The British shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has called for Palestinian leaders to be “more vocal in condemning violence”. Mr Benn has just returned from a three-day tour of Israel and the West Bank during which he met officials from the United Nations’ refugee agency, toured East Jerusalem and visited a Bedouin community.
In the West Bank Mr. Benn met Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his education minister before touring Hebron.
Writing for the Jewish News this week, the Labour Party MP said he returned from only his second international trip in the role “full of thoughts and reflections but I am sad to say that politically my overriding sense was of gloom at the lack of progress” since the Oslo Accords. While every leader he met told him of their commitment to the two-state solution, he warned this could “slip away” unless leaders on both sides act speedily including with a settlement freeze and “vocal condemnation of violence”.
He wrote: “The morning I spent in Hebron illustrated what can happen in the conflict continues to fester. The main road, where once there was a thriving market, has been closed off. There were checkpoints, no-go areas and a pervasive tension, created in part by a cycle of killing. Settlers live above Palestinian shopkeepers with metal netting separating them to catch the rubbish that some a settlers throw down on their neighbours. Young Israeli soldiers are stuck in the middle of it all operating different rules of engagement for Palestinians and for settlers, further fuelling resentment.”
The other possible future, he continued, was represented in the area by the old railway station in Jerusalem that features a technology incubator, concert venue and youth empowerment programme. “It is all about people coming together to build something better and provide jobs and opportunities. It can be done,” he said.
A Labour spokesman told the Daily Express: “It shows the level of priority he places on Israel. It was primarily a listening trip.
“He met a wide range of experts, politicians, journalists, negotiators and officials with differing views to learn about events on the ground and to get a good understanding of the situation.”
Earlier this month Mr. Benn led the calls for British Parliament to back air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, north of Israel’s border.
He was widely praised for his impassioned Commons speech which put him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who opposed RAF bombing missions.
Mr. Benn, who called for his party to take on those who delegitimise Israel during his second address to Labour friends of Israel since being reappointed to the role in September – added: “I hope that the new year will bring a new commitment to peace, remembering that small steps can lead to big progress.”
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