MPs call on UK Government to consider economic pressure against Israel

By staff writers
January 31, 2007

In a move that has been welcomed by campaigners, including many Christians, an influential group of British MPs has called on the British government to consider using economic pressure against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinian people.

The call came from the International Development Select Committee, which in a report published yesterday said that the UK government should urge the EU to “consider suspending” the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

The agreement guarantees Israeli exports preferential access to the markets of the European Union. The MPs from across the political parties committee of British MPs say that it should be used as a lever to bring about change in Israeli government policy.

The report also says that the West’s isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government has served only to push it closer to Iran, and “increased poverty and hardship amongst most Palestinians".

It also emerged yesterday, that a group of senior British MPs had held private meetings with prominent members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, despite the international boycott imposed on the PA since the Islamic faction took office last March.

The parliamentarians, a Tory whip, two senior Labour backbenchers and a Liberal Democrat peer, are easily the most influential group of British politicians to have met senior members of the PA cabinet since Hamas's election victory in 2006.

British ministers and officials are precluded as a matter of policy from meeting members of the Palestinian cabinet.

The all-party report said that the international embargo had stripped Hamas of any real accountability for its performance to the Palestinian people, caused widespread misery and hardship among Palestinians, and forced the Hamas government to look elsewhere for support, including Iran. It also urged the international community to hold Israel to the agreement it signed in November 2005 to facilitate movement of goods from Gaza.

Last week's separate all-party delegation, including Richard Burden, chairman of the Britain Palestine parliamentary group and the Opposition whip Crispin Blunt had initially expected to hold talks in Gaza last Friday with Ismail Haniyeh and the foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar but were forced to turn back at the Erez checkpoint because of the factional violence between Hamas and Fatah.

Quakers in Britain called on the international community to play a greater role in protecting civilians in the Middle East conflict, as they welcomed the report.

Quaker Peace and Social Witness, which runs a programme providing "protection by presence" said governments should send human rights observers and a presence for the protection of civilians, rather than rely on NGO initiatives as is the case at present.

"Our field workers in the West Bank witness daily the human cost of Israel's movement restrictions, and see how these measures contribute to greater poverty, undermining the prospects for peace," said Floresca Karanasou, Middle East programme manager of QPSW.

QPSW called on the UK government to act on the report's recommendations that "ways must be found now to influence the actions of the Government of Israel".

The government should also adopt the recommendation that "ways must be found to foster a dialogue" with the current Palestinian government in order to work towards a political settlement to this conflict and arrest the dissent into greater violence.

John Hilary, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, said: “We support the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The committee rightly condemns Israel for the suffering it has imposed on the Palestinians, but it also points to action which could bring Israel back into line with international law. Tony Blair must take note and stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The committee’s report slams the UK government and other international donors for withholding aid from the democratically elected Palestinian Authority. Together with Israel’s withholding of revenues due to the Palestinian government,

The report’s publication follows the 30 January launch of the ENOUGH! coalition of British trade unions, faith groups and charities which have come together to call for justice for the Palestinian people – see for more details.

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