Senior politician lambasts 'settlement endorsement' activities of pro-Israeli lobby
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Thursday October 16 2014
Sir Alan, a former Minister for International Development, launched an attack on Israel’s conduct in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and in particular, on the construction of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. His stinging criticisms came on the heels of a vote in Parliament this week in which MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a non-binding motion recognising Palestinian statehood.
Sir Alan revealed that while he was Minister, he wrote a letter to the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in June last year raising concerns about the dispute and the Government’s approach to peace negotiations. Duncan has now issued that letter for public record.
Sentiments expressed in that letter were repeated in his speech yesterday about how “we have been looking at the entire issue of Israel and Palestine from the wrong end of the telescope. Our policy, and that of many other countries, has been that on no account should we ever rock the boat by talking in tough language to Israel for fear of jeopardising the so-called Peace Process.”
With regards to the talks led by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, last April, Duncan noted “Everything for a sensible agreement was offered by the Palestinians – borders, land swaps, the retention of some major settlements, a shared Jerusalem, a demilitarised Palestine. They even started by offering all these main components of a sustainable agreement, yet the Israeli Government finished by having offered absolutely nothing substantial… But we all stuck by the process.
“But the price we have paid for focussing only on the process is that we have increasingly lost sight of the principle. The principle that has been sacrificed and subordinated to the false dawn of process is the stand we ought to make on Israel’s illegal settlements.”
He emphasised how the construction of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories stood in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
Duncan further observed that this violation was recognised by the International Court of Justice. Indeed, the ICJ urged the dismantling of a wall inside the West Bank that benefited Israeli settlements and argued that its construction “would be tantamount to de facto annexation”.
The former minister noted that “since 1967 Israel has continuously and systematically built outside its legitimate borders and has claimed its neighbours’ land as its own.
“This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker. As such, it should be called what it is, and not by some euphemistic soft alternative.”
In his speech, Duncan further observed that there are now more than half a million settlers living in approximately 120 settlements and 10 unauthorised outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Furthermore, he drew attention to the “criminal intent and strategic importance” of Israel’s plans to build 2,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, which would “finalise the severing of Bethlehem from Jerusalem”.
Duncan did not mince his words in castigating the approach taken by successive Israeli governments over the years and the silence that has followed from western Governments in the face of persistent violation of international law. Duncan said, “Occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity: this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame to the Government of Israel. It would appear that on the West Bank of the Jordan the rule of international law has been shelved.”
Moreover, he was particular critical of the situation in Hebron which he identified as mirroring “apartheid”, comparing the region to townships under the old South African regime. He also provided details of the ‘price tag’ incidents committed against Palestinians by Israeli settlers saying “It is no exaggeration to say that many settlers are state-supported militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced.
There are all too many accounts of people who have witnessed criminal violence by illegal settlers against the legitimate inhabitants of Palestinian land while the Israeli Defence Force merely looks on.”
The inferior legal protection afforded to Palestinians is evident in Duncan’s reminder that “A dual system exists where illegal settlers are subject to civil law while Palestinians are subject to military law.”
Echoing the findings of the US report on International Religious Freedoms last year, on the impunity enjoyed by Israeli settlers accused of ‘price tag attacks’, Duncan said, “…of all legal cases brought by Palestinians against settlers 91% are closed without indictment.”
Duncan additionally compared the international community’s stance on illegal territorial expansions elsewhere, such as General Galtieri’s claim to the Falkland Islands, Saddam Hussain’s claim to Kuwait or Russia’s seizure of Crimea, with the approach taken towards Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While military intervention and sanctions were imposed in these other instances, Duncan stressed that “no punitive action was taken against Israel”. No punitive action has ever been taken against Israel with the Government constantly defending its stance that sanctions would not be ‘effective’.
He continued the analogy with the observance of the “cruel irony that Russia’s embrace of Crimea might be said to enjoy a modicum of popular consent: whereas the unpunished Israeli land grab in Palestine most certainly does not.”
Duncan added that settlement endorsement should be considered a form of extremism. He stated that “An opinion can most certainly be labelled as extreme, and a person can be defined as an extremist, if they defy the rule of law, promote illegality, advocate the oppression of innocent victims, or use the power of the state cruelly to persecute and abuse others. But this is exactly what is happening with Israel’s settlement activity.
“Over the years we have made a firm stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. It is time now that we added ‘settlement endorsement’ to that list of extreme undemocratic attitudes which we are not prepared to tolerate.”
Duncan also touched on the tendency to conflate all Jews with Israel fuelling a sense of obligation to defend Israel’s actions and support the pro- Israeli lobby in the UK. He emphasised that “our politics has rules. And one important such rule is that our political funding should not come from another country or from citizens of another country, or be unduly in hock to another country. This rule seems to apply to every country except when it comes from Israel.
“The time has come to make sure above any doubt that the funding of any party in the UK is clearly decoupled from the influence of the Israeli state.”
It is telling that the words of caution over party funding and lobbying activity should be uttered by a Conservative politician. In Peter Oborne’s documentary on the pro-Israel lobby in the UK, the extent of its power and influence over the Conservative party was well documented (watch on YouTube here). In an column authored during the Gaza war this summer in which around 1,473 Palestinian civilians were killed, almost a third of them children, Oborne raised a very pertinent question in relation to the Conservative Friends of Israel. He asked “whether it is appropriate that a British Prime Minister should be bound when it comes to any foreign policy issue by promises made while in opposition to an internal Conservative Party lobbying organisation”?
Sir Alan’s contribution yesterday reinforces the growing unease over the Conservative party’s donor base and the fear that politicians are “unduly in hock to another country” on account of it.