Thursday, November 29, 2007

After Annapolis: the fight goes on

WHILE Olmert was on the way to Annapolis, the settlers carried out a pogrom in the West Bank village of Funduk.
WHILE the leaders shook hands in Annapolis, the Israeli army killed eight Palestinians.
WHILE Olmert expressed "understanding for the sufferings of the Palestinians", the blockade that starves the population there went on.
Olmert gave the conference a wreath of beautiful promises. He must prove that they are not rubber checks.

THAT'S the succinct statement which Israeli peace activists from Gush Shalom are posting as an ad in the daily Ha'aretz tomorrow.

YESTERDAY, while I was helping marshall people in the House of Commons lobby who had come to see their MPs about Palestine, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband was making a statement about the Annapolis peace summit. Unlike some of the more hopeful lobbyists who spoke to me yesterday, I was not expecting much from Miliband so I have not been disappointed.

"For several years there has been neither peace nor a peace process in the Middle East", Miliband acknowledged. "Insecurity for Israelis and suffering of Palestinians have fed off each other, deepening divides and fomenting mutual distrust. The Conference represents a determined attempt by both sides, and by the United States, to break the cycle of violence and discord".

Urging "a new drive for peace based on the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side", the Foreign Secretary claimed there was now a " clear and shared goal", as stated by George Bush, β€œto immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements.”

Promising British support for a resumed "road map" and programme of future talks, and British economic aid, he said " our priority is to help build effective national Palestinian Security Forces. We have been involved with this effort for several years now. We commit our people, resources and experience to making a difference on the ground. In Nablus, in Bethlehem, in Jericho - where I saw raw recruits for myself ten days ago - the fight for security is the fight for legitimacy and hope for the Palestinian people".

Funny he should mention Jericho. Reminds me of how his predecessor collaborated in withdrawing British observers from Jericho prison an hour or less before Israeli forces stormed it and took away prisoners. We might guess that the British government's notion of Palestinian "security" does not apply to security against the Israelis, but to dealing with other Palestinians.

Reminding us that this is not just a Labour government, but New Labour, Miliband had a word on bread and butter questions.

" Prosperity driven by the private sector needs reform driven by the public sector. This is why the Reform and Development Plan prepared by Prime Minister Fayyad is a statement of intent – about clean government, about responsible budgeting, about politics based on promises that are made to be kept."

"This will only bear fruit if Palestinians are given the freedom to work, to trade and to reap the benefits of commerce. The efforts of Tony Blair are vital in this regard".

Does talk of "freedom" only mean Brownite reliance on the private sector (which was not the way Israel was built, and is not working so well in Britain either), or will Israel have to pull out its roadbloacks, take down the Wall, and as first move, lift its siege on Gaza?

"Fourth we should not lose sight of Gaza, an integral part of a future Palestinian state. Continuing rocket fire into Israel by extremist groups within Gaza is a reminder of the dangers Israel faces. However, the deteriorating humanitarian situation is a real cause of concern. The UN Secretary General spoke forcefully to this issue yesterday and we support his efforts to ensure that the interests of the civilian population are not forgotten".

Not a word about the wall, the siege, or the destructive attacks that have reduced the majority of people in Gaza to dependence on inadequate UN relief handouts.

There were other fine words from Miliband about peace and humanity for Israelis and Palestinians, and you can read the full speech at

I was not entirely disappointed with Miliband, because I was not expecting much. After the Palestinian under-19 football side was refused visas to come to Britain, I wrote to the new Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Jewish Socialists' Group, requesting an explanation, and urging Miliband to give a pledge that Britain would assist the Palestinian sportsmen to come here in the near future. It was a chance for him to show some earnest of a desire to help hopes for peace. All we got was a reply from some official in the Visas Department who said he was not at liberty to give reasons why the visas had been denied. Yesterday I mentioned this to a Labour Party member on the lobby, who told me that her MP had received the same standard reply.

But as the Foreign Secretary whom Labour never appointed Gerald Kaufman told lobbyists yesterday, without doing something now about the siege, releasing detained Palestinian MPs and talking with all elected leaders, Annapolis is doomed to fail as a peace process.

That's assuming it was intended to do more than provide Bush and his allies in the Middle East with yet another "road map" to respectability, while they plan the next war, with Iran.

Israeli right-wingers, including members of the government, are accusing Olmert of sell-out merely for agreeing to discuss borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem in future. Others in Israel are talking ominously of "solving the problem" of Palestinians in Israel - the demand on Arab leaders is not just to recognise Israel but to recognise it as "a Jewish state". As a Muslim speaker warned in the lobby meeting yesterday, this sounds like they are planning "transfer".

As other speakers said yesterday, the important thing now is not to be transfixed by what was said or not said at Annapolis, but concentrate on what happens on the ground, and what we do.

That's why I'm off to Whitehall to take part in a demonstration demanding an end to the siege of Gaza.



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