Press Release: Middle East Crisis
I issued the following press release on 21 July 2006:
MIDDLE EAST: MP CALLS ON FOREIGN SECRETARY FOR DEFINITION OF ‘PROPORTIONATE’ ACTION BY ISRAEL
Lynne Jones, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak has today written to Margaret Beckett about the Government’s position on the Israeli Military’s actions against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza. The MP points out to the Foreign Secretary that no Minister, including the Prime Minister has given a definition of ‘proportionate’ when they have answered questions about whether Israel’s actions are acceptable.
The MP said: “The fact that the Government have not condemned the Israeli action nor supported Kofi Annan’s call to the Security Council, for an unconditional ceasefire, would indicate that they do not consider Israeli actions, for example, in destroying civilian infrastructure in both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, to be disproportionate. In my letter, I ask Margaret if this is the case.”
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A copy of Lynne Jones’ letter to Margaret Beckett is reproduced below:
Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles’ Street
Our ref: MIN/C0712/ID
Date: 21 July 2006
UK and EU action regarding the Israeli human rights violations including the construction of the Israeli wall on Palestinian territory
I am writing to you at a time of intense concern about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in the OPT and Lebanon and therefore consider that a robust dialogue between the UK Government/the EU and Israel on human rights issues is more urgent than ever.
First, I refer to my letter to your predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP, dated 24 November 2005 and to the reply sent on his behalf by Kim Howells MP on 16 December 2005. I enclose copies of both those letters for ease of reference.
Some of the matters set out in Kim’s letter of 16 December 2005 were repeated by him on 19 December 2005 in replies to Parliamentary Questions raised by me (19 Dec 2005 : Column 2481W).
Kim did confirm that Jack Straw and he had continued to raise concerns about the wall with the Israeli Government and that the EU ‘maintains a regular dialogue with Israel on human rights within the framework and structure of the EU-Israel Association Agreement’. He also confirmed the creation of a ‘new working group on human rights’ and that HM Government would ‘agree with other EU Member States what issues to raise at the next EU-Israel Association Council’, which in fact subsequently took place under the auspices of the Austrian Presidency in June 2006. Finally, in his letter, Kim refers to ‘close engagement’ with the relevant parties and asserts that suspension of the EU-Israel Agreement (the Agreement) would not ‘bring the parties nearer to a peaceful resolution’.
I do not share the Government’s judgment that measures up to and including suspension of the Agreement would not bring the parties nearer to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, more to the point, Kim has not addressed the fact that human rights compliance
is an ‘essential element’ of the Agreement. Indeed, it seems to me that decisions on measures up to and including suspension of the Agreement should not be made on the basis of a political judgment as whether such measures would bring the parties ‘nearer to a peaceful resolution’ – i.e. that is not a relevant consideration for requiring any EU partner to comply with human rights obligations. Compliance with human rights obligations is a legitimate objective regardless of other political considerations. Further, Kim has not addressed the very specific questions I raised and I would ask you to address them directly and with all speed, namely: will you make it UK Government policy to call on the EU to:
- require Israel to supply the FCO and the EU Council of Ministers with the relevant information that will enable an acceptable solution to be reached as regards Israel’s specific human rights obligations to: (a) dismantle the separation wall in all areas where it has been built on the ‘Palestinian side’ of the 1949 Armistice Lines (‘Green Line’) and compensate affected Palestinians; and (b) cease land confiscations on the ‘Palestinian side’ of the ‘Green Line’ (i.e. in preparation for the further construction of the wall); and
- invite Israel to hold consultations that focus on the measures taken (or to be taken) to comply with its human rights obligations in connection with the construction of the separation wall, such consultations to be conducted at the level and in the form considered most appropriate for finding a solution, to begin no later than 15 days after the invitation and to continue for a period established by mutual agreement; and
- take appropriate measures against Israel (i.e. measures in accordance with international law, and proportional to the violation, priority being given to those measures which least disrupt the application of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, suspension being a measure of last resort) if Israel refuses to formally consult with the EU regarding compliance with its human rights obligations in connection with the construction of the separation wall.
I should be grateful for your full response to the above points.
I understand that the EU-Israel Human Rights Working Group held a meeting on 7 June 2006, which was co-chaired by Martin Gärtner, First Secretary, Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU. Are you able to confirm that the agenda for the meeting included an exchange of views on the EU's and Israel's ‘human rights agenda and priorities’ as well as the international human rights system and conventions, but that no steps were agreed by the parties and there was no discussion of plans or dates for possible follow-up? I should be grateful if you would place the minutes of that meeting in the Library of the House of Commons and provide me with a copy of those minutes and/or the following information:
- Details of the level of representatives attending the meeting on 7 June 2006
- The full agenda for the meeting
- Details of any agreed steps (if any)
- A list of human rights issues that were addressed (if any)
- Details of plans or dates for follow up meetings (if any)
- Details (if any) of plans to publish anything on or by the Working Group or to open up any aspect of the Working Group to public scrutiny
- Specific confirmation that the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the wall was/was not mentioned during the meeting
Turning to the present situation in Gaza and Lebanon, like many colleagues, I am very disappointed at the lack of evenhandedness demonstrated by the UK Government’s handling of this crisis. Many constituents have contacted me to express the same view. You rightly condemn the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit and the other two Israeli soldiers and attribute this as the cause of the Israeli retaliation. However, Israeli actions in, for example, building the wall, kidnapping members of the Palestinian Government and demolishing Palestinian homes cannot be ignored in this context. During yesterday’s debate, in response to colleagues’ concerns about the proportionality of Israel’s current actions, you stated that:
from the outset we have urged on all parties that they should act proportionately, and that they should do everything possible to avoid civilian violence.
Kim Howells, also said:
we have repeatedly urged the Israelis in the strongest terms to act proportionately
Likewise, during this week’s debate on the G8 Summit, the Prime Minister referred to the importance of Israel defending itself:
‘in a proportionate way that minimises the dangers of civilian casualties’.
However, no Minister has given a definition of ‘proportionate’. I should therefore be grateful for a clear definition of what you, the Prime Minister and other ministers mean when you use the word proportionate. The fact that HMG have not condemned the Israeli action nor supported Kofi Annan’s call, put to the Security Council, for an unconditional ceasefire, would indicate that you do not consider Israeli actions, for example, in destroying civilian infrastructure in both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, to be disproportionate. Is this the case?
LYNNE JONES MP
 Official Report: 20 July 2006 : Column 511
Click here for an aritlce I wrote describing my experience of being deported from Tel Aviv airport on 29 July 2006
Click here for previous postings on the Middle East