Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Balfour Declaration’

LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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Palestine: Seize the Moment!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th February, 2017

jf-speaking-at-house-of-commonsThis year sees not only the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which led eventually to the creation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, bu also the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of territories captured during the Six Day War. The Israeli government and its friends round the world will doubtless wish to celebrate Balfour, but as I said at a meeting in the House of Commons earlier this week, Palestinians and their friends should seize the moment offered by the double anniversary to publicise the ongoing injustices of their situation and to call specifically for the recognition of the state of Palestine before the two state solution to the Middle East conflict is officially dead and buried, because of continuing illegal settlement activity. The House of Commons event, chaired by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, was organised by the Palestine Return Centre, which argues that Britain should apologise for the Balfour Declaration because it led to Palestinian dispossession. Personally I think a stronger tack is to stress how the second part of the Declaration — about not harming the interests of the Arab residents of Palestine — has never been implemented and that injustice needs to be rectified. The Palestinian Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Manuel Hassassian, gave a typically impassioned speech, stressing that he believes the two state solution is indeed dead, however much the Palestinian Authority may cling to it, and it is vital if the situation moves de facto to a one-state solution that is not run along apartheid lines. He also castigated successive British governments for failing to act even-handedly in the region. I argued that there need to be a concerted effort by the myriad groups in the UK which are concerned about the Palestinian issue should come together to formulate a clear strategy of what needs to be achieved, with the Embassy and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign assisting with coordination. The bad news is that the Occupation and settlement expansion continue, as does the effective siege of Gaza. But by seizing he moment of the anniversaries, lobbying the media and parliamentarians, the attention and then engagement of the wider British public can be stimulated — with us putting particular pressure on the EU’s potential role as an agent for change, not least during the two years in which Britain will still be a member.

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Europe Must Act Firmly on Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th January, 2009

gaza-shells-as-vases1        Israel/Palestine is awash with peace missions from Europe at the moment, all urging a ceasefire in the current conflict in Gaza.  Tony Blair, the Madrid Quartet’s (bizarrely chosen) Middle East peace envoy has not been on holiday (as Gordon Brown rather cattily said on British television over the weekend), but shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been through, urging an end to hostilities, as has a Czech-led delegation from the European Union, which included the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. And what has been the outcome off all this activity? Nothing!

Conflicts are never black-and-white, in which one side is 100% wrong and the other 100% right, so I would not claim that that is the case in Gaza now. The Islamic militants (whether encouraged by Hamas or not) who have been sending a barrage of low-grade rockets into Israel over the past few months have been inexcusably provocative. However, the Israeli response has not just been ‘disproportionate’, to employ the eupemism that is currently so much in vogue. It is wicked. It is criminal. The Arab world will not forgive Israel for this. And neither should Europe.

Europe was instrumental in the creation of the modern state of Israel, both as a result of British colonial policy (the Balfour Declaration et al) and as a result of the Nazi Holocaust in Germany and German-occupied states. So Europe cannot wash its hands of the consequences. Moreover, as the European Union is committed to championing peace, human rights and the rule of law, not only within its borders but beyond them as well, it must address the Israel/Palestine situation. The EU has a good record in helpng the Palestinian Authority, including funding projects and institutions (some of which the Israelis have subsequently blown up). And it has close working ties with Israel. But it is not flexing its muscles strongly enough with the Israeli government.

Preferential trade arrangements between the EU and Israel should be suspended immediately. European political leaders should stop using euphemisms, and condemn the barbarity of the Israeli assault on Gaza in clear, unambiguous terms. Europe should also tell the United States publicly that it is unacceptable for the Bush administration to block United Nations resolutions aimed at ending the conflict. And European political leaders should put pressure on Barack Obama to declare that his policy on the Middle East will not just be a carbon-copy of George W Bush’s.

We should continue to criticise Hamas where appropriate as well, of course (though objectively speaking now there is all-out war in Gaza, as declared by the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the Palestinians have every right to defend themselves from the Israeli invasion in whatever way they can). A comprehensive ceasefire agreement is essential in which Hamas guarantees to stop rocket-fire on Israel and to ensure that the tunnels used for bringing arms into Gaza from Egypt are closed, while at the same time Israel lifts its land and sea blockade of Gaza totally and permanently, and the land crossing between Gaza and Egypt is opened and properly supervised.

The Israelis have indicated that they are not interested in such a ceasefire until they have pounded Hamas into the ground. Europe should lead the Western world in denouncing that attitude. The Israelis are getting away with murder (with Washington’s benediction). Every day, Palestinian children are being slaughtered, disabled and traumatised. Europe must disassociate itself from this action and show its mettle on the international stage. The time has come to turn swords into ploughshares, and shells into vases (as the illustration of flowers in Gaza shows).

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