Blair-Bush-Sharon alliance - The diplomats protest: what will the unions do?

Submitted by Anon on 22 May, 2004 - 10:07

By Kate Ahrens, Unison NEC (personal capacity)

Large numbers of both British and US retired diplomats have protested publicly at George Bush's and Tony Blair's support for Ariel Sharon.
In April, Sharon announced that his government would unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip (while keeping military outposts there). At the same time he named five West Bank settlements - some of them deep inside Palestinian-inhabited territory - which he would insist on retaining indefinitely.

Sharon's formal letter to George Bush announcing his plan spoke only of "limitations on the growth of settlements". In other words, Sharon explicitly ruled out the possibility of ceding to the West Bank Palestinians anything more than pockets of territory criss-crossed by Israeli-controlled roads and settlements.

Bush warmly welcomed Sharon's move and pre-empted any future negotiations by ruling out any resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Israel. Blair endorsed Bush.

The British ex-diplomats wrote to Blair: "Nothing effective has been done [since the publication of the "roadmap" proposal last May] either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the Road Map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

"Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace…"

The US ex-diplomats' draft letter to Bush declares: "Your unqualified support of Sharon's extra-judicial assassinations, Israel's Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon's unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends."

Yet the USA's allies in the "Quartet" which officially sponsored the "roadmap" - the UN, the European Union, and Russia - are, publicly at least, unmoved.

Meeting in New York on 4 May, they deferred to American leadership and issued a bland statement that the Quartet "welcomes and encourages" Sharon's plan. Studiously ignoring Sharon's statement about the West Bank settlements, and Bush's statement about the Palestinian refugees, they declared that Sharon's plan "should provide a rare moment of opportunity in the search for peace in the Middle East".

The only barbs in the Quartet statement were directed against the Palestinian Authority, calling on it to "carry out comprehensive security and political reforms".

The Quartet also turned a blind eye to the heavy rejection of Sharon's plan by members of his Likud party in a party referendum held on 2 May. Sharon is now promising a revised plan before the end of May, while other Likud leaders are insisting that the referendum should mean no withdrawal from Gaza.

Whatever Sharon's difficulties within Israeli politics, in international diplomacy he seems to have shifted the lines sufficiently that his original Gaza plan becomes the maximum diplomatic demand on Israel.

The ex-diplomats can see that this means renouncing the only principles on which realistic negotiations for peace and justice for the long-oppressed Palestinians are possible: the equal right to self-determination for both nations, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews; two nations, two states; an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

So the ex-diplomats have spoken - evidently without effect. The labour movement, however, has not spoken. Most trade unions in Britain have general policy in favour of Palestinian rights; none has spoken out loudly and urgently about this crisis.

Between now and early July, most major unions have their annual conferences, or, for those big unions not having full conferences this year (TGWU, GMB, Amicus), major national gatherings.

A wave of emergency motions, condemning Blair's support for Bush and Sharon, reaffirming the principle of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and building up to the TUC and Labour Party conferences in September, is the very least we can do to rescue the possibility of justice for the Palestinians.

The labour movement must do it!

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