OPINION: Corbyn’s missed opportunity to reassure on Israel

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OPINION: Corbyn’s missed opportunity to reassure on Israel

Joan Ryan
Joan Ryan

By Joan Ryan, MP & chair – Labour Friends of Israel

Last week in Brighton, over 500 people attended Labour Friends of Israel’s annual Labour party conference reception. 

It was one of the biggest meetings at the conference, demonstrating the level and breadth of support that LFI continues to receive within the Labour party. 

One story, of course, has dominated coverage of the event – Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to say the word ‘Israel’, or speak about a two-state solution, when he addressed the event.

I am as disappointed as many others that Jeremy failed to seize this opportunity to allay the understandable concerns which many have about his commitment to the state of Israel.

Jeremy has a long history of support for the Palestinian people and I do not doubt that it is well-meaning. 

But I have never believed that a commitment to the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, of which I am a strong supporter, is somehow in conflict with a passionate belief in the right of the Jewish people to their own state.

In fact, quite the reverse: the only path to a durable two-state solution lies in a recognition of the rights to self-determination of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.

I do not expect Jeremy to become an ardent Zionist, but, respectfully, I do expect him to acknowledge this fundamental truth. 

I know that some people will now suggest that my call last month for a frank and open dialogue with Jeremy is pointless or naive. I believe that would be a huge mistake: LFI will continue, politely but firmly, to make our case to the Labour leadership and to all who are willing to engage with us. 

We will do so not just because we have confidence in our case and because we believe it to be a moral imperative. 

Jeremy said at our reception that “the only way forward is through peace, through negotiation, through dialogue and discussion and through recognition of the rights and needs and traditions of all of the peoples of the region.”But, as the Israeli MK, Erel Margalit, who was our guest at this years conference, suggested, we also need to be clear about those who do and do not have a constructive role to play in that process of “dialogue and discussion”.
Hamas, for instance, is not simply the avowed and implacable enemy of Israel – committed to its destruction and openly rejoicing in the murder of Jews – it is also effectively at war with the Palestinian Authority. Our role must be to strengthen moderates and peacemakers – those who promote the notion of coexistence and seek to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians – on both sides. I do not see how Hamas or Hezbollah do anything but undermine and weaken them. I believe we must be clear, too, on the barriers to a two-state solution. Settlement construction is wrong, undermines Israel’s claim to be ready to negotiate and weakens its standing in the world. But we must also recognise that while settlements are an obstacle, they are not the sole obstacle.
A focus on them to the exclusion of all other issues risks overly simplifying a complex set of realities and obscuring the true nature of the compromises which both sides need to make. So, yes, we’ll support the Labour leadership when, like the government and the Obama administration, it calls on Israel to stop settlement construction. Indeed, last month when, together with other parliamentarians, I met with Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to London, I appealed to him to back-up his offer to resume negotiations with a settlement-building freeze.But I also want to see Labour use our close relationship with Fatah and other Palestinian moderates to impress upon them that they cannot and will not achieve their dream of statehood simply by exerting greater and greater pressure on Israel in international institutions. The Palestinian Authority need to become partners and that means sitting down with Israel, negotiating and showing a willingness to assuage the Israeli public’s fears. Tackling incitement, extremism and anti-Semitism in the PA-controlled state media should be the start; so, too, a willingness to recognise Israel as the home of the Jewish people. 
Alongside my colleagues in LFI, I will continue to make this case within the Labour party – to its leaders, my fellow parliamentarians, and our councillors and members up and down the country.
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