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In Opinion

This article by PSC Chair Hugh Lanning first appeared in The Morning Star here

Israel’s typically belligerent response to the UN security council vote on settlements last month is forcing its allies to back whatever the country does or else.

The “or else” can be summarised as the following — come noon on January 20, we’ve got Donald Trump on our side.

Naftali Bennett, a senior Israeli cabinet minister, said the election of Donald Trump has helped create an opportunity for Israel to say: “The era of the Palestinian state is over.”

While other ministers call for the UN to be “punished,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel will not turn the other cheek.

The ambassadors of the “guilty” countries — including Britain — voting for the resolution are summoned to be rebuked and Israeli ministers are told not to travel to any of them.

The vote was able to pass the 15-member council after the United States broke with a long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power — a decision that Netanyahu called “shameful.”

Obama was accused of having “plotted against and betrayed” Israel — but it doesn’t care because its tweeting hero Trump is waiting in the wings.

The reality is Trump doesn’t have to shift or change policy; he just has to do nothing and make it clear the US will continue to do nothing whatever Israel says or does.

However, Trump’s proposal to move the US embassy to Jerusalem would be an incendiary move.

So are the propositions being discussed in the Israeli Knesset to annex Maale Adumim to the east of Jerusalem, one of the largest Israeli settlements, as the first step in the annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Israel had put a huge amount of effort into trying to stop the resolution being passed, despite the fact that it said little that had not been said before.

For those governments and parties who claim to believe international law and the UN still have a role to play, they will be under increasing pressure to respond to Palestinian calls to consider sanctions unless and until Israel complies with international law.

The embarrassing fact is that Israel keeps on making it clear that it has no intention of complying with UN resolutions and is not interested in any solution that includes a viable Palestinian state.

Now, Israel is effectively demanding support for its expansion to the River Jordan and denying, forever, the Palestinians a state or justice.

This colonisation of Palestine or Judea and Samaria — as it is increasingly referred to by Israeli spokespeople — is not a tactic, it is a publicly stated strategic aim.

How can we respond? Politically, one of the key ways will be through building the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. The avenues are many and varied; the settlements are the most broadly based target.

These are illegal under international law, so why would one invest in or buy from firms complicit in the occupation?

Focused divestment campaigns on firms such as Veolia, G4S and HP are producing results. Both Veolia and G4S are pulling out of their Israeli operations. Hence the British government’s efforts to block local authority pension funds from making ethical disinvestments from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation.

This move is now being challenged in the courts by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). In this context the arms trade will be of growing importance.

Israel has one of the most powerful armed forces on the planet — it is a huge consumer, tester, buyer and seller of arms and military technology — largely funded by US aid.

Sanctions by governments were what finally made the difference in relation to South Africa. It is difficult to see a fair and just solution without similar pressure again.

Here in Britain, the devolved governments and the mainstream parties have traditionally tried to maintain the fiction of a bipartisan approach.

In reality, Britain is a very partisan friend of Israel, while publicly saying it favours a peace process leading to a two state solution. Israel’s actions risk forcing Western countries to start recognising that failing to act means publicly accepting that Israel can continue to act with impunity.

As Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative described it: “Everyone who is silent […] and continues to express ‘concern’ without imposing sanctions on Israel or withdrawing privileges from it will be a participant in the operation of killing the idea of a Palestinian state and hence the so-called ‘two state solution.’”

It was welcome that the British government voted for the UN resolution, although sadly only to be followed up by a Theresa May spokesperson siding with Trump in his criticisms of John Kerry’s speech defending the US abstention.

Disappointingly Labour has maintained its now normal silence on Palestine.

A silence which has led Palestine’s ambassador to Britain Manuel Hasassian to describe Labour as “too scared to speak out over attacks on Palestine” and failing to stand up to Israel for fear of being branded anti-semitic.

The emergence of the settler mentality as the dominant force in Israeli politics makes the likelihood of further aggressive action ever more likely. What form it will take is difficult to predict — it could be the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the annexation of large chunks of the West Bank or, once again, an assault on Gaza.

But further aggression has to be likely. Support for Palestine grows every time Israel launches one of its periodic attacks.

Following “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/9, the deaths on the Mavi Mamara in 2010, and most recently the “Protective Edge” assault on Gaza in 2014, all resulted in major increases in support for Palestine and the solidarity movement.

The fundamental weakness in Israel’s attack strategy is its failure to understand that it is its own actions that feed the growth of solidarity. The support for Palestine will continue to grow whilst Israel continues to behave as it does.

This is the year of anniversaries — 100 years since the infamous Balfour Declaration, 50 years since the occupation of east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Ten years since the start of the siege of Gaza. Seventy years since the partition of historic Palestine.

This provides both an opportunity and a threat. Israel will be seeking to make it into a celebration about its own existence whilst ignoring the non-existence of a Palestinian state and continuing crimes against international law and human rights.

For the solidarity movement there is the opportunity to use the anniversaries to create space for the Palestinian story to be told and to build solidarity.

Fundamentally it is about convincing more of the public of the need for action now to get justice today. It will be a lost opportunity if it is merely a historical debate.

For us in solidarity organisations, we need to help build a global movement that stands up and says “enough is enough,” that 50 years of occupation is too much. No more.