because Israel has adamantly refused to withdraw to the 1967 borders and allow a Palestinian state to be established – and the international community has failed to force it to withdraw.
Halt new settlements?
In her letter, Lisa Nandy tells the Foreign Secretary that the UK should “insist upon the immediate halt to all new settlements” since they “violate international law”. True, they do; the transfer of Israeli civilians into territory occupied by Israel is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And, down through the years, UK governments have condemned such settlement building with varying degrees of vehemence, but Israel has simply turned a deaf ear to such condemnation – and continued to build. It’s inconceivable that Israel will cease building unless it is forced to do so by external economic sanctions.
Is the Labour Party prepared to advocate that the UK should seek international approval for such sanctions?
Recognise Palestine as a state?
The final point in Lisa Nandy’s letter is that the UK should “accept the need to recognise Palestine as a state, as nearly 140 other countries have done”.
Way back in October 2014, when Ed Miliband was Labour leader, the House of Commons backed a Labour motion in favour of recognition by 274 votes to 12. And there is a commitment to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine” in the 2019 Labour manifesto (p99). In response to a parliamentary petition, there is to be another debate on this issue in the House of Commons on 14 June 2021 , when presumably the Labour Party will again fly the flag for recognition.
This is a step which the UK can take on its own. It will not, of course, affect the lives of Palestinians on the ground one whit. But it will annoy Israel, so why not do it?
27 May 2021