Israel's latest actions mark a tipping point for the Middle East. Photo: Getty
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This latest assault on the Gaza Strip is the tipping point for Palestine

The chair of Labour Friends of Palestine argues that the latest events in Gaza highlight a need for a paradigm shift in the international community. Focusing exclusively on negotiations, whilst failing to hold Israel accountable for their human rights violations and annexation of Palestinian land, is not enough.

At the time of writing, Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered an escalation of Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip, ordering his troops to “significantly widen” their ground offensive. This latest round of violence is rightly considered to be as futile as it was predictable. When a ceasefire is eventually agreed upon nothing productive will have been achieved. Ordinary Israelis will be no more secure and the beleaguered and long-suffering Palestinians of the Gaza Strip will be fewer in number and their humanitarian catastrophe will have been significantly worsened.

It is twenty years since the Oslo Accords and it would seem we are further away from peace than ever before. An entire generation of young Palestinians – the Oslo generation – have grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. There has been a significant expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, heightened security threats to both sides, the construction of an illegal separation barrier, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic decline, and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. This can only be seen as a failure of the international community and the collapse of the Kerry-led peace talks has exposed the inadequacy of current efforts to achieve peace and security.

An immediate and unequivocal ceasefire must be reached to halt the bloodshed which is almost solely Palestinian and overwhelming civilian. But the pattern of "ceasefire and forget"should not be repeated. This opportunity must be seized to maximise diplomatic pressure on all parties to alter the fundamentals of the conflict. A ceasefire will allow Israelis to return to normality, but for Palestinians it will only mean return to their daily struggle for survival under a long-lasting and brutal military occupation. The illegal Israeli blockade forces the people of Gaza to endure a stark humanitarian crisis that the UN predicts will make the Strip unlivable by 2020, while Palestinians in the West Bank are seeing their dream of, and right to, statehood disappear, brick by brick, with the construction of every illegal Israeli settlement.

A paradigm shift in the international community is needed. A new approach to diplomacy must be based on the protection of civilians, equal respect for the human rights, security and sovereignty of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the actual respect of – rather than just rhetoric on – international law. Focusing exclusively on negotiations, whilst failing to hold Israel accountable for their human rights violations and annexation of Palestinian land, is not enough.

The UK must be honest brokers for peace and employ practical measures to to tackle the root cause of the conflict. This must include the end to UK arms, or arms components, being used in attacks on Gaza; demanding an end to the blockade on Gaza along with a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth; ending trade and investment with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank; and supporting a phased approach to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We must support international mediation with a larger role for the EU so it becomes more of a player than simply a payer. Most importantly, we should set out clear parameters, targets and consequences for failure to end violations and make progress, including sanctions.

This is a tipping point for the Middle East. The UK was an architect of the current conflict and has been instrumental in sustaining the unacceptable injustices forced upon the Palestinian people, but now is the time for our Government to act in accordance with the overwhelming consensus of the international community and support the realisation of peace and justice in the Middle East.

Grahame Morris is Labour MP for Easington and chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.