Steve Winston
Executive Director of the Zionist Federation of UK & Ireland

Using the settlements to whitewash terrorism

Credit: The Telegraph
Image shows an Israeli settlement and rocket fire from Gaza
Credit: The Telegraph Image shows an Israeli settlement and rocket fire from Gaza

Last Thursday, 24th September, the outgoing Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Palestine and MP for Aberavon, Stephen Kinnock, led a debate in the House of Commons on the issue of “annexation” vis a vis Israel.

Watching the debate, one could be forgiven for assuming that too many of the participants were simply unaware that there were two sides in this decades-old conflict and that the absence of its preferred resolution – i.e. a secure Israeli state alongside a peaceful and viable Palestinian state, is solely down to Israel and its settlements.

The UN is often referred to as the “theatre of the absurd” but last week’s Commons debate was worthy of that title too, thanks to Mr Kinnock and his allies. In Mr Kinnock’s world, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is all about the settlements and only about the settlements. The misrepresentation and obfuscation of facts, the obsessive focus and emphasis on just one of what in reality are many issues that define and contribute to this conflict from BOTH sides, as well as the disregard for historical and more recent international and legal treaties, was and remains a deeply troubling spectacle to have watched. It is simply beyond the bounds of this piece to touch upon all the issues, so its focus is on just some of what Mr Kinnock said, and didn’t say.

Mr Kinnock’s obsession with the settlements deserves some context here. It deserves mention and acknowledgement that the claims of illegality of Israel’s settlements in the disputed territories in Judea and Samaria / the West Bank are highly politicised and ignore previous internationally and legally ratified treaties such as the San Remo Convention and the League of Nations (LoN) Mandate for Palestine. The LoN Mandate for Palestine’s Article 6 testifies to the legality of Jewish settlement in Palestine and Article 80 of the United Nations’ Charter implicitly recognises the Mandate for Palestine, a Mandate which granted Jews the irrevocable right to settle in the area of Palestine, anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These rights remain and no treaties, agreements or accords since have abrogated them. In fact, even the Oslo accords support construction by either side in areas of Judea and Samaria / the West Bank under their respective administrative control. That said, there are many Israelis, as well as Jews and non-Jewish supporters of Israel in the Diaspora, who are against the settlements and see them as an obstacle to peace. Being against the settlements does not make one anti-Israel. Not at all. Putting aside political charges and those historical treaties and agreements which refute such charges, the settlements ARE an issue in the conflict. But they are not the root cause of the conflict nor the biggest obstacle to peace as Mr Kinnock would like to have us believe. Not by far!

In his opening of the debate, Mr Kinnock spoke about “the rule of law” and that it “is not up for negotiation”. So too did he speak of the “rules-based order and the bedrock of the norms, rights and values that we cherish and seek to defend”. Bravo Mr Kinnock – indeed we agree. But one cannot and should not selectively apply the rule of law. Even though the settlements are not per-se illegal under international law, Mr Kinnock’s choosing to target them as the major cause of the conflict whilst pointedly making no mention of the irrefutable and outrightly heinous, and oft illegal, actions by both sets of Palestinian leaders was indeed very telling.

Mr Kinnock’s failure to mention anything about the innumerous wrongdoings (putting it very mildly) by Palestinian leaders suggests that he is in fact selectively applying standards – both moral and legal,  in this conflict. For example, Mr Kinnock failed to acknowledge the nature of each and every rocket launched from Gaza, the coastal enclave that is ruled with an iron fist by Hamas, an internationally-proscribed terrorist group. In fact, the only mention Mr Kinnock made of Hamas was when he stated how “we condemn violence in all its forms, whether it is Hamas launching rockets or the IDF bombarding Gaza or bulldozing Bedouin villages to make way for illegal settlements”. Oh, he just had to get the S word in there. But to equate the condemning of terrorist provocations and actions by Hamas with the defensive actions of a sovereign state acting as responsibly as possible to defend ALL its citizens simply serves to lay bare what at best can only be described as Mr Kinnock’s wholesale lack of understanding of the situation and the conflict.  At best. And what about those actual illegal and numerous Palestinian settlements being constructed in Israel’s Area C with EU funding? Care to comment Mr Kinnock?

Mr Kinnock would better serve his constituents and bolster his position by explicitly acknowledging that the IDF retaliates only AFTER being attacked by the various terrorist factions in Gaza, Hamas amongst them. So too would it behoove Mr Kinnock to acknowledge Hamas’s relentless and ongoing war crimes against Israel – its indiscriminate targeting of entire civilian communities, NOT settlements, in southern Israel and its use of aid money to construct tunnels into sovereign Israeli territory with the sole aim of murdering and kidnapping Israelis. Then there’s the Hamas-run summer camps for Gazan children where their activities include practicing the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and other terrorist activities. Add to this the way Hamas treats Palestinians in Gaza who dare speak against them or who dare seek dialogue with Israelis, how Hamas treats journalists, how it stamps out a free press and how it persecutes gay Gazans, and it really doesn’t make for a pretty picture – certainly not one that shows a rules-based leadership respectful of human rights and lawfulness. All in all, and being mindful of Hamas’s genocidal charter which calls for the killing of Jews, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that there is much in Gaza alone, entirely unrelated to the issue of settlements, that needs to change if the Palestinians are ever to realise a viable and peaceful state.

Of course, there is also the Palestinian Authority (PA) – you know, that embodiment of so-called moderate leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas, himself a propagator and glorifier of terrorism against Israel and its people, and who is serving the 15th year of a 4-year elected term. Under Abbas’s presidency, the PA continues to pay salaries to blood-soaked incarcerated Palestinian terrorists, salaries which are commensurate to the number of Israelis injured or killed (Jewish Israelis preferred), as well as peddling anti-Israel incitement and glorification of terrorists throughout its media. And then of course there is the Palestinian Authority school curriculum which, even after being called out by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) for incitement against Israelis and the glorification of terrorists, has just been republished for the new school year and contains no changes despite an EU investigation into it (that’s another story which has been dubbed a “comedy of errors”).

In Mr Kinnock’s world, none of these heinous and hate-fuelled actions, policies, practices and terror campaigns by both sets of Palestinian leaders come anywhere near to the level of threat that the settlements apparently pose to a resolution of this decades-old conflict. Never mind the widespread abuse of Palestinian children by Hamas and the PA – how they teach them to hate Israelis and Jews and encourage them, through incitement and glorification of terror, to wage jihad for what they they’re told is theirs (all the land). No, clearly nothing comes close to the threat of those pesky settlements…

Mind you, Mr Kinnock did mention the children of Gaza. He mentioned how a ten-year-old in Gaza will have already witnessed 3 wars. Of course, any right-minded and caring person should always consider the children in this conflict. However, the children on both sides suffer in ways that many of us cannot begin to comprehend. But Mr Kinnock only mentioned the Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank. One could be forgiven for concluding that Mr Kinnock cares not one iota for the suffering of the Israeli children in Israel’s sovereign and settlement-free southern communities who live under the daily threat and reality of having just 15 seconds to literally run for their lives when rockets are fired toward them. This isn’t about trying to prioritise the suffering of one group of children over the other. Not at all. They all suffer on both sides. But even though he mentioned them fleetingly, Mr Kinnock does a gross disservice to the children of Gaza and the Palestinian-controlled territories in Judea and Samaria / the West Bank by failing to call out the heinous and immoral treatment of them by their respective leaders.

But it doesn’t end there. Mr Kinnock, seemingly intent to obfuscate facts, mentioned 3500 units in area E-1 and asserted that they would result in a lack of contiguity for a Palestinian state. Mr Kinnock’s lack of context will have left most participants and listeners entirely unaware that these plans had been passed years ago but never constructed. Neither did Mr Kinnock deign to clarify that successive Israeli governments have supported building in these areas and that all two-state peace proposals presumed that Maale Adumim and E-1 would remain part of Israel, with territorial swaps. Neither did he make any mention of the fact that Israel has invested tens of millions of dollars to build new roads between East Jerusalem and Palestinian communities in the West Bank and that the E-1 plans will not displace Palestinians or use Palestinian land. Seemingly intent on using the debate to vilify Israel in any way he could, he also alluded to “the many counterrevolutions and coups that Israel and the UAE have collaborated on”. Really Mr Kinnock?? Those of us who called him out on this on Twitter are still waiting for a reply. Mr Kinnock also chose not to meaningfully praise the recent Abraham Accords, asserting instead that the accords do nothing for the Palestinian people. Wait, wasn’t it the UAE who insisted that Israel suspend/shelve/abandon any plans for so-called annexation? And don’t these accords attest to the fact that Israel has shown, once again, that it is able and willing to negotiate and compromise for peace with its neighbours? Not according to Mr Kinnock. Rather than praising the accords as something positive (as many of the other participants in the debate did) and as a means to encourage the Palestinian Authority (Hamas and Gaza are a whole separate issue) to pursue negotiations with Israel, Mr Kinnock followed in the footsteps of both sets of Palestinian leaders who have vociferously condemned the accords.

Thankfully and welcomingly, some of the other participants in the debate, including but not limited to Damien Moore, Conservative MP for Southport, Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak and current chair of Labour Friends of Israel and Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, were far more balanced in their assessment of the issues, as was Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, MP for Braintree. They were all forthright in their criticism of the settlements, but also forthright in their condemnation of many of the actions and policies of both sets of Palestinian leaders.

It is the MPs such as those mentioned above (and others not mentioned here) who can stand up and declare their support for both Israel AND the Palestinians – those MPs who can not only criticise Israel but can criticise both sets of Palestinian leaders too, that can claim to be serious actors and brokers for peace between the two peoples.

In glaring contrast, it is MPs such as Mr Kinnock and his allies whose Pavlovian reaction to, and obsessive focus on Israel and the settlements, that are a real obstacle to peace. Bearing in mind the many shortcomings of both sets of Palestinian leaders, some of which are highlighted above, calling for the UK to immediately recognise a state of Palestine, as Mr Kinnock called for during the debate, is nothing short of irresponsible and ridiculous, as much for the Palestinians as for the Israelis. If Mr Kinnock genuinely cared for the future of the Palestinian people and their national aspirations – as we would hope a chair of the APPG on Palestine would, then he and his allies would serve the issue of Palestine far better by using their positions to challenge and condemn Hamas and the PA on the very real issues that stand in the way of peace, rather than choosing to only condemn and seek punitive measures against Israel. Anyone seeking a meaningful and enduring peace between both sides in this conflict should focus on both sides, not just one. Watching that debate, I was left hoping that for the sake of the Palestinians, the APPG chair incumbent will actually consider them.

About the Author
Before studying architecture, Steve spent a year living in Israel doing Ulpan on kibbutz Ma’agan Michael where his love for Israel and Zionism grew, a passion which eventually brought him to the ZF. Steve is also an accomplished professional photographer and was previously short-listed for a Travel Photographer of the Year award for his life portraiture of people in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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