“Labour should work with Standing Together”

Submitted by AWL on 17 July, 2019 - 7:53 Author: Steve Lapsley
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Israel is in a very dark place. We have a very right-wing coalition government, there are more elections in October, the formal opposition is not left wing.

Netanyahu has aligned himself with Donald Trump, Modi in India and Orban in Hungary and right wing leaders internationally. Israel is doing huge damage to its reputation and standing internationally, and is the only country whose right to exist is continually questioned.

The Israeli Labour Party has been in decline for some time. But even the genuinely left wing parties like Meretz and Hadash, which is the Arab-Jewish Party, have not made many inroads lately.

There has been talk of them merging or some new joint Jewish-Arab political project. But every time that gets close, and this has been the case for twenty or so years, everyone seems to back away.

The more promising stuff is less from political parties but from civil society. Standing Together is growing quite well and there have been some impressive demonstrations over the last few months. I think that is the future for the left in Israel.

But things are difficult at the moment, particularly as the demographics change, as they have, a lot, over the last twenty years.

There is no doubt that the “two states” solution is struggling as a concept at the moment. Primarily because the Israeli government has acted wilfully against it.

The extension of settlements on the West Bank has also been pushing against us. But I don’t think the “two states” solution is dead.

Most of the settlers are in a small area. I have always been of the opinion that those people are building on internationally disputed ground and should a two-states solution come about, they will be living under Palestinian authority

When people are building these settlements, they need to know that.

“Two states” is in trouble; however, it is probably the only option. You cannot imagine a single federated state with Hamas and the settler movement living happily side-by-side. That is away-with-the-fairies stuff.

I have friends who advocate a single “democratic secular” state. There are things I completely understand about it. What I cannot see is how it could possibly come about. There are two clearly separate peoples. In an ideal world we would want both peoples — and others — living together in harmony. That is what we all want. But right now, Israel is going further to the right. Many Palestinians, certainly Hamas in Gaza, are clearly stating that they don’t want such a single state.

It seems to be based on a moral resurgence. Anyone who has been in Israel, as I have, even with my friends there on the left who I generally know, will not see any the required resurgence that matches that aim.

It is idealist. It is utopian. On the left we can dream of that solution, but practically it is nowhere near. I realise that the two-states solution is battered and bruised and under attack from everyone from Netanyahu to Donald Trump. But practically two-states is the only solution which can lead to peace.

I would like to see the Labour Party talk with people like Standing Together. I would like to see better links with the left wing in Israel, such as Hadash and Meretz, and more understanding about what is going on.

At the moment, I’m afraid the Labour Party is talking in clichés. Of course we should ban arm sales to Israel or to any government that abuses human rights.

We need to go against Donald Trump. There is no doubt that he is attacking Palestinian rights, bringing forward his ridiculous deals that no one wants, other than probably the Americans and Saudis. We should clearly back away from that rubbish.

What I would prefer the Labour Party to do is to work with our partners across Europe — though that cooperation is now under threat from Brexit — to push for practical solutions in Palestine/Israel — things that can work, that can bring peace. Things that can bring a better hope for the future for everyone.

I have no problem focusing on Palestinian rights, because they are an oppressed people. I think we should recognise a Palestinian state. We should have done that a long time ago. It is good that some European countries that are now doing that. Those countries are now coming under great pressure, especially from the US, which is quite absolutist.

In my speech at the 2018 Labour Party conference I made reference to Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy. The foreign policy I want to see is that we ban arms sales across the board to any rights-abusing countries.

Israel is certainly one of those countries. But I do worry about the party exclusively focusing on Israel – not just at the top and at conference, but in the number of motions that go through branches and CLPs that are very Israel-Palestine focused.

It is far too easy now for people to say you are only focusing on Israel. Some argue that it is antisemitic if you focus on the only Jewish state and not the others. Whatever you think about that argument, you do have to wonder why it is only Israel human rights abuses that are focused on all the time.

Most British Jews, Israeli, and probably American Jews, still have a cultural link with Israel. Many have family there. There is still the idea that Israel was a safety net for Jewish people – a Jewish homeland. There is some basis in religious prayer and other culture for that.

The older generation of Jewish people tends to defend Israel, no matter what.

I see that slipping with younger Jewish people. That is a good thing, as the Jewish diaspora has a big role to play in challenging where Israel is now.

• Steve Lapsley is a Labour Party member in Nottingham, and a candidate this year for Labour’s National Constitutional Committee. He spoke to Pete Radcliff for Solidarity.

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