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Letter from UNISON to MPs re Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel


17th May 2004


Dear Colleague


I am writing to you on behalf of the UNISON Scotland International Committee to express our grave concern about the ongoing situation in Palestine and the direction of the Israeli, US and United Kingdom governments.

President Bush's approval of the Israeli state unilaterally declaring its borders and the acquiescence of the Prime Minister in this has completely undermined Britain's previous approach to securing a negotiated settlement. That Sharon's plans have run into difficulty with his own party is no comfort given the clear signal of support the US and our own government has sent.

The West Bank and Gaza are both illegally occupied by Israel. There are countless UN resolutions requiring Israel to withdraw. It is simply not acceptable for Ariel Sharon to dictate to the world which parts he is prepared to quit and which parts he wants to incorporate into Israel. By backing the Sharon plan, President Bush is endorsing a flagrant flouting of international law by Israel. Against this background, President Bush's claim that he still wishes to foster meaningful negotiations between the parties in accordance with the Road Map is meaningless.

The Palestinians do not occupy one inch of Israeli territory. They recognised the state of Israel years ago and simply assert that that they have an equivalent right to statehood alongside Israel. Just imagine the outcry there would be if the Palestinian Authority now said they were prepared to accept some of Israel's internationally recognised borders, but not others. Sharon is not only saying this kind of thing to the Palestinians, he is trying to impose it with tanks, settlements and the separation wall. It is appalling that this should be applauded by the President of the United States.

By imperiously dismissing the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, President Bush is again trying to override an explicit decision of the United Nations, without even the most cursory attempt to see what the refugees themselves think. Most Israelis simply want to live in peace and freedom. Most Palestinians want the same. Extremists on both sides threaten the prospect of achieving those things. Sharon's plan to "disengage" from Gaza has been exposed as a device to deepen his control in the West Bank. By letting Sharon get away with it, President Bush has single-handedly boosted the credibility of extremists on both sides and given a new impetus to the cycle of violence which has already claimed too many innocent lives.

If Britain is to retain credibility in the Middle East and contribute to achieving a just and durable peace in the region, the time has come for Tony Blair to distance himself from US policy. International law applies no less to Israel than it does to anybody else.

I would ask that you write to the Prime Minister and encourage him to distance himself from US policy regarding Israel and Palestine and do more to deliver on his commitments made during the Labour Party Conference speeches of 2001 and 2002. When he spoke of the "slums of Gaza" and his commitment to seeing the Palestinian people prosper in their own land, going so far as mentioning the 1967 borders.

Yours sincerely

Simon Macfarlane

Simon Macfarlane
UNISON Scotland International Committee

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