At the 2017 Labour Party Conference an ethical foreign policy was launched by Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. At a packed fringe meeting PSC Chair, Hugh Lanning, proposed five steps Labour could take towards an ethical foreign policy on Palestine. This blog is based on that speech.
Five Steps for Labour
“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.”
-Robin Cook 12 May 1997
“We will not just return to the Cook Doctrine, but take immediate steps in government to enact it. The party would place “peace, universal rights and international law” at the heart of foreign policy.”
-Emily Thornberry 12 May 2017
Using this framework, I’d like to suggest five steps the Labour Party should take in developing an ethical and progressive foreign policy in relation to Palestine.
First, I’d like to argue that Palestine should be centre stage in any ethical policy framework that Labour adopts. Britain has a historic culpability in the dispossession of Palestinians. This year marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain gave it’s blessing for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine without the permission of the Palestinian population.
Secondly, we can make a difference. There is an opportunity, post-Brexit, to influence the renewal of a new trade agreement with Israel who will be keen to cement trade, arms and foreign policies; policies which both Israel and Palestine will pay close attention to.
Finally, Palestine is the litmus test of any ethical foreign policy. So-called ethical policies have neither a good name nor track record. From the war in Iraq to our failure to act during the Rwandan genocide, the UK’s application of ‘ethical policies’ has created a lot of distrust. Putting Palestine at the centre of any policy will do more than much else to give credibility to a foreign policy framework, and it’s absence would speak volumes. Whether the Labour Party likes it or not, it cannot have a truly ethical policy without an appropriate and meaningful policy on Palestine.
The following five steps represent meaningful actions that will make a difference.
Step 1: Asymmetry
The starting point must be for Labour to recognise that there is a basic asymmetry in this conflict: Israel is an occupying power, failing to meet many of its obligations as an occupying power under international law, and Palestine is an occupied country. There is one state; only one – not two.
Labour will not be able to address the issues of peace, universal rights and international law unless it recognises this core fact. Its moral compass will not work otherwise.
Step 2: Recognition
As one of its first acts, an incoming Labour Government should meet its 2017 Manifesto commitment to recognise the state of Palestine. This will not change the reality for Palestinians on the ground, but it will ensure that Palestine has a place at the table. Israel has complete and immediate access to Government, while Palestine sits outside waiting for favours and an occasional audience.
A frequent weakness and criticism of ethical policies is that they represent an un-accountable imposition of Western values on those affected by them. Tony Blair used to seal himself off in the upper floors of the American Colony hotel – no access, no accountability. Palestinians need to be consulted on all that affects them.
Step 3: Trade agreement
In a post-Brexit Corbyn Government, there will need to be a new trade agreement with Israel. At the very least, it should replicate the human rights provisions of EU agreements. This juncture would also provide a crucial opportunity for a human rights audit, though this clause has never been properly applied.
Let’s look at arms, settlement goods, finance; are they being used in contravention of international law? No illegal goods from occupied territories should be allowed to enter the UK and certainly not tariff and tax free under the name of Israel. Arms tried, tested and used against Palestinians in the administration of the occupation should not be bought or sold. Money should be tracked, traced and followed to ensure it is not financing the occupation and illegal settlement building. Potentially weakened, but free of the EU framework, the UK could set an example in this way of ethical, legal trade.
Step 4: Universal rights
The Labour Party needs to uphold the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis. There exists an organized and systematic discrimination of Palestinians within both Israel and occupied Palestine. People shy away from using the “A”-word; but if it looks like, talks like and behaves like an apartheid state – then that is how it should be treated. If Israel wants to be treated as a democracy, it ought to behave like one.
What does this mean in practice? It means that Labour needs to be an active supporter of equal rights and of the people and organisations that seek to defend them. It is human rights defenders such as Issa Amro, and NGOs – most recently Amnesty International – that are being threatened, often for defending the most basic of human rights, such as free speech . These violations go beyond the denial of entry to critics of Israel’s policies and daily aggressions towards the Palestinians. These violations include the unlawful detention and abuse of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system, the demolition of entire villages, the ‘lawful’ discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Labour needs to be on the frontline in challenging these grave human rights abuses by the Israeli state, not hiding behind its fears of provoking unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism. If Labour’s foreign policy does not create conditions in which it can raise legitimate criticisms of breaches of human rights, it cannot be called an ethical foreign policy.
Step 5: International law
In a similar vein, an ethical policy needs to advocate the positive application of international law. Three of the gravest violations of international law that are tolerated:
- The siege of Gaza -for 10 years we have allowed the unlawful collective punishment of Palestinians living in Gaza. Such are the conditions that the UN has declared Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. What is Labour’s plan to end the siege?
- The Wall, settlements and home demolitions – Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed and forcibly moved for either punitive purposes or to pave the way for illegal settlements in occupied areas. This colonisation isa contravention of international law.
- The military occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem – 50 years old, and continuing to imprison Palestinians, deny them of their livelihoods, health, and security. The UK pays for this occupation through aid; some of which is routinely destroyed when Israel demolishes and dismantles schools, water projects, solar panels, and temporary homes.
To conclude, Palestine it the litmus test for any ethical policy; if Labour intends to boast about its ethical credentials, it will be Palestinians that will hold it to account. No-one expects Labour to be able to – single-handedly – resolve the many injustices that are daily committed against the Palestinian people, but it needs to demonstrate not just good intentions, but meaningful and transparent action, and a positive change in policy attitude towards Palestine and Israel.
In this way Labour can give substance to Jeremy’s welcome pledge in his leader’s speech to “give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people.”