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Palestine – Labour should loudly put pressure on Biden

Biden taking over from Trump as US president gives us an opportunity to speak up for Palestinians and ensure Israel complies with international law, writes HUGH LANNING of Labour & Palestine

AMONG the many people around the world who will watch eagerly to see if incoming President Joe Biden has a different approach to foreign policy from his reactionary and regressive predecessor will be those from Palestine.

Under President Donald Trump, we saw an immediate hostility to the cause of justice for Palestine and full support for the policies and actions of the government of Israel. 

This was best exemplified by Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  

This was a highly significant move supporting Israel’s ambition to have Jerusalem as its capital, even though Tel Aviv is Israel’s globally recognised capital.

Additionally, funding for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, was slashed.

Then we saw the formulation and announcement of his so-called “Deal of the Century,” which provided cover and justification for Israel’s subsequent proposals for large-scale new annexations of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

This one-sided plan was definitely not a “deal.” Rejected by all the Palestinian leadership groups, it seeks to formalise and recognise internationally for the first time Israel’s wished-for borders — based on occupation, annexation and settlements — all illegal under international law. 

Its implementation through annexation would leave the disconnected centres of Palestinian population completely encircled and separated and destroy any prospect of a viable, independent Palestinian state.

Such an annexation would not only consolidate the theft of Palestinian land but the intention is still for Israel to maintain military and security control of the whole area, controlling the borders, air and trade. 

But these threats will not go away with the departure of Trump.

He might be going, but the plan remains. In reality it was the Israeli government’s agenda that Trump was endorsing, with his plans only differing from Benjamin Netanyahu’s at the margins. 

Furthermore, despite Israel’s agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and others — a promise to set aside annexation — the government has made it clear that it will proceed with annexation at some point.

Israel’s continuing and ever rapidly growing illegal settlement expansion programme — another form of “land grab,” stealing land and resources which it has no rights to — tells us that it will indeed proceed. 

In an interview since the US election, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris — not historically a friend of Palestine — said the new administration would want to restore relations with Palestine, restore the refugee funding to UNRWA and still, in theory, try to seek a two-state solution. 

She went on to say that a Biden administration would oppose annexation and settlement expansion, but no mention was made of moving the US embassy or how a two-state solution might be achieved. 

This is a modest but welcome improvement, but opposing the settlements, ending the occupation and the siege of Gaza has been the stated policy — excluding Trump — of Western governments for decades. 

Yet the reality is that with each passing decade, Israel has been making any solution but an Israel dominant and a subjugated Palestine less and less possible to achieve.

Now, post-Trump, we must seize the opportunity to proactively raise the issue of Palestine and not be on the defensive.

Our approach must be focused on the key issues of equality, international law and human rights — the issues are very clear and straightforward — and show without doubt that when it comes to Palestine there is an oppressor and the oppressed, namely Israel as an occupier and the Palestinians the occupied.

We must also continue to do what Palestinians ask and both tell their story and enable spaces where Palestinians can tell their story. 

They believe if people know the facts the injustice will be recognised and eventually be put right. 

Palestinians have not and will not be going anywhere and, in the long-term, it is not tenable for Israel to keep millions of them captive.

This must also be the approach of the Labour Party — in line with the strong motions in support of Palestine passed at its 2018 and 2019 conferences — which should be putting clear pressure on Boris Johnson’s government to strongly oppose the ongoing threat of illegal annexation and the expansion of the settlements programme.

Vital to this is keeping the issue of sanctions on the agenda in line with the Palestinian call this year for “effective measures” to be taken in order to get Israel to comply with international law.

We saw with apartheid in South Africa, despite years of consumer boycotts and divestments campaigns, it was only when governments acted and introduced or threatened sanctions that the final progress was made to ending apartheid. 

Historically, Israel has only gone to the negotiating table when under pressure from the US, in particular the questioning of its funding arrangements supporting Israel’s military forces and their occupation of Palestine.

In a welcome first step earlier this year, Lisa Nandy said that the Labour Party would support a ban on settlement goods if annexation goes ahead. 

It was the first time the Labour Party has officially committed itself to government action in relation to actions by Israel. 

In welcoming it as a first step, I wrote that effectiveness would be the key issue. 

Great if has the desired effect, but arms and other trade and sanctions would need to be looked at if it didn’t work.

Now, in the changed circumstances, the same approach must be adopted — both by Labour and internationally. 

In relation to settlement-building, Israel has to believe there are potential consequences for its action. 

If it can proceed with impunity it will build Palestine out of existence, new incumbent in the White House or not.

As we approach 2021, despite warm words from governments internationally, the reality is that Palestine’s right to self-determination is still denied — there is an internationally recognised state of Israel, but no Palestine.

International action is central to changing this, Labour should be a loud voice putting pressure on the Biden administration to support action aimed at ensuring Israel’s compliance with international law.

Our task then in the year ahead is to build that global support to put right the injustices still inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel.

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