The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine fight for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian People through the medium of international law. For far too long, these rights have been ignored. Not only have the Palestinians suffered injustice as a people and as individuals, something that cries out to Heaven for recognition and compassion, but this denial of justice, this culture of denial that lies behind it, is a source of instability in our world that we cannot afford.
I have little doubt in my own mind that British troops have been killed and maimed in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan by people radicalised by this denial of justice. So we in LDFP put our faith in international law. The international law issues will be dealt with by other speakers later today and it is not for me to enter into them now or to contribute to their debate. What is needed is a negotiated settlement, and here I want to highlight a major flaw in the way the Americans and the Quartet have tried to go about achieving this.
They insist that Arab states and Palestinian interlocutors recognise Israel’s rights in international law. I agree with them wholeheartedly. But at the same time, they do not insist that Israel recognise Palestinian rights in international law in a reciprocal fashion. So long as this situation continues, any peace process is built on sand. How can parties negotiate a settlement – or indeed, any agreement – unless they begin at the beginning by establishing what each other’s legal rights are? These rights may be traded, they may be compromised when that final agreement is reached, but unless they are honestly accepted as the starting point for any good faith negotiation, which must be conducted at arms’ length without duress or undue influence applied by the other party, that negotiation is doomed to failure.
And here we come to the subject of today’s conference: the Nakba, the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians by Israel. Israel refuses to accept any legal or moral responsibility towards those it turned into refugees, even those who have now lived under Israeli occupation for decades and for whom it has done absolutely nothing while gobbling up Palestinian land and colonising it greedily with its own citizens.
Go to Bethlehem as I did last May: see how Palestinian agricultural land – indeed any open land to the north or west of the town – is walled or fenced off from the town so that Jews may settle on it under the auspices of the Israeli government. Go and see the Palestinian children who may never visit the sea, and the villagers who still demand their land back. Look at the route which has been chosen for Israel’s “Security Barrier” so that this wicked, evil land grab may be extended yet further. Look across the valley at Gilo and Har Homa, and you will see this wicked, evil land grab which negates all hope of peace.
Both sides must establish and recognise the other side’s rights. The Arab League accepted Israel’s rights years ago. Israel must recognise Palestinian rights as well. That includes the rights of the refugees.
John McHugoChair, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine, 15 January 2011