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Friday, 13 September 2013

Nick Clegg meets Palestinian President

As a pro-Israeli British Liberal Democrat, I am very pleased that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas this week met Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/deputy-prime-minister-meeting-with-president-abbas?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=news-story-deputy-prime-minister-meeting-with-president-abbas), on a four-day visit that also included meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-and-palestinian-president-discuss-peace-process).

The President was mainly in London for a three-hour meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry re:- the latest Israel/Palestine peace talks (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jpdJWfpElqPinV6o8Fz8ZGB6CkwA?docId=CNG.b2c46b2c12bf49fcc8f4f2ddbddb6643.c1), and it's good to see that Mr Clegg "underlined to President Abbas the UK's support for the courageous and decisive leadership he has shown, together with (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu, by returning to talks on the Middle East Peace Process."

However tough that process is proving to be (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/world/middleeast/1967-border-is-a-source-of-strain-in-the-israeli-palestinian-talks.html?hl=en&q=israel%20palestine%20peace%20talks&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&channel=browser&), I have to ask sceptics: what is the alternative?

What, for Israelis and Palestinians, is the alternative to talking about how best to peacefully resolve their differences? Whatever one thinks of President Abbas (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/binyamin-netanyahus-one-liner.html?m=1, and I think many things, not all of them printable), he is 'it' and the Israelis are currently negotiating with his proxies and that's got to be better than the politics of shouting, which often seems to be the preferred mode of discourse for some of Israel's more heated British detractors.

So, whatever hurdles remain, I am very pleased, as a British Lib Dem friend of Israel, that the UK's Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is doing what it can to support the Israel/Palestine peace process, including talking to Palestinian leaders here in London.

After all, one reason that many Lib Dems supported our Coalition Government's reform of the law on universal jurisdiction (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/07/lib-dem-leadership-on-universal.html?m=1) was precisely so that Palestinian and Israeli leaders could visit London for peace talks without fear of being arrested on charges generated by publicity-hungry British political activists (does anyone think that it would have been useful for President Abbas to have this week been arrested in London for the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians by Mr Abbas' own PA regime? I don't).

President Abbas' London talks are only the latest in a series of such activities since the Coalition took office in 2010, with Nick Clegg often at the forefront: http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2012/01/nick-clegg-and-president-abbas-video.html?m=1, http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/lib-dem-friends-welcome-cleggabbas.html?m=1, http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/nick-clegg-meets-palestinian-prime.html?m=1.

I have heard it argued that the UK's current government has not prioritised Israel/Palestine in foreign policy terms, and that is not remotely true (http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/1199873). As Nick Clegg said yesterday to President Abbas, "the UK stands ready to do all it can to reach a negotiated agreement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state".

Anyone who disagrees with that statement of Mr Clegg's must explain what political future they intend for the Arab people who live on the West Bank and in Gaza if they are not eventually to live in a viable and sovereign Palestinian state? Are they to live forever in a stateless limbo in No Man's Land?

They must also explain why any Israeli citizen (Jewish or non-Jewish) would sign up to any peace deal in which they are not safe and secure - and unless both sides sign up to any deal, then forget it. Although, if you want my honest, instinctive opinion, I think that this current round of talks actually will produce an outline deal of some sort.