Israel-Palestine at Labour conference

Submitted by martin on 21 September, 2021 - 6:52 Author: Martin Thomas
Labour Party conference 2019

The conference agenda has several motions on Israel-Palestine, mostly elaborations on Labour and Palestine’s model motion. No likely composite will deserve support as improving Labour’s existing policy.

Nor would the model motion circulated by the Labour right (Labour To Win), but no CLP has submitted that.

• No motion adds to Labour’s “two states” policy what it mostly lacks — solidarity with forces on the ground fighting for that, such as the Jewish-Arab Standing Together movement in Israel, trade unions, or campaigns against checkpoints and house demolitions. Probably all the CLPs submitting would recoil from supporting Hamas as their ally on the ground, but most describe the May 2021 war exclusively as an Israeli assault on Gaza (which it was), without mention or criticism of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Hamas is an enemy, not an ally, for a democratic or secular outcome.

• Instead of solidarity, as agency for their aims the motions (to varying degrees) propose boycotts of Israel. It is not for us to object to big-power leverage such as that from the USA which forced Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1957 and 1979-82, or to diplomatic pressure to restart two-states negotiations. Or to action against arms-trading. But the boycott-Israel policy has meant, in practice, exclusion of Israeli academics from editorial boards, of Israeli film-makers from film festivals, of Israeli contingents from LGBT protests, and such; and a license for union officials to block solidarity with workers’ struggles in Israel. None of that has helped Palestinian rights. If “boycott” gathered momentum, then, given the family and other links between Jewish communities and Israel, it could only become a Jew-hunt. Better solidarity with movements on the ground, as in other countries where we oppose oppressive policies.

• None of the variants call explicitly for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel or for what we reckon is the underlying principle for a democratic outcome — self-determination for both nations, Palestinian-Arab and Israeli-Jewish — though some call for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and an end to the blockade of Gaza. Probably few of the CLPs involved would want explicitly to oppose “two states”, but, most stridently in Young Labour’s variant, they state their general aim as “the refugees to return to their homes”. This is not a matter of individual free movement improving a “two states” settlement between nations, but of mass collective resettlement in what is now the homeland of the nation formed by generations of Jewish refugees and their descendants in Israel. It could not happen without Israel being overrun militarily. It cuts across “two states”. In any case resettlement onto the usually long-gone meagre peasant plots of their great-grandparents and grandparents is no way forward for the heavily-urbanised Palestinians of 73 years on.

• To be angry against Israeli government misdeeds is good. Skewing facts to demonise Israel is not. The motions cite reports from B’tselem and Human Rights Watch as equating Israel with apartheid, without noting that HRW and B’tselem do not equate Israel with pre-1994 South Africa. (The Israeli Jews are a nation, not a caste placed above drudges, like the whites in pre-1994 South Africa). Motions refer to the reprehensible threat of eviction against some 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah as “ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem”. In fact the Palestinian majority in East Jerusalem has increased since the 1990s. (There were some evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in 1998, 2008, and 2009: what’s new, and welcome, is the big mobilisation of Palestinians to resist the threatened new evictions). The motions denounce the Israeli government for not offering Covid jabs to Palestinians. Israel is to be criticised for not donating more vaccines to poorer governments like the Palestinian Authority, but so, equally, are Britain and other well-off countries: Palestinian residents of Israel have had the same right to vaccines as Jewish residents.

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