Monthly Archives: July 2013

Palestinians need Justice, not more Peace Talks

4e71bcf9-a80c-47c2-9b1f-6b8bcdbabb75_BDS-movementThe latest round of peace talks or to be more accurate, talks about peace talks between Israel and Palestine is just one more distraction from the fundamental issue – Justice, or rather the lack of justice in Palestine. The Israelis and their American friends are only too willing to talk about peace. In fact they like nothing better than to talk about peace. For that is all the Israelis have to offer – talks and yet more talks. All about the need for peace. Not a word about justice. At least not a word about justice for Palestinians. The whole thing is a sham and just a cover for yet further Israeli illegal land grabs. The so-called “Peace Process” has become a major enemy of Human Rights. This is not just my view, but the view of Michael Sfard, Israeli human rights attorney and legal counsel and co-founder of Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights. He states in an interview with Israeli online magazine +972 that, “While talks are happening Israel gets away with anything. Land grabs, the expansion of settlements, even [Operation] Cast Lead was waged while there were peace talks.” When the world focuses its attention on the peace process, he explains, it is much less attentive to Palestinian victims and the cries of human rights organizations and civil society. In the past decade or two, “the peace process has become one of the major enemies of human rights,” Sfard continues, and “no peace process will be fruitful if people are suffering on the ground.” You can read the whole interview here.

It is clear that from the Oslo agreements onwards to the present day, peace talks are immensely beneficial to Israel. The Palestinians get nothing out of them. In fact they continue to lose territory to the ongoing illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. I guess the Palestinian leadership continues to participate in this charade, as the Palestinians are too weak to do anything else. However it is not clear just what endgame the Israelis and their American sponsors have in mind. The kind of peace deal that the Israelis are prepared to offer – retention of East Jerusalem, retention of all the illegal settlements – is something that no Palestinian leadership could ever accept. Not even one as weak and craven as the current one. Israel must know this, so it appears that the Israelis are looking for no more than a few positive words in the world’s press while they continue with business as usual. Which for Palestinians means the occupation continuing as usual. The Israeli and Zionist establishment is essentially bankrupt. They have no achievable long term vision for the area. What they really want of course is for the Palestinians to just go away. Which is why the Israelis make life as difficult and intolerable for Palestinians as possible. However the Palestinians are not going to go away. Moreover, however much the Americans support Israel, even the USA would balk at any military attempt by Israel to repeat what they did in 1948/49 – the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. So all that Israel can hope for is that things remain much as they are and that the rest of the world turns a blind eye. If the Palestinians continue to participate in meaningless “peace” talks, so much the better.

This rather rosy picture from an Israeli perspective is unlikely to last for too long. Things are beginning to change. The Global BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – has already chalked up a number of important successes. The recent EU decision to limit grants to Israeli organizations that have no links to the illegal settlements was a major blow to Israel. There is hardly any organization in Israel that does not have important links with the settlements. The tide is turning and Israel knows it. Which presumably is why it is so desperate to try and get the debate back to “peace” talks. This is most unlikely to work. Peace without Justice is not really peace and certainly no basis for a sustainable peace. So instead of striving for an illusory peace settlement the focus needs to remain on challenging the status quo. Which is what the BDS movement does by emphasizing instead the three key injustices that need to be resolved before wasting time debating borders etc. Just to remind everyone, here are the three demands:

1. The right of return for all refugees,
2. The end of occupation and
3. Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

These three demands are beautifully simple and very difficult for anyone to reasonably argue against. All are relevant and essential to any long lasting outcome. To take one example, the third demand – Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In many ways this demand goes to the heart of the conflict. For Israel demands that the Palestinians and the rest of the world for that matter, recognizes Israel as a “Jewish” state. But as a Jewish state, Israel necessarily discriminates against its own citizens who are not Jewish. Including those, like the Palestinians, who were born in Israel and whose parents and grandparents were born there. Yet in all kinds of ways, the state discriminates against Palestinian Israelis, both formally and informally. Palestinian political parties are not in practice, allowed to form part of the government. The allocation of public money is heavily skewed in favour of Jews and Jewish communities. Despite the fact that around 20% of the population of Israel is Palestinian. So how could any Palestinian agree to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? It is hard to imagine how any country could agree to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as this implies discrimination against non Jews. Yet all Israeli governments continue to make this demand a pre-condition for any final outcome. The very fact that Israel refuses to treat all its citizens equally, should give our governments pause for concern. What are we in the West doing by supporting such an unjust state? There would be greater chance of a long term peace settlement if our governments were to join with the BDS movement in challenging Israel to give reality to these three simple demands for justice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Palestine

Willie Rennie and the Five Unions

Yesterday Alex Salmond gave a speech outlining the benefits independence would bring to Scotland. As Salmond put it, “The case for independence is fundamentally a democratic one. A vote for independence next year will address the democratic deficit which sees policies like the punitive Bedroom Tax, the renewal of Trident or Royal Mail privatisation imposed on Scotland against the wishes of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives.” Independence will bring about the end of the political union that is the UK, but as Salmond went on to point out, “Scotland will continue to participate fully in five unions – the European Union, a defence union through NATO, a currency union, the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the people of these isles.” A fairly straightforward statement of what will change with independence and what will not change.

Not according to Willie Rennie, leader of the LibDems in Scotland. He was almost immediately on the airwaves criticising the speech. Which he has every right to do. However his criticism seems to betray a serious lack of clarity on the part of Mr Rennie. What he said, which was repeated on his Facebook page, was, “Today Alex Salmond’s so-called positive case was mostly negative. He attacked the UK and labelled those who support it a “parcel of rogues”. He will say and do anything to break up the UK even if it means advocating the continuation of several unions with the UK from the currency union to the social union. Yet he can’t guarantee all of it as if we slam the door in the face of the United Kingdom they may just lock it from the other side. They might not agree to Scotland’s every demand.” It is fascinating to note how Rennie starts by accusing Salmond of negativity, yet ends up by claiming that the UK might simply reject all of Scotland’s demands. If you are going to accuse the other side of negativity, it is probably better not to be negative yourself. Yet again, I guess the Unionists cannot help themselves – negativity is all they have. This is presumably the reason why Rennie makes no attempt to argue against any of the five unions proposed by Salmond. Yet Rennie is forever calling for clarity about independence. This might be a good place for Rennie to start – how about commenting on the specifics of these five unions? Is Rennie in favour of them or not? He seems to be most unwilling to share his own views with us the voters.

For it is interesting to note that Rennie says that it is the United Kingdom that will do the rejecting. By this presumably he means the UK government. Yet the current UK government is a coalition which includes Rennie’s party, the LibDems. So Rennie should have some idea of what the UK government plans to do in the event of Scottish independence. Yet all we get are scare stories based on nothing more than assertion after assertion. It is worth pointing out here that governments tend to act in the perceived interests of their people. So if the UK government were to oppose any of the five unions it would only do so because it was in the interests of the rest of the UK to stop all contacts and trade with Scotland. Which seems a tad unlikely. Or is Rennie suggesting that the UK government, of which his party is a member, would just ignore its own interests and seek to punish Scotland? We should be told – all in the interest of clarity.

Let us look in brief at each of these five unions and see if we can tease out where there might be a difference of opinion between the UK and Scotland. The social union for example does not seem to involve governments in any way whatsoever. As Salmond stated in his speech, “The final union does not rely on the choices made by politicians and parliaments – the social union unites all the peoples of these islands.” So it is not at all clear how the UK could oppose this union. It of course begs the question as to why it would want to oppose a social union. Could Willie please enlighten us on this one. Is he opposed to a continuing social union? On what grounds does he think the UK government might oppose such a union?

The Union of the Crowns was another of the five unions proposed by Salmond. Again I am a bit confused as to where the UK government stands on this one. It is theoretically possible for the Queen to refuse the offer of becoming Queen of Scotland, but unlikely I would have thought. As to the UK government, could David Cameron order the Queen to refuse the crown of Scotland? In the interests of clarity I hope that Willie Rennie enlightens us on this matter. Does he support the Union of the Crowns? On what grounds does he think the UK government might oppose this union?

I would suggest that these two unions have nothing really to do with the UK government and will come to pass in the event of Scottish independence. The other three unions are of a different nature and explicitly political. Alex Salmond re-iterated the Scottish government’s long standing commitment to remaining in both the EU and NATO, but as full members with the same rights as other members. Now in both cases membership will have to be agreed by the existing members. Note though that it will not be a case of starting from scratch or starting from outwith these two bodies. The simple question that has to be answered is why would any of the existing members want to exclude Scotland from full membership. In both cases it cannot possibly in the interests of the existing members to exclude Scotland. In which case the only reason for excluding Scotland would be to punish us for voting for independence. Which seems most unlikely. As the UK is a member of both these unions, the UK government would clearly have a voice and an important one on Scotland’s membership. So again, in the interests of clarity, I hope that Willie Rennie can enlighten us all. Is he in favour of Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU and of NATO? On what grounds does he think that the UK government might want to oppose Scottish membership?

The final union proposed by Alex Salmond is a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Now this is the one union that doesn’t currently exist and the one where the UK government could say no. It could simply reject the notion out of hand. Clearly many on the Unionist side are trying to do just that. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing his best to knock the whole idea down. But of course this tells us nothing about what the position of the UK government would be in the light of a YES vote. This is where a hard headed analysis of what would be in the long term interests of the UK will be the decisive factor in how the UK government responds to this proposed union. This is clearly the most controversial of the five unions. It is also the only one in which the UK government on it own can reject the proposal. But will it? Once more we are at the mercy of Willie Rennie, in seeking some clarity. Does Rennie think that a currency union would be the best option for an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK? On what grounds does he think the UK government might want to reject such a currency union?

The referendum next year is a decisive moment for all of us who live and work in Scotland Independence will change many things and offer us the opportunity for further changes. Changes that we in Scotland have voted for. However, much will remain more or less the same. Alex Salmond was simply pointing out the obvious. Yet Willie Rennie in an attempt to preserve the UK, seeks to deny this. In the interests of clarity I think Willie Rennie owes it to us to explain fully just where he stands on these five unions and where he thinks his government stands on them. Over to you Mr Rennie.

1 Comment

Filed under Scotland

Morsi No More?

Mohammed MorsiThe forced removal of Egypt’s President Morsi by the army and his subsequent arrest has met with mixed responses both in Egypt and in the West. There was clearly a lot of vocal opposition in Egypt to Morsi and the Muslim Botherhood government. But does this justify a military coup? And why has the UK and other Western governments been unwilling to call this a coup? It is hard to imagine that the UK would not condemn for example a military coup in Greece. Yet the situation in Greece is far from stable with strong opposition to the current government. The same could be said of Spain and Portugal. Yet nobody thinks it would be any kind of answer for the military to step in and arrest the government. Is their a whiff of racism here? We in Europe are democrats, while Arabs are not quite up to this yet? This seems to be the basis for most comment in the West. Yet Morsi was democratically elected President in fair and free elections only one year ago. While there is little the West or anyone else can do to stop the Egyptian military from mounting a coup, the West can loudly and roundly condemn such a move. The West could also impose sanctions on the new military government until Morsi is re-instated. But clearly the West did not approve of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. So why bother to help him in his time of need? Much better to stick with our tried and tested friends in the Middle East – those bastions of democracy and liberalism such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait. The West does not need to condemn these countries since they are not democratic anyway and this lack of democracy has never bothered Western governments in the past. There could be something healthy about this, if only our governments would admit it openly. Just get rid of the hypocrisy. For all our talk of promoting democracy, the West has never found it easy to accept the results of democratic elections when they result in governments that do not instinctively support the West. In these cases we are quite happy to support and even assist in their removal. Much better a tame and friendly dictator than a vibrant and potentially hostile democracy.

So it is all too predictable that our governments in the West would turn a blind eye to what is clearly a military coup. It is not at all clear just what the millions of protesters hope to get out of this. To repeat the basic fact once again, Morsi was elected President in an open and democratic election. While it is legitimate to protest against this or that policy, it is never legitimate to call for an elected government to be forcibly removed. Last year the various opposition groups had their chance to get organised and present a united front against the Muslim Brotherhood. But here lies the rub. The opposition is far from united, other than opposing Morsi. It is not at all clear that another election, if the military allow one, will produce a different result. What evidence is there that the various deeply divided opposition forces can get together now that Morsi has gone? Which raises the question as to what will happen to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood? Will they be set free and allowed to run candidates in new elections? And if not, what kind of democracy will that be? The whole essence of democracy is that you win at the ballot box, not through the military. This of course assumes that the military allow new elections and allow free and fair elections. Their record on this account is none too promising. If violence and force is what counts two can play at that game. What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood decides to mount an armed struggle against the current government. Given the West’s support for the rebels in Syria, how would our governments react to an armed struggle in the name of restoring an elected President. The omens are not good for Egypt. This is primarily a matter for Egyptians. But it is sad that our government is so unwilling to condemn a military coup against an elected President. This is yet another very bad precedent for us to set.

Leave a comment

Filed under Middle East