The UK government must step up and hold those engaging in violence accountable in Israel and Palestine
Without justice and accountability, an end to illegal occupation and co-ordinated international action to bring forward a two-state solution, any end to the conflict will only be postponed.
When news started filtering through from East Jerusalem of a situation developing at Al-Asqa Mosque as the holy month of Ramadan began, the outlook was never going to be anything other than bleak. For years, as the dispossessions, forced evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes increased, and settlements expanded with little or no real opposition from the international community, tensions grew. As the Israeli government saw no consequences for their flagrant breaches of international law, they continued with their advances into the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The violence that developed from the initial incursion into Al-Asqa has been upsetting and anger inducing in equal measure. We have seen innocent people across Palestine and Israel suffer, losing their lives and livelihoods – the images and the stories have been heart wrenching, and keeping in touch with friends and colleagues in Gaza has been all but impossible.
It is welcome that the government has voiced its concerns about Israel’s actions, in its occupation of Palestinian land, its bombing of built-up areas and its use of undue and excessive force, whilst condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas, but it must do more than simply repeating statements of concern, and resending messages to its Israeli counterparts.
The UK government should be leading the way in bringing together the international community to ensure these prosecutions take place
The government is right to support a two-state solution on 1967 lines with a shared capital in Jerusalem, but without meaningful action trying to find a solution to the underlying issues that led to the resurgence of tensions, we will only find ourselves in this position once again in the future.
One of the key issues with the government’s reiterated support for a two-state solution is that it only actually recognises one state in the equation, the state of Israel. Whilst the House of Commons voted to recognise the state of Palestine in 2014, the UK government “reserved the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing.” Passing the responsibility to others to make the final decision shirks the UK’s historical role in the modern day shaping of the region.
Without two states being recognised in advance of a two-state solution being sought, it simply continues to be the situation of one state and one theoretical state. This is an insult to the Palestinian right to self-determination and their identity as Palestinians.
A further issue in the never-ending 54-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territories and the ongoing conflict that is inflicting untold misery on millions of innocent people, is that of historic injustice. For too long have flagrant breaches of international law and human rights gone unpunished. Those that are involved in violence should know that the International Criminal Court can and should prosecute, and the UK government should be leading the way in bringing together the international community to ensure these prosecutions take place. Without justice, those who are responsible will not find themselves accountable, and the cycle of violence and hate will only perpetuate.
This is exactly what has happened after past wars on Gaza this century. It is no wonder that the long-asserted assessment from Palestinians that their lived realities equate to apartheid, are now being adopted by the likes of Israel’s largest human rights organisation, B’Tselem, and Human Rights Watch, backed up with thorough and conclusive legal analysis.
The Foreign Secretary was right during the Urgent Question on 19 May to focus his efforts on securing a ceasefire, which has now indeed been achieved, and the calls from Washington for a conclusive end to the conflict are becoming stronger.
However, without justice and accountability, an end to illegal occupation, and co-ordinated international action focused on bringing forward a two-state solution, any end to the conflict will only be postponed to a later date. It will cost lives, and it will make reconciliation more difficult. The people of Palestine, and the millions of innocent people in the region, deserve better than that. Now is the time for the UK government to step up to the plate.
Julie Elliott MP is the Labour MP for Sunderland Central, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, and co-chair of the APPG Britain-Palestine. This article was written in a personal capacity.