Martin Horwood on Israel/Palestine: a case of sidestep-o-rama

How terribly naive of me to expect straight answers from my MP!  😉  Exchange reads bottom up…

 

Hi Martin,

Many thanks.  For info, I’ve posted your response at This is Glos and Media Lens, and will shortly post it at my blog.

I’m sorry you feel aggrieved at the term “slippery”, which was used first by another contributor at Media Lens.  If, however, you cast an honest eye over our exchange, you’ll see that you didn’t give straight answers until your closing email; thus “slippery” seems perfectly reasonable, in my view.

By way of closing, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from an open letter published back in 2008/9, that could just as easily have been published in November 2012, and that demonstrates where an increasing number of people are on this issue… ahead of the politicians, as ever!  😉

The massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war that Israel has been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years. The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force, one capable of resisting Israel’s ongoing appropriation of their land and resources. Israel’s war against the Palestinians has turned Gaza and the West Bank into a pair of gigantic political prisons. There is nothing symmetrical about this war in terms of principles, tactics or consequences. Israel is responsible for launching and intensifying it, and for ending the most recent lull in hostilities.  Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/16/gaza-israel-petitions

Happy Christmas.

Joe

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Dear Joe

I have a feeling I’m being foolish in keeping on trying to answer your questions since you seem determined to put the worst possible interpretation on all my replies and you’ve now accused me of being ‘slippery’ on the Media Lens website when I’ve actually tried – at length – to answer all your questions honestly and fairly. Anyway, here goes – one last time:

1.      Yes, Israel is still legally the occupying power even though they withdrew from active occupation of Gaza in 2005.  How much clearer can I be?

2.      No, it depends on the crime.  Intentionally or recklessly killing civilians is morally wrong whoever does it and whatever their legal status.

3.      No-one has asked me to sign EDM 788 before, as far as I know.  I’m happy to sign it.

You seem to think that I am somehow trying to conceal a partisan position in favour of Israel.  This despite the fact that I have only recently called for the recognition of Palestinian statehood, actively lobbied ministers for a British ‘yes’ vote at the UN, condemned Israel’s over-reaction to that vote as well as their illegal settlement-building generally and called for a re-examination of the economic relationship between Israel and the European Union.  I support a free, independent and democratic state of Palestine alongside Israel with borders based on the 1967 lines (with mutually agreed land swaps) and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and with a fair settlement for Palestinian refugees.  But, no, I am not prepared to ascribe all the blame in this conflict to one side or to provide any kind of moral excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attempted and actual murder of Israeli civilians.

I think we have examined and re-examined every aspect of this debate several times now so I hope you don’t mind if I draw it to a close.  I think you should by now be pretty clear what my position is and, although I have my doubts that you will give me any credit at all for this, I hope you will recognise that I am trying to work for a solution that is both just and peaceful for all concerned.

Happy Christmas

Martin

———

Hi Martin,

Many thanks for the prompt response.

Some brief rejoinders that, as usual, will be made available to others via Facebook and This is Glos.

“Yes, Israel is legally the occupying power, has actively occupied in Gaza and still is actively occupying large parts of the West Bank.  I tend not to use the phrase ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ in debates and elsewhere precisely because I think the simpler term ‘Palestine’ recognises more straightforwardly what should be that country’s equivalent status to ‘Israel’ and is in line with international agencies’ judgement that the Palestinian Authority has now achieved a great deal of the international benchmarks for statehood.  In the specific case of Gaza, Israel is not in active occupation at the moment having passed on administrative authority in 1994 in line with the Oslo Accords and withdrawn altogether in 2005, albeit within all the economic and military constraints that we both know all too well.  Gaza and Palestine will not of course gain true independence until there is a peace settlement.” (Martin Horwood)

This paragraph would seem to be an answer, of sorts, to questions (1) and (2).  However, from your use of “active occupation” to differentiate between Gaza and the West Bank, it is unclear as to whether or not you actually concur with the British Government (and the United Nations) that Israel remains an “occupying power” in respect of GazaCould you confirm, please?  A simple yes or no will suffice.

Regards your use of “Palestine” rather than “occupied Palestinian territories”, the problem with this is that it potentially obscures the historical reality, namely that Palestine is NOT equivalent to Israel; that Israel occupies Palestine, and – incredibly – has done so since 1967.  This context is crucial both to understanding the dynamics of events in the region AND to securing a just “peace settlement” (as opposed to merely a “peace settlement”).

“But just to be absolutely clear in answer to your crucial third question, I don’t think that attempting to deliberately murder Israeli civilians are morally justified in any way.  Such attacks are also profoundly undermining of any attempt at a peace process and of the Abbas government’s attempts to pursue a peaceful diplomatic approach.” (Martin Horwood)

This is an obvious strawman.   The “crucial third question” neither states nor implies that firing rockets at civilians is “morally justified”.   Rather, it seeks acknowledgement of something that ought to be uncontroversial:  that the crimes of the occupier warrant greater attention than the crimes of the occupied.  Do you agree with this?

“As far as I know we don’t sell weapons to Israel although the policy is to consider each export licence on its individual merits and I have to say I would be happier with a clearer policy that ruled out components that could be used in disproportionate Israeli military responses of the kind we have seen in Gaza recently.  Some UK export licences have been granted for potentially defence-related items such as aeronautics software and imaging cameras but a licence for combat aircraft components to be exported to Israel was refused only this summer.” (Martin Horwood)

Well, my question wasn’t really specific to the UK (the US, our “special relation”, is of course the principal culprit), but of course, it is nonsense to suggest that the UK doesn’t sell weapons to Israel.  Sure, some export licences have been refused in recent years, but weapons and, more relevantly, components for use in military equipment (e.g. Head-up displays in attack aircraft) have consistently been sold to Israel since the Oslo Accords.  Thus, the issue isn’t so much that the UK government is giving insufficient support to those resisting occupation, but rather that the UK government (of which you are part!) is ACTIVELY FACILITATING the crimes of the occupier. Early Day Motion 788 seems highly relevant at this juncture – is there any reason you haven’t signed?

Best,

Joe 

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Yes, Israel is legally the occupying power, has actively occupied in Gaza and still is actively occupying large parts of the West Bank.  I tend not to use the phrase ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ in debates and elsewhere precisely because I think the simpler term ‘Palestine’ recognises more straightforwardly what should be that country’s equivalent status to ‘Israel’ and is in line with international agencies’ judgement that the Palestinian Authority has now achieved a great deal of the international benchmarks for statehood.  In the specific case of Gaza, Israel is not in active occupation at the moment having passed on administrative authority in 1994 in line with the Oslo Accords and withdrawn altogether in 2005, albeit within all the economic and military constraints that we both know all too well.  Gaza and Palestine will not of course gain true independence until there is a peace settlement.

But just to be absolutely clear in answer to your crucial third question, I don’t think that attempting to deliberately murder Israeli civilians are morally justified in any way.  Such attacks are also profoundly undermining of any attempt at a peace process and of the Abbas government’s attempts to pursue a peaceful diplomatic approach.

As far as I know we don’t sell weapons to Israel although the policy is to consider each export licence on its individual merits and I have to say I would be happier with a clearer policy that ruled out components that could be used in disproportionate Israeli military responses of the kind we have seen in Gaza recently.  Some UK export licences have been granted for potentially defence-related items such as aeronautics software and imaging cameras but a licence for combat aircraft components to be exported to Israel was refused only this summer.

Best regards

Martin Horwood MP

———

Dear Martin,

Many thanks for your email.

You say:

“Are the root causes Israel’s continuing failure to halt illegal settlements, their blockade of Gaza or their failure to reward those Palestinians attempting to pursue diplomacy not violence? None of these are helping so possibly the answer is yes…”

Which sounds reasonable… but, again, isn’t quite what I asked, is it?  This sentence, in the context of your other published responses on this matter (I’ve just conducted a brief google search!), seems to indicate a reluctance on your part to characterise the situation in Gaza (and indeed the West Bank) as one of “occupation”.

This in mind, I’d like to request answers to a few simple questions please (yes/no answers will suffice):

(1)  Do you agree with your own government’s assessment that “although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, the UK judges that Israel retains obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power“?

(2)  Assuming you have answered “yes” to (1), do you agree that application of a framework in which Israel is the “occupying power” and the West Bank and Gaza are “occupied Palestinian territories” is in accord with the generally accepted facts of the matter?

(3)  Assuming you have answered “yes” to (2), do you agree that, morally speaking, the manner in which the “occupied” resist occupation is secondary to the “occupying power’s” obligation to end its occupation?

(4) Do you agree that selling weapons to the “occupying power” directly facilitates its military activities against those it occupies, and is thus completely at odds with (3)?
I do hope you’ll  respond to these questions, which shouldn’t take more than a few moments.

Please note that, as previously, I’ll be posting our continuing exchange at This is Gloucestershire, on Facebook, and also at my blog.

Best wishes.

———

Dear Joe,

I do understand what you are saying but the immediate cause of this specific conflict is undoubtedly the rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians.  Are the root causes Israel’s continuing failure to halt illegal settlements, their blockade of Gaza or their failure to reward those Palestinians attempting to pursue diplomacy not violence?  None of these are helping so possibly the answer is yes – but I don’t think any of these things justify firing rockets at civilians, any more than I think firing rockets at civilians justifies a disproportionately violent response from Israel which has cost many more Palestinian lives.  Seeking to definitively ascribe blame to one side or the other is a hopeless game.  The key thing it seems to me is to encourage those on both sides who are pursuing the path of diplomacy and negotiation, for instance with a UK government ‘yes’ vote to Palestinian recognition in the UN General Assembly if we can persuade the government to cast it this week.

Best regards

Martin Horwood MP

———

Dear Martin,

Your press release does not answer the question.  To re-phrase:

Do you accept that the root cause of the recent violence is not rockets fired from Gaza, but rather Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territory (to include the illegal siege of Gaza)?

Please note I will be posting our continuing exchange at This is Gloucestershire, and also on Facebook.

Many thanks,

Joe

———

I will be meeting with FCO officials and if possible ministers this week in relation to the situation in Gaza.  It is critical that we urge Hamas to cease rocket attacks on Israeli civilians but also that Israel pulls back from escalating the situation in a way that will doubtless cause more civilian casualties amongst the population in Gaza, further inflame opinion in other middle eastern countries and across the world and further damage any prospect of the peace process resuming.  The Fatah administration in the West Bank and moderates within Israeli civil and political society need to be encouraged in their efforts to find diplomatic and political paths out of this tragic situation.

———

Dear Martin,

The state of Israel continues to justify its military action against Gaza on grounds of “self defence”. Ipso facto, since Gaza remains OCCUPIED under international law (an interpretation shared by the British government), it is proclaiming the right of an occupier to crush the resistance of the occupied.  Applied universally, this leads to conclusions any reasonable observer would reject (think Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait or Nazi Germany’s occupation of, say, France, and so on).  How then to explain why this “right” is accepted by so many (including, it would seem, William Hague) in the case of Israel?

I would be grateful if you could post your views at This is Gloucestershire, where they will be available to all.

Best wishes,

Joe

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