Over a year since the first protests of the Arab Spring, and with so much hope, uncertainty and pain continuing to be felt across the Middle East, it is right that Labour is at the centre of efforts to promote the spread of democracy and respect for human rights in the region. Yesterday’s parliamentary debate on Israel and the peace process, led by Labour Friends of Israel chair John Woodcock MP, was a timely opportunity to voice support for those seeking peace and greater freedoms, and to scrutinise the government’s work, to ensure that its policies both bolster those seeking a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, and strengthen and deepen relations with Israel, still the only full participatory democracy in the region.
As the late David Cairns MP expressed last year: ‘We will never find a just and lasting agreement [in the Middle East] if we forget or overlook the fact that Israel is the only regional exemplar, not just of democracy, but of social democracy. Its values are rooted in left-of-centre principles.’ This goes to the heart of what was expressed in parliament yesterday, and was set out by John Woodcock in an article ahead of the debate.
When Labour supports change in the Middle East; when we sought the protection of civilians in Libya; when we back tough sanctions and Security Council action against the Syrian regime; and when we highlight Iran’s appalling human rights record and its illegal nuclear programme – it is right that our values guide us, and it is also right that our values guide us to support strong and deep bilateral relations with Israel, and a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.
With the Middle East peace process stalled, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, regrettably, not meeting across the negotiating table, we should be loudly calling on the government, together with its international partners, to set out a plan for aiding a return to talks. The current situation is dangerous, and has led to the questioning of a negotiated two-state solution. However, whilst negotiation and compromise will be painful for both Israelis and Palestinians, there is no shortcut to making and agreeing difficult choices necessary for achieving conflict resolution and meeting the aspirations of both peoples. A negotiated two-state solution is the only way for the Palestinians to achieve their right to self-determination, and it is the only way Israel can be safeguarded and preserved as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Given the dangers of pessimism, it is in all of our interests to urge the government to push for a resumption of talks, as rightly called for by the Middle East Quartet. To get back to talks, we should both learn from the failures of previous attempts at peace, but also look back on the offers made and the understandings achieved, to build confidence that a negotiated solution is both possible and the only peaceful way forward. And we should also work together to challenge the Iranian regime and the peace spoilers it sponsors, to ensure that the Israeli and Palestinian people have the best chance of finding a lasting peace.
Confidently putting our values at the centre of our concerns means that we should not shy away from allying ourselves with those in the region who share those values, and challenging those who do not. Iran, Hamas and their allies who oppose peace, oppose Israel and oppose a two-state solution, do not only oppose our foreign policies, but also our way of life, and we should make this clear. Similarly, we should make clear that our bilateral relations with Palestinian moderates, and our support for the Palestinian economy, institution building and improvements to freedom of movement, are central to our support for peace and human rights.
As was expressed yesterday, we must also assert that our relations with Israel, our political, economic, educational, cultural and scientific bonds, are not only to be treasured for the considerable mutual benefits they bring, but also because they are born from, and are expressions of, our shared values – our support for democracy and equal rights. Israel lives out these values every day and, just as we do in Britain, progressives in Israel are working to push further and to achieve more.
The louder and more forcefully we champion our shared values, the greater success we will achieve as we work together for our mutual goals of prosperity, equality, security and peace.
Ben Garratt is the deputy director of Labour Friends of Israel which tweets @_LFI
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.