David Maddox: Parties diminish Palestine influence

Politicial squabbles are diminishing the UK's influence regarding the issue. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.
Politicial squabbles are diminishing the UK's influence regarding the issue. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor.
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THE UK’s polarisation over Palestine reinforces how little influence we have, writes David Maddox.

This time of year is focused on the plight of a baby born in makeshift accommodation in occupied Palestine, helped out with valuable donations from foreigners before being forced to become a refugee abroad.

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While the story of the birth of Jesus is retold every year, his terrible start in life is a tale that is still all too familiar for people living in Palestine more than 2,000 years later in a conflict which continues to define the foreign policies of the UK and its political parties.

The latest intervention this week has come from the blunt talking Yorkshireman and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who has written an article attacking the rise of antisemitism in the UK. He has promised extra protection for Jewish schools and synagogues amid a surge in violence against Jews. In July and August this year there were 543 attacks on the Jewish community in the UK on the back of what some saw as righteous indignation against Israel’s military response to attacks from Hamas which saw the deaths of thousands of Palestinians.

Mr Pickles is also extremely critical of councils for flying the Palestinian flag and UK universities refusing to work with Jewish academics from Israeli universities. This came to a head at the Edinburgh Festival when there was a boycott of performances by two Jewish student groups from Israel. Specifically targeting Jews in this way, after all, has dreadful historical precedents.

Pickles’ intervention shows a growing hardening of party political lines on this complicated and vexed question in the Middle East. While the Palestinians have always been a darling cause of the left and the centre right has been more sympathetic to Israel, there has generally been cross party consensus on the issue.

However, the crisis in 2014 which started with the murder of three Israeli teenagers, followed by the murder of a Palestinian boy and then full-scale missile attacks from Hamas and an all-out bombardment on Palestinian territories by Israel saw the political parties begin to coalesce around different sides. In other words, the Tories pro-Israel and Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and other leftish parties for the Palestinians. SNP ministers have used condemning Israel as a means of giving Scotland a separate foreign policy.

But the hardening of positions is a sign that the UK’s hope of influencing what is going on there is diminishing. If we consider one atrocity to be greater than another, or try to turn one side into a pariah, then how can we hope to help bring about agreement?

The painfully slow talks in Northern Ireland this month again demonstrate that politicians need to be prepared to listen to both sides and compromise.

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