Saturday, 6 February 2010

Sir Alan Beith's letter in The Independent

As a Vice-Chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI), I was delighted to see a letter from LDFI's President, Sir Alan Beith MP, in yesterday's Independent. Sir Alan, a former Lib Dem Deputy Leader, eloquently expresses the case for a two-state solution that would bring peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike:

Sanctions against Israel will not help

Lord Phillips is right to demand attention for the awful plight of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants (Opinion, 1 February), but his analysis misses some key points.

Egypt has closed its own border with Gaza because it does not want its own security threatened by the Hamas regime which controls the Strip. Neither do other moderate Arab nations such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The Palestinian Authority chaired by Mahmoud Abbas fears what would happen if Hamas – which demands the total destruction of Israel – is allowed to reinforce its weapons arsenal and dig in further. It could be the death-knell for the Palestinian Authority's declared goal of two states.

Gaza shows the shocking reality of the very limited capability and will of the international community, including its inability to stop arms smuggling. It was the tangible and demonstrated danger to Israel's own people – not Lord Phillips's odd suggestion that Israelis suffer "genetic insecurity" – which led to last year's bloodshed. It was eight years of rocket attacks on Israel's civilian communities, an onslaught to which any country would have had to respond.

Amnesty recently found Hamas had engaged in a "deadly campaign of abductions, killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of 'collaborating with' Israel".

That Gaza is suffering is not in dispute, and Israel is not blameless – indeed, it is taking action against two military officers for misconduct in the recent conflict. But there will be no solution without real talks which deal with harsh realities; and the international community has to get the parties to the table. Economic sanctions against Israel, which Andrew Phillips recommends, will do nothing to bring either the Israelis or Hamas to a recognition of what they need to do. They are likely to have precisely the opposite effect.

Sir Alan Beith MP
House of Commons


  1. Mr Beith fails to mention when he says "eight years of rocket attacks" that Hamas was on ceasefire (recognised as effective by Israel itself) until Nov 4th 2008 when Israel attacked Hamas out of the blue.

    He also doesn't mention that according to the Road Map an end to Palestinian "violence" is intended to be simultaneous with an Israeli ceasefire - something Israel has always rejected.

  2. Also where is the moderate Arab state callled Saudi Arabia that we are concerned that Hamas might destabilise. Is it connected to the Saudi Arabia that decapitates and amputates criminals, forbids women to drive and threatened another 7/7 if its corrupt deal with BAE was investigated by the SFO ? Or is there a democratic Saudi Arabia I'm unaware of ?

    When Mr Beith says sanctions will be uneffective on Israel and Hamas can we assume a future LD government will recognise a Hamas led Palestinian leadership without what Netanyahu called "preconditions".
    Alternatively will the LDs establish diplomatic relations with Israel only when it recognises a Palestinian state ?

  3. Thanks, Bernard, we shall have to agree to disagree. Hamas was indeed supposed to be on ceasefire on 4 November 2008 - in which case, why were they, at that time, building a tunnel to facilitate the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers from inside Israel proper? When, on 4 November 2008, Israeli forces entered Gaza, they were RESPONDING to Hamas' building of the tunnel - in other words, Hamas had already broken the ceasefire by building the tunnel. Hamas was building the tunnel 250 metres from Israel's internationally recognised, pre-1967 border. When Israeli soldiers went to close down the tunnel in Gaza, Hamas gunmen attacked them and one Hamas man was killed in the fighting, which also wounded some Israeli soldiers. Hamas then launched mortar shells into Israel, prompting an Israeli response in which five more Hamas men were killed. Hamas and their allies then began the launching of Qassam rockets at Israeli civilian targets, with more shooting between IDF troops and Hamas gunmen.

    Israeli spokesmen stressed throughout the week that Israel did not wish to end the ceasefire, but Israeli forces had no choice but to act against the tunnel. But with this threat removed, Israel favoured a return to the ceasefire. Islamic Jihad initially said that it considered the ceasefire to be over, but then said that the ceasefire would be renewed if Israeli ‘attacks' ceased - when Israel had been responding, not 'attacking', in the first place

  4. Incidentally, the only reference to a "ceasefire" in the Road Map is the following planned course of events in Phase 1:

    "Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel's right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.

    "Israeli leadership issues unequivocal statement affirming its commitment to the two-state vision of an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel, as expressed by President Bush, and calling for an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere. All official Israeli institutions end incitement against Palestinians."

    So, with respect, it does not say that "an end to Palestinian "violence" is intended to be simultaneous with an Israeli ceasefire", as Bernard puts it. What it actually envisages is that:

    "Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."

    Israel certainly made commitments under the Road Map and should be held to them. But the Road Map does not commit Israel to a "ceasefire". There is no moral equivalence between terrorists attacking civilians in a country, and that country's government responding with preventive measures. No government would ever sign up to a "ceasefire" that obliges it not to take action against people who are about blow its civilians up.

  5. Actually, I agree that Saudi Arabia's abhorrent regime behaves in such a way as not to deserve the term "moderate". Israel already recognises a two-state solution and the need for a Palestinian state and has done for a long time. I hold no brief for Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he said last June: "if the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarised Palestinian state exists alongside the State of Israel."

  6. sorry Matthew, I meant an end to Pal "violence" is intended to be simultaneous with an Israel settlement freeze (not ceasefire). Israel of course rejected a freeze, its side of the deal, as impossible from the outset (Ariel Sharon claiming it would force abortions !) but still demands the Pals comply with their part. Abbas has done ( even Hamas went on ceasefire when the Road mao was unveiled) and its got him nowhere. The landgrab in Abbas controlled West Bank continues.

    Your claim that Hamas was intent on building a tunnell to kidnap Israeli soldiers is just speculation and denied by Hamas at least admit that.

    even the times put your speculation in quotes

    and further notes that it was an attack by Israeli special forces on a Gazan house - you seem to think it was Hamas started the fighting. I think thats a strange way to describe an Israeli incursion.
    Hamas have every right to build tunnels on their own territory. The Israel war was clearly he result of long term planning so I think there's every reasno to think that Israel was keen to manufacture a pretext.

    So if Israel recognises a 2 state solution which land do they recognise as comprising the Palestinian state. At the moment the Pals have to accept 78% of Palestine as Israel (aka Israel's right to exist) while Israel insists they wil never relinquish the settlements sitting at the heart of the remaining 22% and are demanding Israel troops remain in the Jordan valley post any 2 state solution. It sounds like Israel is prepared to discuss a Pal state in the remaining 10% or so of Palestine - thats a 2 state solution !!??

  7. Oh so Netanyau will perhaps accept a "demilitarised Palestinian state" in some slivers of ancestral Palestine.

    how does this square with your statement that "No government would ever sign up to a "ceasefire" that obliges it not to take action against people who are about blow its civilians up."
    given Israel's recent attacks killing over a 1000 Palestinian civilians - for which a respected Jewish human rights investigator has accused Israel of war crimes.

  8. hi Matthew

    also, as I said, I did wonder what you though re Sir Alan's point ( sorry I forgot he was a Sir) that sanctions on Israel and Hamas are ineffective.
    Presumably by sanctions he means the suggested sanctions on Israel *and* the current sanctions on Hamas.
    Presumably then a LD government will either impose sanctions on both the terror regime of Hamas and the expansionist peace deal rejecting regime of Israel or have open relations with both Israel and Hamas ?
    and Sir Alan's remarks suggest the latter.

  9. Thanks for your comments, Bernard, with which I shall again "agree to disagree". I agree with you that Israel should freeze settlement building. Abbas, however, should agree to talk (what's wrong with talking?) even without a settlement, as neither Israel nor the PA should lay down preconditions before talks with each other (not talks with Hamas, that's a different issue).

    You talk about long-term planning for the Gaza War - indeed, Hamas and its Iranian paymasters were planning it for a long time, hence the tunnel, which was intended to provoke a confrontation, for which Israel would then be blamed by international opinion.

    Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire (not an independent nation-state and not a territory with fixed, defined borders - its Arab inhabitants were not then known as "Palestinians" and would not have recognised the name) prior to 1917. The League of Nations then created a mandate for part of that territory and called it "Palestine". The Palestine Mandate was given to Britain by the League of Nations. In 1922, Britain hived off 78% of Mandate Palestine and turned into the new Kingdom of Transjordan - the modern Jordan. Jews were banned from living in Transjordan. So the remaining 22% was named Palestine (minus the 78% that became Jordan) and today's Israel/Palestine is that 22% - the Arabs already have the other 78% in the form of Jordan. So all that stuff about the Palestinians now being offered only a sliver of Palestine is completely untrue.

    No Palestinian civilians would have been killed in the Gaza War had Hamas not provoked the war in the first place. The (flawed) Goldstone Report accuses both Hamas and Israel of war crimes. I await Hamas' response with interest. Israel has responded and there are growing calls in Israel for a judicial inquiry into Goldstone's claims, as has happened in Israel after previous conflicts - I would strongly support such an inquiry.

    I still support the international community's preconditions for talks with Hamas: that Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and agree to abide by agreements previously entered into by the Palestininians.

    Incidentally, the Palestinian President appointed a Hamas/Fatah unity government and Hamas overthrew that government in Gaza in a brutally violent coup, so Gaza is not "their own territory".

  10. we will have to agree to disagree

    disappointing that you think Hamas's acceptance of the Road Map (ie that they should accept Israel's claim to 78% of Palestine aka "right to exist" and renounce "violence") should be a precondition for talks but Israels rejection of same Road Map (ie ending the land grab) should not be - sounds like double standards to me.

    Your claim re Iran and Hamas planning the war is really speculation - Hamas are most unlikely to provoke a war which they must have known they'd lose massively despite their appeasment of Israel (going on ceasefire) being unsuccesful in ending Israel refusal to end land grab and Israel's failure even to end the blockade - I think international opinion is fairly pro Israel on this - and when do you hear Israel's tunnel attack even discussed ?? not even in Sir Alan's letter where the "8 years of rockets" mantra is repeated without context.

    I'm afraid Matthew I've only elsewhere heard right wing Israelis claim that Jordan is really Palestine - Palestine has always been largely the territoty West of the Jordan river historically and very little of Jordan (the country) has ever been called "East Palestine" prior to Britain's mandate.
    Either way the land (Israel and the OT) that are disputed had inhabitants 2/3 Palestinian - irrespective of their historical name you surely don't dispute their identity as a separate people !!??
    are you really justifying Netanyahu's justification for offering a sliver of Palestine at best on the grounds that you think Jordan is really Palestine - I think thats illiberal at best.

    and Hamas were elected in a poll regarded as fair by Western observers - and then the West refused to accept that democratic choice - and you might equally say that Fatah violently expelled Hamas from the West Bank.

    Netanyahu's father told Israel TV that his son din't accept a Palestinian state's right to exist by imposing conditions on a state that the Pals would find impossible. I really wonder if those who oppose sanctions upholding both Israel and Hamas to the Road Map conditions (an end to the land grab in Israel's case) actually share Netanyahu's views and in reality support settlement expansion destroying any hope of a Palestinian state.

  11. Thank you, Bernard. Indeed, we can agree to disagree.

    Your assumptions about Hamas assume that it has a rational corporate identity and thus has a rational decision-making process - have you read Hamas charter, or Amnesty International's reports of what life is like for Palestinians under Hamas' rule?

    Re: Jordan, surely you do not dispute the fact that Jordan was part of the territory given to Britain by the League of Nations in the Palestine Mandate, and that Britain hived it off in 1922 to create the separate Kingdom of Transjordan - today's Jordan? That is surely beyond dispute, as is the fact that Transjordan comprised 78% of the Palestine Mandate territory, with Jews being banned from settling in the Kingdon of Transjordan when it was created in 1922. I'd be interested to know which parts of this Jordanian history, if any, you consider to be untrue?

    I don't dispute the centuries-long history of Arab people living in the territory that is now Israel/Palestine; I do contend, however, that their identity under Ottoman rule was as Arabs, not as Palestinians. The territory that we now call "Palestine" was part of a wider province in the Ottoman Empire and its people would not have seen themselves as being culturally or ethnically distinct from the Arabs living elswhere in that province and in the wider Arab world; they would not have recognised the term "Palestinian".

    It was the British and the French who created different nation-states in the Arab world after World War I, prior to which the region's Arab peoples considered themselves to be Arabs, not Jordanians, Saudis, Iraqis, etc. That does nothing to alter the fact that Arabs originating from Israel/Palestine have developed a national identity as Palestinians - but it is entirely wrong to imagine that there was ever before an independent country called Palestine. When a Palestinian state is created (as it must be, and the sooner the better) it will be the first such Palestininan state ever to have existed.

    I take your point about Fatah's violence towards Hamas in the West Bank. Hamas was indeed fairly elected, and the world did not then refuse to accept the result - the West immediately laid down its terms for working with the Hamas government, and Hamas refused to do business. There was also no cut off of aid to the Palestinians under Hamas - a Temporary Interim Mechanism was created to ensure a continued flow of aid.

    I haven't seen the interview with Netanyahu's father; is it somewhere online where I might view it?

  12. I did receive a further comment from Bernard, but, rather than posting it, I have decided to decare this correspondence closed, as I believe that we have both made our point in this argument quite thoroughly, and should now agree to differ.