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As Jeremy Corbyn implied: “The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

It is the 50th anniversary week of the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel seized 1,200 square water-rich kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria and later annexed it – though its right to this land has never been recognised by the international community.

Donald Macintyre, who lived in Jerusalem for many years and won the 2011 Next Century Foundation’s Peace Through Media Award, recalls in the Independent that fifty years ago Shlomo Gazit, head of the Israeli military intelligence’s assessment department, heard detailed reports of the destruction that morning of almost the entire Egyptian air force by Israeli jets – his 23-year-old nephew being among the few missing Israeli pilots. He then started work on a clear-sighted blueprint for the future of the territories Israel had occupied, arguing that “Israel should not humiliate its defeated enemies and their leaders.”

Jerusalem: an open city or UN headquarters?

There were then, as now, many leading Zionist Israelis who believed that occupation was a wholly wrong course. Gazit outlined plans for an independent, non-militarised Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Old City of Jerusalem would become an “open city … with an international status resembling that of the Vatican”.

A British Quaker, Richard Rowntree, advocated moving the UN Headquarters from New York to Jerusalem and years later Sir Sydney Giffard, a former British Ambassador to Japan, presented the social and economic advantages to Israelis and Palestinians of moving the UN Headquarters to the vicinity of Jerusalem (Spectator link only accessible if account created). Whilst recognising difficulties and obstacles, Giffard felt that UN member states giving determined support to this project “could enable the UN to effect a transformation – both of its own and of the region’s character – of historic significance”.

But after 50 years the Palestinians, as Macintyre points out, “a resourceful and mainly well-educated population, are still imprisoned in a maze of checkpoints closures and military zones, deprived of civil and political rights and governed by martial law (denounced by Mehdi Hasan here, destruction of sewage system pictured above). And all this nearly three decades after Yasser Arafat agreed to end the conflict in return for a state on Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – 22% of historic Palestine (Even Hamas, so long one of many excuses for not reaching a deal, last month issued its qualified support for such an outcome)”.

“The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

Under this heading, Macintyre points out that the US provides Israel with over $3bn (£2.3bn) a year in military aid and the EU implements trade agreements which exempt only the most flagrant economic activity in the settlements from its provisions, leading Benjamin Netanyahu to believe he can maintain the occupation with impunity.

He summarises the potential gains of a peace agreement for Israel: “full diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab world, an end to the growing perception of Israel as an apartheid state, the reduction of costs – moral and financial – to its own citizens of using a conscript army to enforce the occupation”.

Co-existence in Iran

In several Stirrer articles, opening with this one, Richard Lutz reports on his visits to Iran – as a Jew, albeit lapsed – and Roger Cohen’s account in the New York Times is not to be missed. He – like Lutz, “treated with such consistent warmth” in Iran, says, “It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity. Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric”.

As so many civilised Israelis and Palestinians work for peace, some details recorded here, and the settlement of Neve Shalom (above) shows what is possible, Macintyre ends by saying that it is not just the Israelis and the Palestinians who should be reflecting this week on the impact of what is surely the longest occupation in modern history:

“It is time for the Western powers to reflect on their part in prolonging a conflict which will never end of its own accord”.

 

 

 

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

 

 

PMQs: Lutz in the Birmingham Press got it right. Corbyn impressed

A recent article by Richard Lutz in the Birmingham Press opened: “The Prime Minister will have to have change his upper class bully boy tactics once he faces new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Lutz recounted: “PMQs is hardly polite. In fact, it is so red in tooth and claw that the Speaker had to recently warn baying Parliamentarians to calm down as some of the more demure MPs said it just wasn’t worth showing up any more . . . but with the chance to perform for TV, it has become more and more nasty, personal, vindictive and, ultimately, void of any real content”. He referred to Cameron: “braying personalised attacks at those sitting across the House from him”.

Watching PMQs today – recorded here.

jc magisterial pmq firstElderly readers of the Times who have been voicing concerns about his appearance will be reassured by the fact that he was wearing a tie – a concern which also seems to loom large in the mainstream press.

Corbyn, with considerable gravitas, opened – to Labour applause and opposition silence – by referring to the public’s perception that conduct in ‘this place’ is too theatrical and out of touch. He remembered welcoming Cameron’s 2005 promise to end the “Punch and Judy” politics of PMQs, sadly unfulfilled.

Over 40,000 people sent in questions for Mr Corbyn’s consideration. Of the 2500 on housing he selected Marie’s focus on the chronic lack of affordable housing and thanked the PM for his polite, “more adult” reply. We learnt that the government’s July order to cut rents in social housing by1% for the next four years has already led to 150 job cuts in a Stevenage housing association and will mean less money will be available to spend on maintenance and housing. Elsewhere we read that it will also reduce housebuilding by housing associations.

Paul’s question, conveyed by the new Labour leader, doubted the wisdom of taking £1000 from each of 3 million working families in April through family tax credit cuts, as these credits were essential to avoid reliance on food banks.  

A relatively minor level of shouting from Labour benches (by PMQ standards a murmur) was reproved by the prime minister as not being in keeping with the new style advocated by Corbyn.

Cameron answered that employment is at an ‘all time high’ and wages are rising, and referred to those who choose to live on welfare payments rather than work. Corbyn answered gravely that many people don’t have the choice. He then cited the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 8000 families would suffer a 26% loss.

Gail provided the next question, which opened with the dramatic statement that all accept that the mental health service is ‘on its knees’ and David Cameron appeared to agree. He said the parties should ’work together on this’ adding an oblique reference to the media fables about the Corbyn economic agenda: “there can be no strong NHS without a strong economy”.

The question from Angela, a mental health professional, referred to the lack of available beds which meant that patients were left without accommodation or moved far away from family and friends. Mr Cameron agreed: “We need to do more as a country; beds are important”, but then alleged that mental health issues are often not treated when patients go to their GP.

After fifteen minutes, Jeremy Corbyn’s questions ended and there was a change of tack, which could be described as indirect sniping – when questioners no longer had to face a Corbyn reply.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson says his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident” – but had to ask ‘What happened to the new PMQs?’ after Cameron asked him in a jeering manner if ‘the SNP is frit?’

Nigel Dodds (DUP) belligerently referred to shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that we should “honour” IRA members who died in the armed struggle – a remark set in full context in a careful report of the proceedings in the Independent.

Conservative bloomer, surely?

Julian Knight stressed the importance of Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent – which actually does not exist, as many point out, Alex Thomson for one: our “independent” Trident missiles in reality come from Lockheed Martin in the US and are maintained by the US Navy. So we are being asked to spend around  £100bn to maintain and replace an “independent” nuclear strike capability – which does not exist. David Morrison adds: “If Britain doesn’t maintain friendly relations with the US, then it won’t have a functional nuclear weapons system, despite having spent billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money on it – because the US would simply cease providing Britain with serviceable Trident missiles”.

Other MPs questions followed, making references – probably planted to provoke – to increased defence spending, NATO membership, traditional values and the national anthem.

Lutz was right on target:

david cameron pmqCameron did ‘play it cool’, not going for ‘the teenage nastiness that has sadly stained the current level of PMQ debate in the last years’.

He did stick to answering questions, and for the time being he appeared to be “growing up”.

My neighbour said drily, ”Only another 25,000 questions to go.”