By Stuart Littlewood – London
The new line-up at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office looks like this:
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – William Hague
Minister of State – Jeremy Browne
Minister of State – David Lidington
Minister of State – Lord Howell of Guildford
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Henry Bellingham
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Alistair Burt
Hague has been a Friend of Israel since the age of 15. Burt is an officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Naturally he’s in charge of Middle East affairs. Lidington also frolics with the Israel flag wavers.
Before his elevation to the House of Lords Howell was MP for Guildford, in the south of England. His daughter is Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s wife.
Here is Howell in action in a House of Lords debate on the Free Gaza flotilla a couple of weeks ago…
Lord Howell – My Lords, the United Kingdom is in regular contact with the Israeli and Palestinian Governments and our international allies regarding the current humanitarian situation in Gaza and the wider issues relating to the peace process. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said… it is essential that there should be unfettered access to Gaza, not only to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza but to enable reconstruction of homes and livelihoods and permit trade to take place.
Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour) – My Lords, in the face of threats to intervene and break the blockade by Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval units, why cannot the United Kingdom Government announce that they are prepared to challenge the blockade by providing a naval escort for a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza, aid which has been given prior clearance by the European Union in the way that Bernard Kouchner has suggested? Would that not be a far better way to proceed? The Israeli Government are far more likely to heed that kind of initiative.
Lord Howell – I recognise the noble Lord’s strong feelings on this matter, but we simply do not think that that is the right way to proceed. We think that the right way is for the restrictions and the so-called blockade to be lifted beyond the present arrangements, by which some humanitarian supplies get in but not enough. We think that the right way forward is to put maximum pressure on Israel to do that. That is the sensible way forward…
Lord Hylton (Crossbench) – I agree entirely with the Minister about unrestricted access to Gaza, but are there not immediate questions to be discussed with the Government of Israel concerning the ships themselves, their cargoes, now under arrest, and possibly the personal possessions of persons who have been arrested?
Lord Howell – I cannot answer the noble Lord on the personal possessions issue. With regard to the humanitarian goods on these ships, the idea is that they should be shipped on into Gaza. However, unfortunately, it appears that the Hamas group has not been very keen on accepting all that aid at the moment. But that is the procedure that the Government of Israel are trying to adopt in the face of attempts to run the blockade or break the restrictions, which are apparently to be promoted by a number of countries, including some of the Iranian authorities.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale (Labour) – Does the Minister agree that, while there is a great need to improve the access for aid and commercial goods into Gaza, it still requires any new regime allowing new materials into Gaza to take great care not to allow in weapons that might be used against Israel?
Lord Howell – The noble Baroness is absolutely right. This is the dilemma. Israel does have the right to restrain the import of weapons, bombs and so on into the control of Hamas. At the same time, we all want to see the sufferings of the people of Gaza minimised and the maximum supplies of food, building materials, medical supplies and so on imported into Gaza. That is the dilemma that must be solved. The right way forward is along the lines proposed, with pressure on Israel to do that rather than creating some head-on conflict with Israel when it is the country with which we need to co-operate to achieve the two-state solution that we all want to see.
Lord Dykes (Liberal Democrat) – In the mean time, my Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the peace talks and the proximity talks are proceeding apace, despite the continuing weakness of the quartet mechanism, which is deeply disappointing to all observers? Will he reassure us that the sinister rumours that George Mitchell is less than even-handed between Israel and Palestinian lobbies are not true?
Lord Howell – I can give that reassurance…
Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour) – The Minister must recognise that Israel has legitimate security concerns and cannot be expected to allow unfettered access. How, then, do the Government respond to the specific proposal from Bernard Kouchner that the European Union offers to provide some form of border monitoring for material entering Gaza to ensure that it is only for humanitarian purposes?
Lord Howell – There may well be something in that idea. Of course there is the other border on the Egyptian side, which was open temporarily and has now been closed. All these matters are to be pursued to see whether we can find that key reconciliation between the need to end the suffering of the people of Gaza and Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells – My Lords, while I recognise the appropriate need for Israel to be protected, the issue of building materials in relation to the people of Gaza is nevertheless important, given the recent campaign against Gaza involving bombing and the destruction of houses. What can Her Majesty’s Government do in the interim to encourage the Israeli Government to allow building materials to go into that country? Surely they are fundamental to the humanitarian effort.
Lord Howell – The answer has to be that maximum pressure and encouragement must be placed on the Government of Israel to do what is actually in their own interest, which is to minimise the restrictions, to lift the blockade as far as they can consistent with their security and to continue to expand the amount of provisions already going into Gaza from Israel as well as from Egypt. That is the way forward and we should not be deflected from it.
He veers from saying there should be unfettered access to Gaza to saying the blockade should be lifted only as far as it suits Israel’s “security”. He thinks pressure on the Israeli government rather than action will work when decades of experience tells us it won’t. He fails to understand how Israel sees its own interest. He says Israel has the right to “restrain” the importation of weapons. Is he sure about that? I don’t think he knows international law or the UN Charter or the Geneva Conventions as well as he should. Palestinians, as an illegally occupied people, have a right to take up arms to defend themselves.
And why can’t he make it his business to answer the simple question about the personal property of British nationals stolen by the Israelis on the high seas?
Eighty per cent of Conservative MPs are claimed to be signed-up Friends of Israel. Now, for your entertainment, let’s see how their website reports a recent House of Commons debate on Middle East Policy …
• Conservative MPs voice support for Israel in House debate on Middle East Policy.
• On Monday, the Government held a debate in the House of Commons on UK policy towards the Middle East.
• The debate was well attended by Conservative MPs, and provided an excellent opportunity for MPs discuss events surrounding the flotilla incident of Monday 31 May, as well a wider issues of the Middle East Peace Process.
• Israel received positive support from a number of Conservative MPs, with many contributors displaying a considerable understanding of the wider issues at play in the region such as the Iranian smuggling of arms into Gaza, Hamas ideology of violence and the need to bolster the moderate Palestinian Authority.
• Alistair Burt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, led the debate for the government and presented an even-handed case, whilst expressing support for Israel.
• Alistair Burt began by reassuring the House that the government would “engage with as much energy as we can in the Middle East Peace Process” to bring about a lasting two-state solution to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“The only long-term solution to the conflict is a secure Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. We will continue to press for progress, working with the US and through the EU, while supporting Prime Minister Fayyad’s work to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state… The UK is a committed friend of Israel and a friend to the region”.
• Re-stating the government’s resolve to continue pressuring Iran to end her nuclear programme, Burt welcomed the UN Security Council resolution recently passed.
“We remain resolved to address concerns through a twin-track process of preventing a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran while reaching out with an offer for constructive engagement. We cannot allow Iran to act with impunity”.
• CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP presented an authoritative account of Israel’s predicament and began by praising Israel for embodying many of the values that exist with Britain.
“Everyone in this House should have an interest in Israel, because it is a country that embodies the values that we should stand for. Israel [has] become a bastion of the rule of law, democracy, free speech, business enterprise and family values. If that is not what this country also stands for, I am disappointed.”
• Applauding “Israel’s determination to stand up for its continued right to exist in peace and security”, Arbuthnot lamented at the difficult position Israel faces as a result of Hamas’ belligerency.
“When peace is destroyed by Hamas kidnapping Gilad Shalit and continuing to hold him prisoner for years, nobody should expect Israel just to accept it. When that peace is destroyed by rocketing from Gaza, nobody should expect Israel to say, ‘Yes, flotillas can be allowed to import whatever they like into Gaza, including perhaps explosives and rockets’.”
• James Arbuthnot also spoke of Israel’s difficulty in preventing smuggling of weaponry into Gaza, citing the case of Karine A.
“On one ship, the Karine A, which was not involved in this convoy, the Israelis found tons of weapons for Hamas. Were they simply to assume that this particular flotilla contained no such weapons to be used by Hamas against both Israel and the population of Gaza, whom Hamas treats so cruelly? Surely not. So obviously the flotilla was going to be stopped and boarded”.
• James Arbuthnot also cited the fact that Israel’s military had not sought violence, as seen by the peaceful boarding of five of the six flotilla ships.
• He noted that the flotilla was a deliberately calculated attempt to create publicity and that violence resistance aboard the Mavi Marmara had been premeditated.
“Given that the flotilla was designed to be provocative and to end in violence, we should not blame Israel for the violence against which it failed to guard itself; the blame lies with those who went on to the flotilla expressly seeking martyrdom.”
• Bob Blackman MP assessed the problematic role of Hamas, which presents a considerable obstacle to not only the peace process, but progress for the Palestinian people.
“We are challenged on the position of humanitarian aid, yet the state of Israel allows some 15,000 tonnes per week of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. However, there is the role of Hamas: it holds up the aid. It uses it as an incentive to control the people of Palestine, and as a means of repression. Until it ceases its repression, the people of Palestine will not see the benefit of having a properly, democratically elected Government who truly represent them.”
• Bob Blackman urged the House to be clear on the dangers of negotiating with Hamas without pre-conditions.
“It is very difficult to negotiate with people whose fundamental aim is to destroy one’s Government and one’s very being”.
• Lastly, Nick Boles MP gave the House a fascinating speech on Israel’s excellent record of democracy, freedom and human rights.
“In Israel, Israeli Arabs have always had all rights-the same as Israeli Jews-except for one: they do not have to serve in the armed forces, because the state of Israel recognises that it would be unfair to set them against their Arab brothers. However, they can vote and be elected, and many have been. There is even an Arab-Israeli serving on the Supreme Court in Israel… Israel is an oasis in a desert-an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights in the Middle East”.
• Robert Halfon MP was not called upon by the speaker but had prepared a fantastic speech, which he has since published on his online blog.
The whole thing can be seen here at where you’ll also find the comical “Israel’s legitimate right to impose the blockade”.
I offer no comment other than to say that Mark Regev, Israel’s propaganda specialist, must be exceedingly proud of his pupils. They now speak it fluently. Readers with only the slightest knowledge of the situation in the Holy Land will be aching with laughter and howling in derision at the tosh these stooges put around.
Yes, the Knesset has come to Westminster.
Let’s end with Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel, who is especially well versed. Here’s a flavour of that “fantastic” speech he so wanted to make:
• In 2005 when Israeli PM Ariel Sharon oversaw Israeli withdrawal from every inch of the Gaza Strip…
• Gaza has become a terrorist state. Over 5,000 missiles have been fired into Israel since Hamas takeover in June 2007. Terrorists continue to infiltrate Israel from Gaza to execute brutal terror attacks. Weapons and explosives – supplied by backers Iran and Syria – are continuously smuggled into the Strip to be used against Israeli citizens and territory. This sort of situation is untenable. No country can be expected to live under this sort of pressure.
• It must be noted that 5 of the 6 ships were peacefully intercepted and safely docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod without incident. Unfortunately, a significant minority of ‘activists’ on the Mavi Marmara reacted with extreme violence to the Israeli military personnel… it has become apparent that these ‘activists’ had prepared for violence by accruing various weapons, amongst which were knives and sharpened metal bars.
• Security footage on the boat shows these men preparing their ambush and television images have shown these same individuals chanting horrific anti-Semitic songs. Before the incident, various spokesmen for the flotilla stressed that the intention was to make a political statement and “break the siege” rather than delivering the aid itself.
• Flotilla or no Flotilla, blockade or no blockade, we must never forget that Israel, a democratic state, is battling for its survival against an enemy that seeks its destruction. The West faces the same enemy on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. A free and just Palestinian State and a secure Israel will only come about, when these terrorist movements have been vanquished…
Every line a gem. Vintage Regev…almost.
– 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.