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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear