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These days of putting together this issue of Red Pepper have been the days of the Gaza massacre. They have also been a time of two distinct political worlds. On the one hand, demonstrations that grew from one week to the next, bringing together Muslims and Jews to a unique extent; dissenting Jews across Israel, the US and the UK gaining confidence and a new sense of identity as they communicated across the web. On the other hand, the UN security council and Ehud Olmert’s insistent phone calls making sure that no resolution stood in the way of Israel’s onslaught.
Harold Pinter provided us with a key to understand these parallel worlds in the lecture he gave accepting the Nobel Prize for literature: ‘The majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power … What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies.’
The world of street protests reaching far beyond ‘the left’ is influenced by a process of unravelling the tapestry of lies woven around Iraq in the past eight years. The presence on demonstrations across Europe and the US of a new generation of activists and truth seekers, the generation of the Iraq war, is testament to this.
Across the Arab world too, a learning process has fuelled unprecedented mobilisations. Here is a generation that has been radicalised by the incompetence and indifference of Arab elites towards the sufferings of the Palestinians and their own people. Jamil Halil sees a new political scenario opening up in the Middle East.
Four days before Barack Obama took over the US presidency from the disastrous George Bush, one of the actors in the second political world, UK foreign secretary David Miliband, finally admitted what those of us in the rest of the world have long known. Bush was wrong. The ‘war against terror’ was ‘misleading and mistaken’. Far from defeating terrorism it has fed it.
So how does Miliband apply his new perception to the specific case of Palestine, where the ‘war against terror’ is effectively a cover for mass murder?
On 13 January, two days before his public rejection of Bush’s strategy, Miliband made his statement to the House of Commons after helping to steer resolution 1860 through the UN security council. The resolution asserts that both sides should cease military action. Above all it implies negotiations.
Did the foreign secretary’s statement to parliament challenge Israel’s refusal to meet this fundamental condition for peace? Miliband reported the reason for the Israeli refusal to negotiate. ‘Their argument,’ he said, ‘is that there can be no equivalence between a democratic state and a terrorist organisation.’
At no point did Miliband question this application of the George Bush manual of the war on terror. Nor did he draw on the diplomatic expertise of, for example, Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the UN, who recently advised that Hamas ‘is not a terror organisation … it’s a bitterly angry grievance-based organisation wanting to end Israel’s occupation, preferably through negotiations … It has got a long way to go, but it’s capable of getting there; why has this not been explored?’
Instead, simultaneously with declaring the ‘war on terror’ to be a mistake, Miliband emphatically concurs with the Israeli government on its black-and-white view of the world: good versus evil, democracy versus terror. He contrasts Hamas’s ‘use of terrorism’ with Israel as ‘a thriving, democratic state with an independent judiciary’. Yet he makes no mention of Israel’s killing machine and its use of terror on a captive population – its state terrorism.
Miliband’s only challenge to Israel has been that as a ‘beacon of democracy’ it must be judged by the ‘standards of democracy and comply with the standards of international humanitarian law’. But with the basic premise of Israel’s war having been accepted and no attempt made to apply international law, these words have little meaning.
There is an immediate way Miliband could make a difference. He inherited the fatal refusal of the UK, along with the EU, the US and the UN, to recognise Hamas as the democratic choice of the people of Gaza. This effectively put Israel beyond international law, allowing it to treat the people of Gaza as mere obstacles to killing ‘legitimate’ targets. Miliband should break with this, as his parliamentary colleague Gerald Kaufman urges. Only then might we begin to accept that he is learning from George Bush’s ‘mistakes’.