Using the rule of law to deliver justice for Palestinians

Summary: MP Crispin Blunt says he is “done with false hope” and is launching a new organisation that will seek to use the rule of law to hold Israel accountable for the injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people.

We thank the Balfour Project and Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP for Reigate and chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee from 2015-2017 for permission to republish today’s article. It is one of a series of essays in a booklet entitled Israel/Palestine: in search of the rule of law. The Balfour Project website is available here.

Israeli police arrest a Palestinian man after prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday 18 June (photo credit @saqibsofficial_)

That the wider Palestinian case should have unimpeachable legal and moral authority is surely a statement of the obvious. Violence has undermined it and ordinary British Parliamentary politics certainly hasn’t helped the Palestinians’ pursuit of justice either. The situation for Palestinians is now more dire than ever. No discernible national strategy, divided with consummate ease by an Israeli polity that grows ever more remote from delivering the historic compromise required to end this running sore that brutally exposes western liberal double standards to an Islamic and Arab world with nihilistic violence as an indirect consequence. The practicality of a two-state solution disappears in front of us leaving economic disaster, statelessness, and continued oppressive controls on daily life as the reality facing Palestinians who can’t escape.

Violence won’t work, diplomacy and politics are seized up, so this leaves using the moral and legal authority of the historic and current Palestinian case as the best, indeed to me, the only constructive path left. I remain committed to addressing this injustice, which will remain a core source of instability and erosion of the moral force of Western liberal values on which rest all our basic individual human rights. But I’m giving up on Westminster chest beating to try something practical.

I’m going to put my experience and knowledge of three decades of work on this political track to upholding the laws we have delivered. I’m joining others in founding the International Centre of Justice for the Palestinians (ICJP). It will focus on delivering justice through bringing breaches of the law in all its forms to account, and to try and coordinate the efforts being made by so many in so many different jurisdictions.

My disillusion with advancing justice through the British political process has been long in the making. My awareness that there was something up with the standard narrative of heroic Israel, born out of the greatest crime in human history, began as a young soldier and student in the early 80s. By 1994, visiting Israel for that year’s annual Balfour lecture by Malcolm Rifkind, the first British Defence Secretary to officially visit Israel, it was painfully clear the hope that had surrounded the Oslo process and the agreement that established the Palestinian Authority was already beginning to dim. Bus bombs had had their baleful effect. The murder of the innocents by illegitimate violence had its effect on Israeli opinion, reinforced by the despair of so many Palestinians now denied a livelihood in Israel. The final blow was still to come when a few months later Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli architect of the peace and former Prime Minister, was assassinated by a Jewish rejectionist. Some may claim that subsequent negotiations got close, but for me that tragic loss was the moment effective leadership for peace was largely extinguished.

However this was, and is, a cause in which I am invested. On my election to Parliament in 1997 I became an officer of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), established in 1980 to organise Conservative Parliamentary support for the Venice Declaration of the EU in support of Palestinian statehood. It was also to try and act as a counterbalance to the very strong and effective lobby from the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

As the West’s attention shifted to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Palestinian issue began to sink down the priority list, despite the 2001 intifada. Indeed, the failure to hold our friend and ally Israel to the same standards expected of everybody else remains a foundation for Islamic and Arab resentment at the double standards of the West.

As Chair 2003-8, I tried to take CMEC out of pointless competition with the CFI through trying to broaden its perspective into our interests in the whole region. On the Israel Palestine question there are two perspectives. I think it is our duty as MPs to understand both. So, enable CFI colleagues to explain the Israeli perspective, whilst attempting to best present that of the Palestinians. Despite this attempt at tactical jujitsu it has never been an entirely even contest. MPs are naturally risk averse, not least on issues where misspeaking will be instantly policed, so generally avoid the minefield of criticising Israel for fear of being construed as anti-Semitic.

In 2014 the House of Commons voted in favour of Palestinian statehood. Although this represented the Parliamentary highwater mark on the promotion of justice for Palestinians since I became active in politics, this was really a meaningless vote. The reality is that the tide of active opinion has been running firmly in the other direction for a long time. The Parliamentary caucus for Palestine has sadly been ineffective in the UK much as in the rest of the Western world, and in the Congress holding similar views would hardly help any aspirant for office there!

Hence, I am refocussing my efforts with a new ‘International Centre of Justice for the Palestinians’. The delivery of justice through the rule of law will be an essential core of advancing the Palestinian interest. The ICJP will deal with individual cases, but more importantly will aim to map and enable the co-ordination of all the different paths of restitution being undertaken.

For the law to be effective, breaches of it must be held accountable. Doing so will mean that perpetrators know there is always a threat of litigation, the threat being almost as powerful as litigation itself. It will set a strong precedent and will be difficult to overturn. The suffering and injustice felt by the Palestinians, a lot of which contradicts international treaties, must be made answerable. I can’t go on pretending that the stern words of Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind about illegal settlement extension in 1996 are any more relevant than James Cleverly’s recent expression of “concern” about threatened evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. The UK will continue to offer the Palestinians every sort assistance to address breaches of international law against them short of actual help.

ICJP will provide litigation support: enabling and backing the work of lawyers promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. We will investigate groups and organisations that abuse their charitable status to promote violations of international law in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and elsewhere. We’ll provide legal support to activists and organisations that are prevented from participating in lawful protest work in relation to Palestinian rights, and we will assist lawyers who seek accountability before international and domestic legal and political institutions for violations of international criminal, humanitarian and human rights law.

I’m done with false hope, and I believe this will be a more relevant way of delivering justice for Palestinians and eventually security for Israel. Israel began as a great moral project of the 20th century. I refuse to lose the hope that the coming generations of Israelis and Palestinians will use the moral force of justice, the rule of law and universal human rights to make their reconciliation a great moral project for the 21st century.

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