Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Europe must act to rein in Israel

The challenge for the European Union’s new foreign policy team of President Donald Tusk and High-Representative Federica Mogherini is to convert the foreign ministers’ rhetoric into reality, and to do so urgently. 

In the aftermath of the latest bout of killing and destruction in Gaza, European foreign ministers issued a statement recognizing the ceasefire had to be followed by political change to lift the “Gaza closure regime” and that return to the status quo ante “was not an option”. The challenge for the European Union’s new foreign policy team of President Donald Tusk and High-Representative Federica Mogherini is to convert the foreign ministers’ rhetoric into reality, and to do so urgently. 

This requires a step-change in Europe’s analysis and dealing with the underlying political problem, which is Israel’s deepening occupation, not just the horrendous humanitarian crisis left by the conflict. It means treating Gaza as an integral part of Palestine not - as Israel would like - as a separate issue. It means challenging Israel’s framing of the conflict as a response to “terror” and imposing real costs on Israel for its expanding expropriation of Palestinian land and resources. 

Israel has legitimate security interests but security cannot be used as an excuse for the blockade or the scale of “Operation Protective Edge”. Israel demonstrated the weakness of its “security” justification when it rejected the Dutch provision of a scanner to screen Gaza’s exports for smuggled arms or the offer of a European Border Force to police Gaza’s borders.

The recent conflict was inevitable. After the ceasefire in 2012 the Palestinian factions delivered a year of “quiet” in terms of rocket attacks but there was no easing of the blockade nor any slowing of Israel’s settlement program in the rest of the West Bank. Not unreasonably, Palestinians concluded Israel had no intention of ever conceding Palestinian control beyond the disconnected blocks of Area A. The latest Israeli announcement of the largest West Bank land seizure in 30 years confirms that view. Unless Europe responds with more than the usual condemnations and fruitless pleas to Israel for delay, the cycles of violence will continue, with their appalling toll of injury and death, and the Palestinian population will be further impoverished.

Europe and Israel

Europe is Israel’s biggest trading partner, but also a major provider of aid to Palestine - €2.5bn ($3.2bn) over the last few years. A recent evaluation by EuropeAid concluded the aid program far from developing the Palestinian economy had “reached its limits in the absence of a parallel political track that addresses the binding constraints”. Even before the conflict 80 per cent of the population of Gaza was dependent on aid. Now, with the scale of destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, water and power infrastructure and factories, the EU is faced with the cost of contributing to Gaza’s reconstruction again, and increasing humanitarian aid to meet people’s basic needs. The recent revelation that Israel’s blockade not only makes this aid necessary but forces much of the aid to be spent in the Israeli economy, will enrage European citizens even further. 

What then should the EU and its member states do? Europe needs to use its economic levers to hold Israel to account. Firstly it must suspend all arms sales to Israel today – not when the next conflict begins. Secondly the EU should propose a strict timetable for easing the blockade (coupled with an offer to meet Israel’s genuine security concerns) and for wider negotiations to end the entire occupation.

The EU should commit in principle to supporting Palestinian full membership of the UN and an International Criminal Court investigation of all sides in the Gaza Conflict. It could give a deadline for activating this commitment if no progress is made on easing the blockade or the occupation. It should also speed up the implementation of the FAC decision of 2012 to stop settlements being included in any of the benefits the EU currently applies to Israel.

Israel is currently the most favored participant of the “European-Mediterranean Neighbourhood Programme” (ENP). The ENP has a well-established practice of “more for more”, conditioning new benefits on delivery against ENP aims. For Israel it would be more meaningful to implement “less for less” and remove benefits in response to non-delivery.

Finally, ahead of the pledging conference in October in Cairo the EU must recover from Israel the cost to the EU and its member states of the aid provided for the reconstruction of Gaza, thus meeting its responsibilities as occupier for the occupied population.

Dr Phyllis Starkey is a trustee of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and a former British Parliamentarian

Dr Phyllis Starkey is a trustee of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and a former British Parliamentarian.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Part II: Is the Government fulfilling its role in the fight against cancer?

In the second in her series of interviews with leading politicians, Larushka Mellor, asks Iain Wright MP, “Is the government fulfilling its role in the fight against cancer?”

The independent cancer taskforce published its 5-year strategy for cancer with a number of recommendations, in July 2015.  What should the government do to ensure the biggest challenges contained within it are attainable?

The scale of the challenge is apparent. I think we should be as bold and ambitious as possible: scientists, clinicians, patients, the general public and politicians all working together for a single goal: to eliminate cancer within a generation, and Britain at the forefront of this.

The taskforce’s recommendations are achievable and the Government needs to act upon them. Patient experience has to be prioritised and this is difficult when NHS cancer services are under unprecedented pressure and the Government far too often provides contradictory messages. The Department of Health must provide the NHS with the resources and the long-term, holistic stability to allow Trusts to invest in state-of-the-art equipment.  The NHS needs to emphasise prevention and early detection too, but the risk is that under greater financial and workforce pressure, cancer services will be forced to firefight.

The Office of Life Sciences, headed up by George Freeman MP was created as the government’s bridge linking science and innovation with the work of the health service. You have recently taken on the role of Chair of the BIS Select Committee, why is the connection between R&D investment, industry, life sciences and the NHS important for fighting cancer?

This is a health and moral agenda, but I think we shouldn’t shy away from it being an economic and industrial one too. Britain is very strong in life sciences: our unique blend of excellent science and research institutions, world class pharmaceutical and med tech companies and the amazing NHS provides us with an unmatched ecosystem to develop the treatments of the future.

I want our country to be able to be supreme in every aspect of the fight against cancer: inventing the technology and drugs to treat it successfully, manufacturing those things here in the UK and giving NHS patients early access to the most innovative and effective treatments. That means maintaining and expanding the science budget, encouraging life sciences companies to locate here, and giving certainty to NHS funding to allow it to invest in more effective treatments for the long term.

The Office of Life Sciences (OLS) is an important part of that institutional architecture. It can provide the long-term certainty to allow treatments to be devised, researched and then brought to market. Research, development and application of treatments for cancer take longer than any single parliament, and the OLS should be able to provide that confidence over several decades. I’m pleased that George Freeman is leading this: his knowledge, experience and passion for life sciences makes him the best possible Minister in this field – if we have to have a Tory Government, at least some comfort can be derived from this.

However, there remain big concerns. The Innovation, Health and Wealth agenda designed to accelerate adoption of new treatments and technology in the NHS, now seems forgotten, and is an example of a long-standing weakness of this Government: a flurry of announcements and initiatives at the expense of successful implementation and delivery. George Freeman needs to tackle this and we on the Select Committee will scrutinise this.   

NICE and NHS England are working on a sustainable solution to the cancer drug fund (CDF) after it is due to end in April 2016; what confidence do you have in the progress they are making towards this and what role can you and your colleagues play to ensure there is continuity of access to oncology medicines after April?

This is a disturbing example of Government failing to provide the coherence and stability needed in this vital field, sending out the message that cancer drugs policy and provision is ad hoc and devoid of any sort of certainty. The recent delisting of several drugs from the CDF reinforces that sense of chaos, incoherence and inconsistency and undermines confidence for life sciences companies, research institutions and – most worryingly – those patients undergoing treatment. This needs to be tackled as quickly as possible to give reassurance. Parliament can obviously play a role in this but I hope we can go further. I want to see us widen provision to improve access to radiotherapy and surgery too.

 Your constituency of Hartlepool has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country; what do you see as the biggest challenge to improve cancer outcomes over the next few years?

Our high incidence of cancer is both because of our industrial legacy and our lifestyles that increases the risk of developing cancer, particularly smoking. Smoking cessation clinics have been very successful in Hartlepool and this approach needs to continue. I urge the Government to implement policies that would help my constituents and others across the country, such as a one-week cancer test guarantee, improved screening programmes, and better access to and encouragement for people to see their GP.

Iain Wright is the Labour MP for Hartlepool and the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee.

Larushka Mellor is the Head of Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Merck Serono​.

0800 7318496