UK MPs call for sanction on Israel


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

The Guardian Unlimited

Time to get serious about Israel
John Hilary
January 31, 2007 1:30 PM

        A multi-party committee of MPs is pressing for sanctions
        over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

You know that things are serious when a parliamentary select committee puts out 
a call for sanctions against another sovereign state. Doubly so when that state 
is supposed to be one of Britain's key allies in the Middle East. Yet today the 
House of Commons international development committee is calling on the Labour 
government to press for sanctions against Israel over its treatment of the 
Palestinian people. Things must be pretty bad.

Things are indeed bad, says the committee's new report. As a result of Israeli 
occupation and the accompanying restrictions on movement, the Palestinian 
economy is in freefall. Fully 70% of Palestinians are now living in poverty, 
according to UN calculations, a figure which rises to 80% in Gaza. Over half of 
all Palestinians are now unable to cover their families' daily food needs 
without relying on external aid - a scandal in such a rich and fertile land.

As a first step in putting pressure on the Israeli government to end this 
oppression, the UK should now urge its fellow members in the EU to consider 
suspending the EU-Israel association agreement, the cross-party committee says.

That agreement gives Israeli exports preferential access to the markets of the 
European Union. Europe accounts for two-thirds of Israeli exports, and 
suspending the preferences those exports currently enjoy would send the first 
proper message to Israel that its oppression of the Palestinian people is 

That message is long overdue. The EU-Israel agreement should have been suspended
years ago, as its own text states that it is conditional upon respect for human 
rights. In this regard Israel has already violated the agreement many times 
over. The UN's own special rapporteur, Jean Ziegler, among many others, has 
pointed out that the agreement should already have been suspended under its own 

The call for suspension of Israel's trading preferences is the first in a line 
of sanctions which the UK could take. Suspending arms sales is another obvious 
candidate. The UK has been approving record levels of arms sales to Israel over 
the past couple of years, despite admitting that it cannot trust Israel's claims
that the weapons will not be used in its military operations against the 
Palestinian people. The government is now facing a court case on the issue.

Today's committee report is not just targeted at Israel. It also slams the UK 
and other international donors for withdrawing aid to the Palestinian Authority 
since early 2006. Together with Israel's withholding of revenues due to the 
Palestinian government, this action by the international community has 
"increased poverty and hardship amongst most Palestinians", the report says. At 
least one million people have been affected by this punitive action, the least 
smart form of sanctions since those imposed on the people of Iraq during the 

The main significance of the committee's report is that it challenges Tony Blair
to move from his unconditional support of Israel to a position of standing up 
for the Palestinian people. In so doing, the report echoes the call of a new 
coalition also launched this week. The Enough! coalition brings together all 
major British trade unions, campaigns organisations and charities plus faith 
groups from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in a joint call for 
justice for the Palestinian people. Only through such justice can Israelis and 
Palestinians hope to build a lasting peace for the region as a whole.

The immediate focus of the coalition is to mark this year's 40th anniversary of 
Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, 
Palestinian groups trace their suffering back further to the 1948 nakba, or 
catastrophe, when 750,000 were driven into exile in order to make way for the 
founding of the Israeli state. Both anniversaries are equally important.

For those of us who bear the weight of British imperial history, there is 
another reason for marking 2007. This year also sees the 90th anniversary of the
Balfour Declaration, in which Britain, for its own political ends, committed 
itself to a Jewish national home in Palestine. Britain and France had promised 
self-determination to the peoples of the former Ottoman empire, but the British 
government chose to deny the people of Palestine this right.

Yet the historical responsibility of the British state is not the issue. It is 
Britain's current support of Israeli aggression which must be challenged and 
changed. Today's call for action from MPs in the international development 
committee must be the start of a radical reorientation of Britain's policy 
towards the Middle East. Sanctions against Israel is a first and necessary step 
on that journey.

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