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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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