Brown’s call on Israel falls on deaf ears
At first sight, anyone may be forgiven to have thought Gordon Brown was making a bid to become the next US president in his speech to the Israeli Knesset, the first by a British Prime Minister. Brown made all the right noises in giving Israeli MPs all they wanted to hear by reiterating that the US and European partners remained in their “determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.” Playing to the gallery, he also repeated the deliberate mistranslation of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “for Israel to be wiped from the map of the world,” saying it was “totally abhorrent.”
While this made all the headlines, little reported was the Prime Minister going much further than his predecessor Tony Blair ever dared in calling in his “honest analysis” for the Israelis to resolve its “60-year journey” by making peace. This would require “Israel freezing, and withdrawing from, settlements and like many of your friends, I urge you to make these decisions,” he ventured. One of the fundamentals also was not just a secure Israel and a territorially viable state of Palestine but “with Jerusalem the capital of both, and a just and agreed settlement for refugees.” He told the Knesset that a “hard won and lasting peace is within your reach, I urge you to take it by the hand.”
After 60 years of belligerence, the British Prime Minister’s call was for the Israelis to “turn swords into ploughshares so that there is never a need for swords again,” quoting Prophet Isaiah. But it fell on deaf ears, with Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, expressing his “dismay” days later about Israel’s plans to expand an illegal settlement in the Jordan valley. “Settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories represents a real obstacle to peace,” he warned.
Freezing illegal settlements is one of the first steps agreed in the latest Annapolis Agreement, which everyone accepts lacks substance and has no chance of the Israelis ending its illegal occupation. Abiding by international law must be the guiding principle of all the talks with Palestinians’ basic human and civil rights given a priority. This means addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the dreadful conditions and restrictions in the West Bank as well as dismantling, not just freezing illegal settlements and resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees, as Brown has called for.
No amount of sanitising the conflict can camouflage the injustices and one must ask what if anything Blair has achieved in his first year as the Quartet’s envoy. So far, the former premier has only been brought to account by the International Development Committee over his plans to set up economic enclaves in the West Bank. While welcoming his plans, the all-party group of MPs expressed fears that they may legitimise the Israeli occupation in a report last month on the Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Territories. “The West Bank occupation must not be legitimised. There is a danger of creating two parallel universes in the West Bank, with a series of Palestinian enclaves served by separate road and entry systems alongside Israel’s own network,” Committee Chair, Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce stressed.
The report also criticised the Quartet for not pressing Israel to ease its inhumane siege of Gaza during the truce between Israel and Hamas as well as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and the construction of the illegal barrier on occupied land as being counter-productive to the peace process. It is an open secret that Israeli aims are aimed at continually creating “new facts on the ground” to make any settlement less equitable if not impossible. It is this issue that needs to be first addressed before there can be any hope of ever resolving the deep stain on the world’s conscious.