September 25, 2010
Palestinians and their supporters must have been quite pleased at the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the UK coalition government as Nick Clegg, the LibDem leader, has expressed criticism of Israel that neither of the leaders of the two larger parties, Conservative and Labour, would ever utter.
Back in January 2009 when Israel was slaughtering Palestinians in Gaza, Nick Clegg was a lone voice among parliamentary party leaders calling for a UK/EU arms embargo against Israel. Subsequently he expressed surprise at Netanyahu’s insistence that Israel not simply be recognised period but be recognised as being Jewish. That, according to the Jewish Chronicle, caused quite a stir.
Well now he’s Deputy Prime Minister he has to appease the lobby so off he pops to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel fringe meeting at the LibDems annual conference:
Nick Clegg, the coalition’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, attended the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel fringe meeting on Monday 20 September alongside LDFI President Sir Alan Beith MP, the President of the New Israel Fund, Professor Naomi Chazam, and the new Deputy Israeli Ambassador to the UK Alon Roth-Snir. The event was hosted by the long-time chair of LDFI, Monroe Palmer OBE.
There was speculation amongst some party members about whether Mr Clegg would indeed arrive at the meeting, given his visit to the UN this week for a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals. He did, however, arrive on time to deliver a short yet highly suggestive speech to a tightly packed audience hanging on his every word with great anticipation. His speech indicated to many previous supporters a shift in his views on the Middle East, evidence, perhaps, of his evolving persona as he deals with the new politics of the coalition government.
He began by thanking the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel for all the work it had done to promote the organisation within the party; in doing so he acknowledged that the party and LDFI did not always see eye to eye. He described himself and “many, many” Lib Dem members as “real admirers of the democratic traditions and liberal ethos of life within Israel’ and went on to say that this was a period of “immense delicacy” as talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority take place.
He was “acutely aware” that all “we” can do is to create the conditions helpful to negotiations. The only time Mr Clegg referred directly to Palestine was when he noted how much depended on the talks: “So much hinges on the talks, not only the security and safety of the Israeli people which has been under constant threat… but the prosperity and safety and stability and future of the Palestinian communities.”