asa winstanley on the british election

What Britain’s election means for Palestine
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Dec 11 2019

Britain faces a fateful choice on Thursday. Vote Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party into government or return the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson as prime minister. The fate of the Palestinians, always shoved to the end of the line, has not been an issue with any kind of national profile in the course of this wretched election campaign. In part, this is simply because as voters in Britain, we naturally have our own pressing domestic concerns, especially the gradual sell-off of the NHS. But in large part it is also down to a four-year long witch-hunt over a non-existent “Labour anti-Semitism crisis.” This has made many sympathetic Labour politicians fearful to even discuss Palestine. They know the Israel lobby will immediately jump down their throats. Jeremy Corbyn, a decades-long veteran of the Palestine solidarity movement, has cowered before this relentless smear campaign. But the Israel lobby has not had things all its own way. Grassroots activists have fought back and the Labour Party has been dragged kicking and screaming into the movement for justice in Palestine. The contrast between Corbyn’s Labour and Johnson’s Tories on the issue is stark. Corbyn is the man who told me in a 2015 interview that Palestinian refugees “deserve their right to return home.” Despite the fact that this is a simple expression of international law as embodied in UNGAR 194, it is unprecedented for any major British party leader to support the Palestinian right of return. Corbyn’s recognition of the Nakba was finally cemented in Labour Party policy earlier this year. After a long grassroots struggle, delegates at the party’s conference voted almost unanimously to recognize this crime done under the auspices of British imperialism, and to support the right of return. Only five years ago, that would have been impossible to even imagine. The same delegates also voted for Labour to impose an arms embargo on Israel. This was the second year running the conference had endorsed this key demand of the BDS movement. While the call to recognize the Palestinian right of return has not yet been translated into policy, this year’s election manifesto does contain a commitment to end British arms sales to Israel and to the Toads. There’s no guarantee that Labour will act on this if it wins, but the commitment is there.

The Conservative manifesto is the polar opposite. It contains a threat to ban local authorities from boycotting foreign countries, a move clearly aimed at protecting Israel. In contrast to Labour’s call for the right of return, Conservative leader Boris Johnson has called Israel’s foundation, and by implication the Nakba, “one of the most stunning political achievements” of the 20th century. When Johnson was foreign minister in 2017, an undercover Al Jazeera investigation exposed the depths of Israeli interference in both main British political parties. But although Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot had been caught on camera mocking him as an “idiot,” Johnson rushed to help the Israelis cover up the affair. He swiftly accepted an insincere apology by the Israeli embassy and declared the matter closed. Should Johnson win this election, his home affairs minister will almost certainly be the incumbent, Priti Patel. In 2017, Patel was forced to resign as a government minister after a national scandal broke out over secret meetings she had held with Israelis. Supposedly part of a “holiday” in Israel, she had actually discussed British policy towards the country during those meetings with minister, business leaders and lobbyists. Since they were not properly arranged by her governmental department or attended by civil servants, the meetings were deemed to be in violation of ministerial rules. This led to her forced resignation. Johnson brushed all this under the carpet earlier this year when he took over the party, rehabilitating her as his new home secretary. It is worth remembering what Patel was actually up to in Israel. Her meetings were arranged by Stuart Polak, a member of Britain’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords. He is a leading figure in Conservative Friends of Israel. According to the BBC, Government ministers at the time “accused Ms Patel of trying to win favor with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors.” One of her meetings was with Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister in charge of Israel’s semi-covert global war against the BDS movement. With the Conservatives back in government, there would be a guarantee that British ties with Israel and persecution of the Palestine solidarity movement will ramp up. The choice for British voters who care about human rights in Palestine is clear.

Despite strains, Jordan stays tied to Israel
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Dec 10 2019

King Abdullah receiving the award from WINEP, NYC, Nov 21. (Twitter)

Relations between Israel and Jordan are at an “all-time low,” according to King Abdullah II. But ironically the monarch spoke those words last month at WINEP, where he received the group’s “Scholar-Statesman Award.” The king nonetheless insisted:

The two-state solution is the only way to move forward. The alternative is worse for all of us. A one-state solution is something we can’t deal with. Unfortunately, we’re in pause mode.

The king’s remarks come in the context of Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, about a quarter of the occupied West Bank on the border with Jordan. Annexation would make it even more difficult to pretend that the already defunct two-state solution remains viable. Israel has been quietly ethnically cleansing the Jordan Valley of its indigenous Palestinians for years. The Trump administration’s recent announcement that Pindostan no longer considers settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal further encourages Israeli colonization. IOF boxtops reportedly warned Netanyahu that annexing the Jordan Valley may push the Jordanian king to suspend ties. The Jordanian army conducted a military exercise earlier this month simulating an attack from the West, in other words from Israel. King Abdullah and his prime minister observed the exercise, in which a potential invasion would be foiled by blowing up the Jordan River bridges. Dubbed the “Swords of al-Karamah,” the name recalls the 1968 Battle of al-Karamah when the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerrillas forced Israel to withdraw from the town of al-Karamah in the Jordan Valley. Karamah is also the Arabic word for dignity. Analysis in Haaretz concludes that the Jordanian military exercise was intended to appease the Jordanian public rather than demonstrate any real challenge to the IOF. Indeed, despite the tensions, evidence suggests that the Jordanian air force unofficially took part in a military exercise hosted by the IOF while the latter was bombing Gaza in November. The Jordanian government ignored requests to comment on the report, which has yet to be denied.

This underscores the reality that whatever popular anger exists in Jordan, along with Israel, the state remains a key part of the Pindo-dominated regional architecture. Jordan cannot take more than cosmetic action against Israel without angering Amman’s chief patron Pindostan, something Jordanian leaders would scarcely feel they can afford to do. Israeli Pres Rivlin is reportedly seeking to visit Amman in an attempt to ease tensions, but it is difficult to see how that would do anything other than generate further opposition among Jordan’s population. In November, Israel released two Jordanian citizens it had been holding for more than two months without charge or trial. During Israeli-Jordanian negotiations over the pair, rumors emerged of a deal for their release in exchange for the return of al-Baqoura and al-Ghamr, territories that Jordan leased to Israel for 25 years under their 1994 peace treaty, which though widely rejected by Jordan’s population, normalized relations with Israel. Al-Baqoura in north-west Jordan, where the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers meet, and al-Ghamr, south of the Dead Sea, were farmed or used by Israelis before and during the lease, and they will still be permitted to enter al-Baqoura and harvest produce planted before the lease ended. When King Abdullah announced last year that Jordan would not renew the leases, right-wing figures including Israel’s agriculture minister threatened to reduce the water supply to Jordan. Under the treaty, Israel is obligated to pump a significant amount of water to Jordan. Gilad Sharon, the son of Ariel Sharon, echoed those threats in October, a few weeks before the territories were set to be returned, writing in Yediot Ahronot:

If you push Israeli farmers out of the al-Baqoura and al-Ghamr enclaves, you will be thirsty. At the palace, they will continue to serve chilled mineral water, but the people of the kingdom will feel the thirst.

As unconcerned as his late father about harming innocents, Gilad Sharon has also previously called for “flattening” Gaza as Pindostan flattened Hiroshima with an atomic bomb. Israel has regularly violated the terms of the peace treaty, including by undermining Jordan’s role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Last month, the Jordanian Campaign to Stop the Zionist Gas Deal filed a complaint with Jordan’s public prosecutor alleging that the governments of several prime ministers and Jordan’s government-owned national electricity company NEPCO broke the law and violated the constitution by agreeing to buy gas from Israel, which is set to start pumping natural gas to Jordan by the beginning of 2020, despite strong opposition from the public and parliament. Jordan will be paying an estimated $10b over 15 years for natural gas, with much of the money going into Israeli government coffers. The full text of the secret Israel-Jordan gas deal was revealed this summer for the first time since it was signed in Sep 2016. Critics of the deal say the text confirms their suspicions that the Jordanian government misled the public about its involvement in the deal, as well as the conditions for its cancellation and its implications for the Jordanian economy. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly pushing for “non-belligerence agreements” between Israel and several Gulf states. According to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, citing unnamed Israeli, Arab and Pindo sources, the agreements would be an “interim step between the secret relations Israel has with those countries now, and full diplomatic relations.”

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