By Stuart Littlewood – London
The party conference season is in full swing in the UK and the Liberal Democrats begin theirs this weekend.
The agenda includes a motion to endorse Policy Paper 74, "Britain’s Global Responsibilities: the international rule of law, as a statement of party policy on international law".
This document contains an abundance of high-minded and praiseworthy declarations, for example….
· "Liberal Democrats believe that human rights represent fundamental standards of humanity and that all states have a duty to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic or cultural systems, and without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language or religion, political opinion, origin, property, birth or other status."
· "We are supporters of international law…"
· "Liberal Democrats welcome the extension of international law to hold individuals to account for crimes against humanity."
· "There is an emerging norm in international law concerning the responsibility to protect. This was endorsed at the World Summit in September 2005 where world leaders agreed that there was an individual and collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity…."
· "If governments engage in large-scale violations of human rights, or are unable or unwilling to protect their populations from catastrophes, then this responsibility must be fulfilled by the international community. The measures which are used must draw on all peaceful means, from humanitarian assistance and diplomatic pressure to targeted sanctions, but where these are ineffective then force must be available as a last resort."
· "Liberal Democrats condemn all cases of prolonged detention without charge or trial, which undermines the rule of law and gives scope for the abuse of other human rights."
Fine words. It is disappointing, then, that the Party has not made its position clear on Israel, which for more than 40 years has occupied, dispossessed and brutalised the Palestinian people, stolen their lands and precious resources and, incidentally, caused just as much misery to the Christian communities as to their Muslim neighbours in the Holy Land.
The continuing blockade of Gaza, the mounting slaughter of civilians, the wrecking of their infrastructure and the ruination of their economy have not been enough, it seems, to stir Liberal Democrats to roundly condemn the rogue regime or apply real pressure for humanitarian action.
The Liberal Democrats were the first British political party to start a Friends of Israel campaign group. Clutching such a viper to their bosom all these years has surely been at odds with their high ideals. So I put it to Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, that Israel pursues racist policies and is responsible for countless horrors – 4 million Palestinian refugees, 254 km of Apartheid Wall that bites deep into Palestinian territory, 562 humiliating check-points, 468,831 new settlers on Occupied land, the destruction of 350 Churches and Mosques….
He surely knew that Israel had kidnapped and imprisoned 30+ members of the Palestinian parliament and at least 10,000 others (including women and children) are cooped up in Israeli jails, many without charge or trial.
And he was reminded in particular that Israel is busy creating ‘facts on the ground’ designed to normalise the Occupation and make it permanent, and that this so-called ally of ours is the world leader in UN violations and ignores International Court of Justice rulings.
The challenge for Mr Davey and others in the party’s leadership is that turning a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of innocent people for whom Britain once had a special responsibility (some say, still has) and to Israel’s blatant attempts to erase their history and wipe their country off the map, is inexcusable in any British political party or government. The Liberal Democrats, more than others in the murky game of British politics, pride themselves on being high-minded, but their credibility on the moral and justice issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict has taken a hard knock. This gap needs closing, and many will be at a loss to understand why the Party still harbours an Israel supporters club – a band of apologists for a foreign military power that is apparently contemptuous of everything the Liberal Democrats claim to stand for.
Policy Paper 74 also says Liberal Democrats would "actively enforce the OECD Convention on Bribery and work to strengthen it to include the bribery of foreign political officials". Would this, I wonder, include the bribing of the gang in Ramallah that’s now in control of the Palestinian Authority… you know, the Fatah high command who are in breach of the Basic Law and trying to destroy – on behalf of Israel and the West – their rivals the ‘inconvenient’ but nevertheless democratically elected authority in Palestine, whose defiant remnants are still holed up in Gaza? Isn’t this what the cruel siege of Gaza and the murderous torment to its civilians is really all about?
During Conference I hope Mr Davey and his team will make a point of hearing the remarkable Jeff Halper, who is scheduled to speak at a fringe meeting, and carefully note this Israeli insider’s expert analysis of the situation.
Liberal Democrats, you opposed the Iraq war and all credit to you. Why will you not condemn the Israeli Occupation, land grab and human rights abuses just as vehemently? Not until you do so will you be able to claim the moral high ground in the debate on Britain’s global responsibilities and the (sadly subverted) international rule of law.
-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.