Thu 11-July-2024

Will Labor’s ‘change’ agenda include Palestine?

Wednesday 10-July-2024

Throughout their election campaign the “changed Labor Party” solemnly promised to change the way politics is done. Now, with their absolute majority in parliament, Britons are rightfully expecting a meaningful change of government policy toward Palestine. Armed with all the levers of power there is no justification for the new government to continue peddling the failed policies of the past. More than any other, the question of Palestine will be the litmus test of the change agenda and ending the genocide in Gaza must be the place to start.

Despite its urgency, Prime Minister Keir Starmer has so far given very little reason to be hopeful for a change on Gaza. Just days before the election he told LBC radio that he needed to see more evidence before deciding if Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. At the time the death toll stood at 37,953 with 87,226 wounded and over 10,000 missing under the rubble of their destroyed homes and shelters. These figures, according to the British medical journal, the Lancet, represent 7.9 per cent of Gaza’s total population and without a ceasefire, an estimated 58,260 people would be killed and 85,750 wounded by 6 August 2024.

How much more evidence does the prime minister need before he calls it out for what it is? Genocide.

Thankfully, the British electorate is more politically savvy than they are given credit for. They were so sick and tired of platitudes and soundbites that they couldn’t be bothered to vote in the recent elections. Only 60 per cent turned out to vote, the lowest since 2001 when 59.4 per cent of the electorate voted. As a result of this low turnout, the Labor Party actually won 9.7 million votes, which was fewer than the 10.3 million won in 2019 under the leadership of the much maligned Jeremy Corbyn.

A further reading of the election results confirm that Gaza was indeed a decisive factor in several key constituencies. Jonathan Ashworth, the former shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, lost his parliamentary seat in Leicester South to an independent candidate who campaigned on an anti-war platform.

Elsewhere, two other high-profile Labor candidates, Wess Streeting and Rushnara Ali, narrowly kept their seats after strong challenges from independent Palestinian and Muslim candidates respectively. The list goes on and the message could not be clearer; politicians who ignore Palestine do so at their peril.

In the current climate, it is disingenuous for the prime minister and his foreign secretary to speak of recognizing the State of Palestine without fixing a date like Spain, the Republic of Ireland and Norway did. To say they would do so as part of a “peace process” is simply another way of saying it will not happen any time soon.

From a purely moral point of view, the British government, and the Labor Party in particular, should have been the first to recognize the State of Palestine given their historic role in the dispossessing three-quarters of a million Palestinians. They should not be dragged kicking and screaming to do so. After all, it was the Labor Party which officially adopted at its 1944 annual conference the policy; Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in.

Throughout the six weeks of campaigning for the 2024 general elections Starmer repeated time and again that he headed the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for five years. He had gained a reputation for his expertise in human rights law. With such a distinguished career, therefore, the least that is expected of him is to halt sales of weapons to Israel that are being used in its genocidal war.

Surely, being a friend and ally of Israel should not mean blind support whether it is right or wrong. A true friend of Israel would seek to rescue it from the path of ignominy and self-destruction. Instead, Britain’s unlimited and unqualified support for Israel has led it into a deepening quagmire in Gaza and global isolation.

If the change agenda is to have any significant meaning and importance here is what the new prime minister should do: Restore the UK aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which the previous government had withdrawn on the basis of unsubstantiated Israeli claims; ensure that all humanitarian aid is actually delivered; support the efforts of the ICC to prosecute Israeli genocidaires; and suspend cooperation with the incumbent Israeli government until it purges its ranks of those who support genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Anything less than these would signify that the change agenda will fail to constructively affect Britain’s foreign policy.

-Dr Daud Abdullah is MEMO Director.

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