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Mon, 21 September 2020

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The left’s fixation on Israel has stifled fresh analysis about long-term stability in the Middle East

The left’s fixation on Israel has stifled fresh analysis about long-term stability in the Middle East

The first Israel-UAE commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, on 31 August 2020, following a historic normalisation agreement | PA Images

4 min read

Relations in the Middle East are shifting. Labour Friends of Israel will help craft a new internationalist approach to the region, while standing up to anti-Semitism in our party

Labour Friends of Israel this week doubled our number of vice-chairs with the addition of six colleagues to our parliamentary officers group. I’m delighted to welcome them. Together with our existing group of LFI officers, they demonstrate the widespread support for LFI that exists across the Labour party.

LFI’s positions – support for a negotiated two-state solution that enables both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination; advocacy for increased support for coexistence projects between Israelis and Palestinians; and a rejection of the pernicious Israel boycott movement that is antithetical to peace and is overwhelmingly opposed by the Jewish community – are shared by the vast majority of the parliamentary Labour party.

The LFI officers group represents a wide-range of parliamentarians, united by our support for Israel and a two-state solution. We’re committed to doing everything we can to tackle antisemitism on the left and once again make the Labour party a safe space for Jewish members. We recognise that anti-Zionist antisemitism lays at the heart of Labour’s antisemitism crisis. As I suggested on becoming LFI’s chair earlier this year: “No Jewish member will feel comfortable sitting in local Labour party meetings while a small number of cranks and bigots loudly proclaim their views about Jews, Israel and Zionism at every opportunity. We must end this obsession with Israel which has been allowed to drive far too much of the discussion and promote too many ridiculous resolutions within the party from its grassroots to the floor of party conference.”

There is an urgent need on the left for new thinking about the wider Middle East. The fixation on the Jewish state has stifled fresh thinking and analysis about the long-term challenges and opportunities facing the region.

The Middle East is finally waking up to the unshakeable reality of Israel’s existence and that partnership with the Jewish state offers enormous opportunities for the Arab world.

Nowhere can the rapidly shifting sands in the Middle East be better seen than in the Gulf states, where, last week, a historic delegation of Israeli officials visited the UAE for the first official visit between the two countries. The first normalisation of relations between Israel and an Arab state since 1994 is a truly momentous step, the significance of which should not be underestimated. The Middle East is finally waking up to the unshakeable reality of Israel’s existence and that partnership with the Jewish state – a global leader in science and technology, and a regional economic power – offers enormous opportunities for the Arab world.

Of course, much of the rapid rapprochement between Israel and its neighbours is driven by the threat posed by Iran. Moderates across the Middle East have watched in horror as Iran’s expansionist activities – which see it wielding vast influence in the so-called “Shia crescent”, stretching from its borders through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – have brought bloodshed, suffering and instability. The chaos caused by the theocracy’s imperialist ambitions across the region is tragically matched by its brutal suppression of the Iranian people. Labour should seek to align itself with progressive forces within Iran to bring about change. 

The agreement between Israel and the UAE also opens up the opportunity to breathe new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The suspension of the reckless, and potentially dangerous, proposals for unilateral annexation of areas of the West Bank is a welcome step for the prospects of peace. The warming ties between Israel and the Arab world make the possibility of a regional peace deal, with a two-state solution at its core, a tangible option.

These two intertwined issues offer an opportunity to Labour as we reimagine what a progressive foreign policy platform for the 2020s could look like. LFI, through our new team in Parliament, will have a leading role to play in crafting a new internationalist approach to the Middle East: one that is resolute in support of a negotiated two-state solution, unflinching in calling out the barriers to it from all sides, and fully attuned to the opportunity to support a pragmatic coalition between Israel and the Arab states in opposition to the Iranian regime and the threat it poses to regional stability.

I look forward to working with our new vice-chairs – and all our supporters in Parliament – to continue to oppose antisemitism, stand up for Israel, and support a two-state solution.

Steve McCabe is Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, and chair of Labour Friends of Israel

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