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Hilary Aked

War criminal Netanyahu not welcome in London

Israeli Prime Minister is expected to visit the UK in early September (AFP)

Date of publication: 2 September, 2015

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Comment: As the Israeli prime minister prepares to visit the UK, questions regarding British complicity in the oppression of Palestinians must be vocally raised, writes Hilary Aked.

While many ordinary citizens will vehemently oppose the visit, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to be welcomed to the UK this month by his British counterpart David Cameron.

The Likud leader's trip, reportedly scheduled for early September, confirms the deep complicity of Britain's political elite in the oppression of Palestinians.

While the inhabitants of Gaza continue to live in a permanent state of crisis, preventing from rebuilding their homes after the Israeli-inflicted massacre last summer, and still mourning those killed, the red carpet will be rolled out in London for the very man responsible.

A petition demanding that Netanyahu immediately be arrested for suspected war crimes when he arrives in the country has now been signed by almost 100,000 people.

However, the response from the UK government has merely been to highlight the fact that the Israeli PM is immune from prosecution while a head of state.

Such absurd technicalities of international law did not, of course, prevent the International Criminal Court from issuing an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir when he visited South Africa in June.

     [Netanyahu has] entrenched an apartheid system which systematically dispossesses and discriminates against Palestinians

Nor does it excuse Britain's support for the man who ordered the brutal 52-day assault which killed more than 2,200 people - including more than 500 children - in Gaza last summer, and which both the UN and Amnesty International have said likely involved war crimes, according to evidence and testimonies collected since.

In addition, Netanyahu - now in his fourth term as prime minister - has long presided over continued settlement construction and expansion in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank, as well as the inhuman and illegal siege imposed on Gaza.

He has entrenched an apartheid system which systematically excludes, dispossesses and discriminates against Palestinians, as the subordinate group in an established hierarchy of ethnic privilege and disadvantage.

If the British government wished to uphold international law it would treat Netanyahu as a pariah. But instead of shunning him, the UK prime minister will welcome him to Downing Street where the pair will discuss the Iran nuclear deal and other issues.

In his first term as prime minister, Cameron oversaw a change in the law which made it harder for magistrates to issue arrest warrants for foreign diplomats visiting on non-official business.

Groups such as Conservative Friends of Israel lobbied hard for the change to the law, which now requires any such warrant to be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The move was widely seen as a response to arrest warrants issued for Israel's Tzipi Livni - an architect of the 2008-9 "Operation Cast Lead" attack on Gaza, in which Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza.

A year before Livni's planned visit, Doron Almog, a retired major-general, also cancelled a trip to the UK after rumours of an arrest warrant spread.

Therefore, Netanyahu's invitation to the UK by Cameron should not merely be interpreted as a conciliatory move following the re-opening of a British embassy in Tehran. Nor is it solely a sign of what several political commentators suggest is an affinity between the two leaders' political strategies.

It resonates with a much longer record of British support for Israeli settler-colonialism and comes hot on the heels of a visit to parliament by yet another Israeli war crimes suspect - Shaul Mofaz - who was in charge of the armed forces during Israel's harsh repression of the Second Intifada.

Further afield

Beyond Palestine, Britain has shown contempt for victims of human rights abuses elsewhere too.

A spokesperson confirmed in June that the government hoped to arrange talks in the UK with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Egypt's persecution of journalists, mass abduction, imprisonment and torture of political opponents - and most notably the massacres and large-scale executions - stand as testament to the ugly record of Sisi's military regime, since ousting the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi.

But for Cameron, the fact that Morsi represented the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have made the former's dire abuses tolerable.

"With BDS, Palestinians have got a winning formula" - read Said Arikat's commentary here

Could we ever have expected anything less from the British political establishment?

After all, it was from these same political circles that the UK's very own war criminal, Tony Blair, emerged - and launched an illegal invasion of Iraq based on a lie.

     What is obvious is that advocates for Palestinian rights cannot rely on politicians to further the cause of justice

More than a decade later, conveniently for the former prime minister, the much-delayed public inquiry led by John Chilcott looks set to spread the blame beyond Blair and his inner clique. But history will not be so lenient.

Nor will Cameron's deference to the likes of Sisi and Netanyahu be seen any differently, with hindsight. The now infamous call by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to be released, rather than charged with the many crimes he committed, provides perhaps the best parallel.

Whether, when and how, individuals like Netanyahu will face justice, as Pinochet eventually did, remains uncertain. What is obvious is that advocates for Palestinian rights cannot rely on politicians to further the cause of justice.

The need to keep building the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from below, to enforce an arms embargo, end impunity, and economically isolate Israel, is clearer than ever. 

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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