Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Prime Ministerial Dodging

Another interesting exchange in the House of Commons (my emphasis)

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The Prime Minister said that the most recent bloodshed in Gaza and Israel had started with the Hamas rocket attacks. I deplore those attacks, but does the Prime Minister not accept that they are not happening in a vacuum, but are a consequence of the ongoing Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza? Given that this is the latest in a long line of Israeli breaches of international law, does he recognise the growing movement that is calling for an embargo on all military co-operation with Israel?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that we should in any way seek to justify or explain away rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel. [Interruption.] That is, I am afraid, rather what it sounded like. We must be absolutely clear about the fact that we condemn those rocket attacks, and must make it clear that if they stopped there would be a ceasefire, and we could then make progress.
Hansard 21 July 2014 Ukraine (Flight MH17) and Gaza

The Prime Minister stonewalled on any attempt to get him to condemn Israel for disproportionate action and attacks on civilians – despite many attempts to get him to do so. All that the House of Commons got from him was:

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that international law should apply to everybody, and in what we say to the Israelis we stress the fact that, although they have a right to self-defence, in order to be legal self-defence has to be carried out in a way that is proportionate, and that is why we have been urging restraint.
Hansard 21 July 2014 Ukraine (Flight MH17) and Gaza (In response to Frank Dobson)

Yet he was happy to condemn Hamas. What is going on?

I suppose it depends on the time horizon of your context.

Cameron’s context seems to stretch back not much more than a fortnight and consequently his simplistic view that, if only Hamas stopped firing rockets there could be a ceasefire and everything would be OK – back to “normal”.

Caroline Lucas’s context seems to go back to United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (S/RES/242) adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on 22 November 1967 and which declared that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands (including Gaza and the West Bank) was illegal. This context recognises that the rocket attacks could be a symptom of frustration that despite a resolution almost 47 years ago, Palestinian lands are still illegally occupied and no one seems to be willing to apply pressure to enforce the resolution against the state that is still in illegal occupation and is actually building illegal settlements on the West Bank. The “normalcy” of a ceasefire does not represent progress just continuation of a totally unsatisfactory situation.

I guess Israel’s context goes back to the Second World War and the Holocaust or even the diaspora starting in the 6th century BC. This terrible and unhappy history might be the reason for the sort of views expressed by Ayelet Shaked:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

This is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that this is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.
Ayelet Shaked, Israeli Parliamentarian – Jewish Home party quoted by Mira Bar Hillel in the Independent 11 July 2014 : Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport

Whilst we are taught to admire the steadfastness and defiance of the Jews cooped up by the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War and to condemn the Nazis who eventually sent in the tanks to put down the uprising, how are we meant to respond to the rebelliousness of the Palestinians cooped up in the Gaza Strip with all inflows of money, energy, building materials and people controlled by the Israelis who have just sent in the tanks to put down an uprising? Are we meant to learn from history or is every event or instance distinct and to be judged in isolation over a two-week time-scale?

I find Cameron’s deliberate and persistently one-sided stonewalling on this issue puzzling. Does he seriously believe this one-sided view of the world or is it being forced on him – and if so by whom? A group in his party, a lobby group in the UK, The Americans, The Israelis?

It goes further than stonewalling, it extends to persistently attempting to traduce those who disagree. Read again the part of the original quote that I emphasised:

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Hamas rocket attacks. I deplore those attacks, …
The Prime Minister: I do not think that we should in any way seek to justify or explain away rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel. [Interruption.] That is, I am afraid, rather what it sounded like.

Caroline Lucas raised a point of order at the end of the discussion on the Statement. Again this is revealing (again my emphasis):

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his response to my question on Gaza, the Prime Minister accused me of seeking to justify Hamas rocket attacks. Seeking to understand a conflict is very different from justifying it, yet so often in the Israel-Palestine debate it suits some to conflate the two, which is both lazy and unhelpful. Given that in my question I clearly said I deplored the rocket attacks, as I deplored the Israeli incursions, would it be appropriate to ask the Prime Minister to retract his earlier statement?

Mr Speaker: I do not think I have to ask the Prime Minister to do anything of the sort, to be honest, although he is perfectly welcome to come to the Dispatch Box, if he wishes. However, I say in all courtesy to the hon. Lady—I hope she takes this in the right spirit—that I was very happy for her to raise her point of order and put her concerns on the record, and I am sure she will not be affronted when I say that she is a robust character and capable of looking after herself and that I do not think he has anything to apologise for or to add, unless he wishes to do so. We will leave it there for today.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister appears still to be in the Chamber; he must have heard the question, and he knows the answer he gave, which was clearly a travesty of what my friend said. Should he not now apologise?

Mr Speaker: These things are all a matter of context and interpretation. I have the highest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to umpire on what really are considerations of preference, taste and judgment. I have the utmost confidence—this is an important parliamentary point—in the Hansard writers faithfully to record what was said by every right hon. and hon. Member. The hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman have made their points, and I think it is fair that we leave it there for today.
Hansard 21 July 2014 Points of Order

The Speaker says of the Prime Minister (no particular friend of his), “I do not think he has anything to apologise for”. So the Prime Minister can traduce a member in a contribution that will make the news, but it is OK if the member traduced can make a point of order in an obscure corner of the parliamentary day that is not reported. It’s apparently just a consideration of preference, taste and judgement in the eyes of the Speaker. This does not increase confidence in the Parliamentary Process – which I thought was a major role of the Speaker.




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3 thoughts on “Prime Ministerial Dodging

  1. This continues even as Israel bombs the Palestinians in Gaza. Today (4th August 2014 – the 100th anniversary of a war whose closing was so mishandled that it lead to another more terrible war) we read reports of more civilian casualties in Gaza.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack “a moral outrage and a criminal act”.

    Mr Cameron would not say if he agreed with those words. He thought it was “an appalling loss of life”, adding that civilians must not be targeted.

    He told BBC Breakfast there had to to be an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, adding that the “fastest way to stop this conflict” would be if Hamas rocket attacks on Israel stopped.
    BBC News 4 August 2014UN right to speak out on Gaza strike, says Cameron

    Why can our Prime Minister not condemn one particular regime when it is clearly out of line – he is quite free in condemning others? Why, he has had sterner words for Putin – and Putin is (meant to be be) a bigger threat.

    The problem in the Middle East is that every outbreak of hostilities is met by calls from the likes of Cameron for a “cease fire”. Eventually we get one, but the Israelis have by then done considerable disproportionate damage to the Palestinians at little lost to themselves. This time they have invaded up to 25% of the Gaza strip and virtually flattened it. Yet once we get the cease fire, those who call for it think the job is done. But the root cause of the hostilities is not addressed – it is amplified. The Palestinians have a huge need for reconstruction – but the Israeli blockade remains. And the resentment that the international community will not enforce security council resolutions from years ago convinces them that they have to “fight it out” as “there is no alternative”.

    Many Palestinians now feel that “too many have died to abandon the struggle now – we must fight it out to the end”.

    We see similar sentiments expressed in letters home from the Western Front in 1917 after Passendaele. To sue for peace was felt to dishonour those who had died – the enemy had to be defeated whatever the cost. The letter-writers acknowledged that this cost might include their own lives – often it did.

  2. Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has resigned from the government, saying its policy on the crisis in Gaza is “morally indefensible”.
    BBC 5 August 2014 : Baroness Warsi quits as Foreign Office minister over Gaza


    Dear Prime Minister

    For some weeks, in meeting and discussion, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and our response to it.

    My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.

    Particularly as the Minister with responsibility for the United Nations, The International Criminal Court and Human Rights I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice. In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve has over the last few weeks become very apparent.

    This decision has not been easy. It has been a privilege to serve for 3 years in your Shadow Cabinet and over 4 years in your Cabinet. Introducing you in Blackpool in 2005 as you made your bid for leadership I had the pleasure of being there at the start of the journey and it would have been rewarding to have been there til the end.

    The last decade has given me the opportunity to work with some of the best in the Conservative Party and indeed in Government. William Hague was probably one of the finest Foreign Secretaries this country has seen and has been inspirational. He dismantled foreign policy making by sofa government and restored decision making and dignity to the Foreign Office. There is however great unease across the Foreign Office, amongst both Minister and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made.

    Eric Pickles has supported me tirelessly in our work on combating hate crime. Challenging anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia and the pioneering work of celebration faith in the public sphere. This new found confidence in Government has allowed me to take the very public International lead on religious freedom, specifically on the ever growing crisis of the persecution of Christians. However, early evidence from the Home Office and others shows that the fallout of the current conflict and the potential for the crisis in Gaza and our response to it becoming a basis for radicalisation could have consequences for us for years to come.

    From both Eric and William I learnt the art of reconciling passion and idealism with pragmatism and realism, but I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that.

    It is therefore with regret that I am writing to resign.

    You will continue to have my personal support as leader of the Conservative party as you continue to ensure that our Party evolves to meet the challenges we face in Britain today and ensure that the Party is relevant and responsive to all communities that make up today’s Britain.

    Yours sincerely

    BBC News Website 5 August 2014 : In full: Baroness Warsi’s resignation letter

    (Reposted as a post in its own standing)

  3. Pingback: Respect! | Outside the marginals

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