By JR on Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Israel doing 'immense damage' to peace process Nick Clegg says
Nick Clegg tilted Britain’s Middle East policy sharply towards the Palestinians on Monday with an attack on Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank.
The Deputy Prime Minister drew a hostile reaction from Israel by saying the government’s continued construction on internationally recognised Palestinian land was “an act of deliberate vandalism” that undermined the basis of the Middle East peace process.
In some of the most critical language ever used by a senior European politician in government, Mr Clegg accused Israel of making the likelihood of a negotiated settlement to the conflict impossible to deliver. “It is an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years,” Mr Clegg said.
He said there was “no stronger supporter of Israel than myself as a beacon of democracy in the region”, but added: “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable.
“That, in turn, will do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself or of Israeli citizens. That is why I condemn the continued illegal settlement activity in the strongest possible terms.”
He was speaking alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who is on a visit to London.
Mr Clegg’s comments reflect growing European impatience with the government Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish Israeli prime minister, who is seen by many Western officials as an obstacle to peace because of his refusal to freeze settlement building.
But while European and even American government officials regularly criticise Israel’s settlement policies, few have done so quite as bluntly, a fact that will strain the Government’s increasingly tense relations with Mr Netanyahu.
Israel reacted with predictable hostility, with a foreign ministry spokesman accusing Mr Clegg of “gratuitous bashing”. “It would be much better to contribute to peace by encouraging the fragile revival of Israeli-Palestinian talks,” the spokesman said.
Mr Abbas was delighted by so strong an endorsement of the Palestinian position. “That is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Officials in Jerusalem say they now view Britain as one of the most hostile states to Israel in Europe, although the Government bowed to Israeli pressure by agreeing to abstain if a vote on Palestinian statehood was held in the UN Security Council.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to join peace talks with Israel unless Mr Netanyahu agrees to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, seen by the Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
With more than 600,000 settlers living on land occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, any further expansion of Jewish construction would make a Palestinian state unviable, Mr Abbas says.
Palestinians also claim that previous peace talks have led to an escalation of settlement construction as a result of Israeli leaders having to pacify the powerful Right-wing in the Jewish state.
David Cameron, who also met Mr Abbas in Downing Street yesterday, signalled his support for his deputy. “We think that time, in some ways, is running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forward now, because otherwise the facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important,” the Prime Minister said.