Ethan Schwartz (29/03/2012)
A number of MPs from across the political spectrum have taken part in a debate on "Israel and the Peace Process" tabled by John Woodcock MP, Chair of Labour Friends for Israel.
Woodcock outlined the way “Israel has reached out to its neighbours where it could.” This includes the export of goods and a joint campaign to have the Dead Sea declared as one of the wonders of the world. At the same time, he acknowledged what he described as, “a real sense of injustice among many Palestinians”, while concluding, “the fact remains that there is only one side at the table at present, and that is Israel.”
Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green and a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, argued that, “This debate is an important step in rebalancing some of the discussions that Members have had in the House.”
Freer pointed to Hamas as a major stumbling block to any peace talks, as they have not accepted “the Quartet principles, which are that the state of Israel be recognised, previous diplomatic agreements be abided by and parties renounce violence.” Freer stated that, “There cannot be negotiation when one side at the table seeks to wipe the other off the map.”
Several MPs debated the comparisons between the situations in Israel and Northern Ireland, with Bob Stewart, Conservative MP for Beckenham, arguing that the Northern Ireland peace process “went ahead with the Provisional IRA still on active operations”, so “one” of the Quartet principles “is not sacrosanct.”
This drew the ire of Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for Belfast North, who pointed out that, “Before Sinn Fein was admitted to the talks in Northern Ireland, it had to sign up to the Mitchell principles,” which included disarmament and a political solution. According to Dodds, “it was clear that it could not come to the table while still avowing terrorism.” Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North, added that, “to the best of my knowledge, Sinn Fein at no time called for the destruction of Northern Ireland”.
Several members of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group spoke at the debate, including its Chair, Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, who is considered to be on the left wing of the Labour Party and Sandra Osborne, Labour MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock.
Osborne, questioning Woodcock, asked, “how the Israelis can possibly seriously negotiate the end of settlements while they are still building settlements?” Woodcock replied that settlement-building "is wrong, unhelpful and should not happen, but it is the responsibility of all sides", pointing to the refusal of Palestinian leaders to "come to the table".
The hour and a half long debate took place in Westminster Hall on the last day before Parliament’s Easter recess.
Photo by Alan Cleaver
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