Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry used a Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East fringe meeting at the party’s Brighton conference to make a pledge that the first priority of the next Labour government would be to recognise the state of Palestine “and immediately review all arms sales to Israel”.
She said that such recognition would come “not in due course, not when the time is right, but now.” Labour would also, she said, host an international emergency conference on Palestinian human rights as an urgent priority.
Ms Thornberry told the crowded event that her concern was for both Palestinian and Israeli children. She said: “The central screaming question is, how many more generations of Palestinian children are going to have to grow up having to suffer brutality, deprivation and fear in the Occupied Territories as their normal upbringing? And how many generations of Israeli children are going to have grow up regarding air raid sirens, terror attacks and compulsory military service as their natural views?”
If Labour won the next election and she became Foreign Secretary, she said, “You can be assured that standing up for the Palestinians will be at the top of my list of priorities”. She added that there would be an immediate review of arms sales from the UK to Israel “to ensure that none of those weapons are being used to breach International law and attack innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza or elsewhere”.
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Laying out the plans for a Labour attitude to Israel in the future, Ms Thornberry said: “We would be be prepared to say out loud that it shames the UN and the security Council that for decades, Israel has been allowed to ignore, with impunity, all the resolutions the UN has passed with regard to the Occupied Territories — illegal settlement building, detention of children, and indiscriminate violence against civilians — and we will demand effective action to enforce them.”
Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton, who is Shadow Minister for the Middle East, opened his remarks with “Salaam Aleikum” and declared that he had joined the Labour Party “because I believe the human rights and justice are indivisible. They’re not for one community or country against another… we believe in people’s right to self-determination”.
Mr Hamilton, who is Jewish, said: “What I have seen of the way children are treated in the Occupied Territories brings shame on me and all of us. We have to ensure that there is a state of Palestine and the next Labour government will absolutely ensure that we recognise that state”.
But he warned: “This is not a zero-sum game. A two-state solution will benefit enormously the people of Palestine, but it will also secure the future of the people of Israel”. He said Labour was developing a peace-building policy based on the ethical foreign policy of the late Robin Cook — “and under that policy the people of Palestine will be free”.
Hussam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, who was effectively expelled by Donald Trump after he closed the Palestinian legation in Washington, gave a tub-thumping address in which he accused Israel of acting “above the law” for decades. At one point he compared the labelling of produce from settlements to paedophiles, and said that paedophiles would not be ignored, but would be banned. “Ban settlement produce”, he shouted, “ban them”.
The ambassador, calling for equality of treatment by the UK, said Britain had a choice: “Either de-recognise Israel, or recognise the state of Palestine”.
Other speakers at the event, chaired by MP Lisa Nandy, included Labour chair Ian Lavery, standing in for party leader Jeremy Corbyn.