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20 April 2010

What Cleggmania could mean for Palestine

The Lib Dem manifesto makes a big promise on the Middle East peace process.

By Ian K Smith

Ahead of Thursday’s foreign affairs leaders’ debate, it is worth noting the Liberal Democrats’ Israel-Palestine position, enshrined in their manifesto. The party pledges support to a two-state solution predicated upon pre-1967 borders:

A sustainable solution can be reached in the context of two separate Israeli and Palestinian states, mutually recognised and internationally accepted within borders which are secure and based on the situation before the 1967 conflict. We condemn disproportionate force used by all sides. We believe Britain and the EU must put pressure on Israel and Egypt to end the blockade of Gaza.

This solution would demand Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights and end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, gains from the six-day war of 1967. This puts the Lib Dem position firmly to the political left, in line with those such as the respected historian Avi Shlaim who wrote the following in January for the Guardian:

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

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As a third party policy, the Lib Dem stance is a noble principle. In government, it is a promise to be fulfilled. Fulfilling that promise would further worsen the relationship with Tel Aviv, and drive a wedge between Britain and the US. It would also provide hope for those frustrated by the international community’s utter failure to deal with the Israeli occupation.

In contrast, the Conservative manifesto pledges only “to support a two-state solution to the Middle East Peace Process”. Labour make no fresh promises, saying, “We support the creation of a viable Palestinian state that can live alongside a secure Israel”.

Admist polls that continue to point towards a hung parliament, in the heat of Cleggmania, the Lib Dem position is a clear example of the progressive politics that the three parties aspire to, and evidence of the “choice” that Clegg believes is behind his surge in popularity.

Should the issue surface on Thursday night, what response will we hear from Gordon Brown — could it be the fan favourite “I agree with Nick”?