Summary: debate in Parliament produces nothing new. Among many comments on the centenary a new Balfour Centenary Declaration supported by MPs from all parties and many others.
As expected (our posting of 20 October) the approach to the centenary of the Balfour declaration, today 2 November 2017, has produced much comment. The British and Israeli prime ministers are expected to speak at a commemoration banquet tonight.
The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a statement in Parliament on 30 October which was followed by a brief debate. Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, argued that “With the empty vessel that is the American President making lots of noise but being utterly directionless, the need for Britain to show leadership on this issue [Palestine] is ever more pressing”. Johnson stuck to the well worn position of using the USA as a human shield: “the US Administration have shown their commitment to breaking the deadlock, and a new American envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has made repeated visits to the region. The Government will of course support these efforts in whatever way we can… we need them to be in the lead… we see the most fertile prospects now in the new push coming from America… ”
All parties represented in Parliament are now committed to recognition of Palestine as a state except the governing Conservative party (and presumably their coalition partner the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party), whose intention is clearly to wait for America.
On 31 October a Balfour Centenary Declaration, see below, was launched in Parliament by Richard Burden MP (Labour), Lord Cope of Berkeley (Conservative), Dr Philippa Whitford MP (Scottish National party), and Rt Hon Tom Brake MP (Lib Dem), signed by over 60 distinguished people including members of Parliament from the four main parties. We are grateful to Vincent Fean, former British ambassador and former consul-general in Jerusalem, for the text from which he spoke to an audience of over 1000 at Westminster Central Hall.
Britain’s Broken Promise – time for a new approach
I lived in Jerusalem for 3 years, when I worked for our Government.
What I saw and heard from Palestinians and Israelis of good will brings me here tonight.
May I share one experience with you. I went to the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh to express condolences at the death of a young man from the village, shot dead by a sniper from the Israeli Defence Force during a demonstration at which some Palestinians threw stones. The dead man’s sister asked what recourse the family had. I had nothing to say. We both knew that there was no recourse to justice. There is no recourse. Procedures, yes – but no recourse.
The Occupation is terrible for Palestinians. It is demeaning, dehumanising for those ordered to impose it. That’s why Israeli heads of security – Shin Bet and Mossad – the Gatekeepers who keep Israel safe – argue for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, based on security for both peoples. Like the Gatekeepers, I support the wellbeing of Israel, whose reputation is gravely harmed by policies of separation and inequality towards the Palestinians – apartheid. Israel’s Government is going ever faster down the wrong path. The only equitable, achievable solution of two states living at peace is being destroyed. I argue for Palestinian sovereignty over the lands occupied in 1967. Genuine sovereignty, not sovereignty minus.
Bishops Declan [Declan Lang, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton] and Christopher [Christopher Chessun, Anglican Bishop of Southwark] have made the case for British Government recognition now of the State of Palestine along 1967 lines. So have Richard Burden and others in Parliament, to their great credit. Helena Kennedy has explained the value and necessity of upholding international law: a value we British claim for our own. Sometimes we are better at words than deeds. We should uphold the law without fear or favour. Israel’s friends need to speak the truth to Power, and act where persuasion has failed. We need a twin-track approach – British recognition now of the state of Palestine and British-led action to change the cost/benefit analysis of those who seek to prevent the solution of two sovereign states. This is at the heart of the new Balfour Centenary Declaration: Israel/Palestine Equal Rights, signed by over 60 people of standing in our society. Please read it in your programme. Please promote it after tonight with your MP, and with our Government.
These days, on Israel/Palestine, our Government is waiting for President Trump. A policy of wait and see. With respect, that’s not a policy. To say the right things, but choose to do nothing effective to make those right things happen, is worse than useless. It is prevarication – and wrong. We have waited for too long. We have seen, and what we have seen is morally abhorrent. There is urgent need to change course. We are here to say so, and to do something about it.
Our Government can act, does act, in response to civil society and our democratic institutions – when we make ourselves heard. By coming here tonight, you are doing just that. Thank you.
Balfour Centenary Declaration
Israel/Palestine: Equal Rights
The centenary of the Balfour Declaration is the time to reconcile peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, consistent with the principle Britain claims as her own: equal rights for all under the law.
Through the Declaration of 2 November 1917 the British Government decided to facilitate “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, on the explicit understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
In 1917, and until Britain gave up her Mandate for Palestine in 1948, the Palestinian people were in the majority, as they had been for centuries. The Mandate conferred on Britain a “sacred trust of civilisation” to help the people of Palestine towards self-determination and nationhood. In 1948 the Government handed the problem to the United Nations, and withdrew – but the legacy of that period is still with us. There was joy and sanctuary in Israel for the Jewish people surviving the horrific Holocaust – but pain and despair for the Palestinians: many expelled in 1948, and more occupied in 1967.
Israel, created in 1948 as the permanent national home of the Jewish people, is recognised as a state by Britain, the EU, the US and – crucially – the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Israel’s prosperity and military strength have grown. But Israel’s 50 year military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem prevents the Palestinian people from exercising their own equal and inalienable right to self-determination, a right endorsed by the UN, the EU and our Government.
This occupation dehumanises both the occupier and the occupied. One people is repressing their neighbouring people, by closing Gaza militarily and transferring 600,000 Israeli settlers illegally into occupied Palestinian territory. Change is urgently needed, delivering equal rights for both peoples.
We condemn violence from any quarter. But conducting and resisting occupation inevitably mean chronic and sustained violence, stemming from the repression of a people. Inequality does not bring lasting security and prosperity.
In the best interests of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and in our own national interest, we urge our Government to
- recognise immediately the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel on the basis of the pre-June 1967 borders, as two thirds of UN members have done;
- uphold rigorously the Geneva Conventions which Britain co-wrote and ratified after World War ll;
- give practical effect to the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap which Britain has endorsed;
- require genuine freedom of worship without hindrance for all believers – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – at their holy sites in Jerusalem;
- encourage West Bank/Gaza reunification on the basis of PLO agreements;
- work with like-minded partners, including France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Ireland, to respect and safeguard the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis, with due and proportionate consequences for breaches of those rights, alongside incentives for those seeking to uphold them.
Ending the 1967 occupation through negotiation will realise the acknowledged right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; a right gained by Israel 70 years ago. The political and economic cost/benefit calculations of those who oppose this outcome must be challenged. Establishing the Palestinian state, with sustainable international security guarantees both for it and for Israel, will help to stabilise the Middle East region and enhance our own security. The opposite is also true. This inequality supplies oxygen to the propagandists of Islamic State, and contributes to radicalisation both abroad and at home.
We commit ourselves to work for a secure future of equal rights and peaceful coexistence between the citizens of Israel and Palestine in two states along pre-June 1967 lines. We support the majorities on both sides of that border who see this outcome as just.
Britain should uphold her core values by taking the lead to address this bitter, harmful conflict. The Government of the day took a decision in 1917. We now need to acknowledge what is right, and exert political influence to achieve it – for our own good, and the good of the two peoples who will share the Holy Land forever.
Rt Hon Jack Straw
Crispin Blunt MP
Tracy Brabin MP
Rt Hon Tom Brake MP
Alan Brown MP
Richard Burden MP
Ruth Cadbury MP
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP
Sarah Champion MP
Joanna Cherry QC, MP
Julie Elliott MP
Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP
Rt Hon David Jones MP
Graham Jones MP
Pauline Latham MP
Seema Malhotra MP
Lisa Nandy MP
Chi Onwurah MP
Tommy Sheppard MP
Paula Sherriff MP
Andy Slaughter MP
Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP
Bob Stewart MP
Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire MP
Dr Philippa Whitford MP
Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark
Rt Hon Lord Bruce of Bennachie
Rt Hon Lord Cope of Berkeley
Lord Green of Deddington
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port
Rt Hon Lord Hain
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
Rt Hon Marquess of Lothian
Duke of Montrose
Baroness Morris of Bolton
Rt Hon Baroness Northover
Lord Purvis of Tweed
Rt Hon Lord Steel of Aikwood
Rt Hon Lord Warner
Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Lord Wright of Richmond
Prof. James Allan – Emeritus Professor of Eastern Art, University of Oxford
Sir Tony Brenton – Ambassador to Russia (ret’d)
Rev. Iain Cunningham – Convenor, World Mission Council, Church of Scotland
Lady Ellen Dahrendorf
Sir Richard Dalton – Ambassador to Iran and Consul-General, Jerusalem (ret’d)
Sir Terence English – Surgeon and former Master, St Catherine’s College, Cambridge
Sir Vincent Fean – Consul-General, Jerusalem and Ambassador to Libya (ret’d)
Rev. Richard Frazer – Convenor, Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland
Dr Imad Karam – Executive Director, Initiatives of Change International
Robin Kealy – Ambassador to Tunisia and Consul-General, Jerusalem (ret’d)
Stuart Laing – Master, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Ivan McKee – Member of the Scottish Parliament
Oliver Miles – Ambassador to Libya, Luxembourg and Greece (ret’d)
Peter Oborne – author and journalist
Sir William Patey – Ambassador to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia (ret’d)
Prof. Avi Shlaim – Emeritus Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford
Sir Harold Walker – Ambassador to Iraq (ret’d)
Sir Peter Westmacott – Ambassador to the United States (ret’d)
Sandra White – Member of the Scottish Parliament