Report to AGM 2011

Report to AGM 2011 October 15

This year has seen dramatic events in the region, not least the ‘Arab Spring’.  The unrest and potential for change are giving Israel considerable cause for reflection and concern.  Israel has depended on ‘good relations with the neighbours’ to maintain its own security and regional status, but relations with Egypt and Syria, (Jordan?), and especially with Turkey, have become very shaky.

The occupation still dominates every aspect of Palestinian lives.  Settlement building has accelerated, taking more Palestinian land, and settler violence against Palestinians (‘price tag’ attacks) is becoming serious.  In East Jerusalem more Palestinians are being evicted to make room for settlers as part of Israel’s policy of Judaization of he city.  At least twice the current Israeli administration has snubbed US calls for an end to settlement building by announcing further building plans, especially in East Jerusalem.  Oslo was sold on the apparent promise of extending Palestinian areas of control leading to a state in 5 years, but has failed to deliver in 18.   Instead it has been used to reinforce and extend areas of Israeli control.  Many commentators openly regard Oslo as dead.  Many also consider  that the ‘peace process’ and associated Road Map are also ‘terminally stalled’, for want of political will to achieve final status agreement and a two-state solution.

Hamas and Fatah have agreed to work for reconciliation; President Abbas asked the United Nations to admit Palestine as a full member state; and Palestine has also applied for membership of UNESCO.  All of these worry both  Israel and the current US administration, and both are trying to block  them.  The US says it will veto the UN bid – a 180° volte face by President Obama since the 2010 GA.  (Domestic politics trump international policy when re-election looms).  The Quartet called for peace negotiations to recommence within a month, invited both sides to participate, and meets again on 23 October, just 1 month after since Palestine’s bid for UN membership and statehood.

At UNA UK’s ‘Annual Conference (Cardiff June 18) UNA Edinburgh presented two statements on Israel-Palestine.   In the first we called on the UN to press for resolution of the conflict along the recognised lines of international law, UN resolutions (eg 242), the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and the very similar Israel Peace Initiative presented earlier this year (by a group of very distinguished Israelis, none of whom are currently in political office).   As usual, this was strongly supported by delegates.  We also submitted an emergency statement, asking HMG / FCO to support Palestine’s bid at the UN GA for recognition as a state and full membership of the UN.   This was referred back to the Board..  Since then I have written 2 short pieces, directed to UNA UK, the Chairman, and UNA UK’s negotiators with FCO.  It is still not clear if the UK is undecided, keeping its powder dry, or could yet succumb to US/Israeli pressure to try to block the bid.

Following the June Conference, I was invited by UNA North East Region to lead a day workshop in York (23 July) on the situation in Israel/Palestine.  This led to lively discussion, with welcome contributions by participants with first-hand experience of conditions in Palestine.  Prompted by another participant, we produced a statement to use in further  lobbying of MPs, MEPs and others.

This summer about half of the members of US Congress were given sponsored visits to Israel.  A party of international Parliamentarians, including Ian Murray MP (Edinburgh South) and David Martin MEP, visited Gaza (for about a month?). You may have seen their moving article in the Scotsman.

I attended 2 recent meetings of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Palestine, re-established since  the May elections. On June 29 I was privileged to take as a guest one of Gari’s students, from Gaza.  Mohammed was impressed by the support the Group demonstrates for  the Palestinian cause.   I was invited to speak at the second meeting (21 September), 2 days before the UN bid at the General Assembly, on how the UN processes work.  A lively Q&A session followed.  Though there was some disappointment that the vote would not happen immediately, there was evident enthusiasm for more intensive lobbying in the meantime.

Liz Sim
15 October 2011