In Westminster last Monday, Dec 1, MPs called for the government to take concrete action to sanction Israel, with several calling for a complete arms trade embargo. The backbench debate highlighted increasing frustration within Parliament around the government’s failure to respond to the Oct 13 call for recognition of the Palestinian statehood, and on its wider failure to act to hold Israel accountable to its obligations under international law.
Responding to the petition END THE CONFLICT IN PALESTINE, which was signed by 124,490 people, Grahame Morris —who previously, on 13 Oct, presented the historic debate which concluded that government should recognise the State of Palestine, began his speech decrying the lack of meaningful action by the UK government to help end the conflict:
“There has been a gap in the rhetoric of Ministers. I know they made tremendous efforts, but there is now a growing gap in credibility between rhetoric and action, which is unacceptable. If we want to see an end to the horrifying cycle of violence and abuses of human rights, and if we wish to bring both parties to the negotiating table in good faith, we need to close that gap.”
He went on to propose a three steps that UK government must now take:
“What should we do? Members, and hopefully the Minister, may wish to consider my proposal that we put an end to trade with and investment in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“Personally, I do not think that we should have to boycott settlement goods; we should not be allowed to buy them in the first place. The UK Government should work at EU level to ensure that such products of suffering and exploitation are banned.
“There is overwhelming evidence that we should also end the arms trade with Israel, based on United Nations evidence that serious breaches of international law occurred before, during and after the most recent assault on Gaza. The UK should have no part in them or in supplying arms and components that allow such things to happen.”
Morris’s sentiments were echoed by many other members stating only sanctions and an arms embargo would work. Labour party MP Sir Gerald Kaufman referenced George Bush Sr. withholding £10 billion of loan guarantees to Israel and MP Hywel Williams suggested following the “example of the Spanish Government” who froze arms sales to Israel last summer during the slaughter in Gaza.
MP from Northern Ireland Mark Durkan made the point that Israel couldn’t “go on believing that it can ignore all the world all the time.”
The debate was by no means one-sided. A number of MPs defended the government position, repeating Israel talking points about Palestinian “unilateral declarations” and blaming the Palestinian Authority for incitement, urging only greater efforts to “restart direct talks”.
Following protocol, the session concluded with the government Minister, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Tobias Ellwood, responding to questions, in which he restated the government’s position on Palestinian statehood, and rejected out-of-hand any prospect of sanctions:
The Honorable Member spoke about introducing sanctions. I do not believe that should be done when we are trying to get people back to the table. It would be a retrograde step bearing in mind where we are right now.
We agree that Palestinian people deserve a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel. However, I am afraid we continue to reserve the right to recognise Palestine when that is most likely to lead to a two-state solution.
There were 40 speakers in a session lasting 4 hours. The general tone of the debate was one that urged concrete unilateral action; that the time for talking is over, acknowledging public opinion across the UK, and highlighting the glaring gap between the UK government’s grand words of condemnation but meagre action.
The full text of the parliamentary session is available here.