Historic landslide: What are the new Labour government’s plans for Palestine in the UK?

Historic landslide: What are the new Labour government’s plans for Palestine in the UK?

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria arrive at 10 Downing Street. (Photo: Rory Arnold/No 10 Downing, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Robert Inlakesh

While Keir Starmer has pledged to make Labour more attractive to its Jewish supporters, ignoring British Jews who are not Zionists, he has faced major problems over a failure to tackle anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiment within the party.

The UK is now led by a new Labour government, led by Prime Minister Keir Starmer. Despite a historic landslide victory over their Conservative rivals, most Britons were uninspired, as evidenced by the low voter turnout, with Labour managing to win power on the back of its opposition’s failure. On the issue of Palestine, Starmer’s UK is unlikely to be much different from what it was before.

Statements by Israeli officials expressing concern about the future of Israel’s close ties with the UK under Labour, as well as calls by the new British prime minister for a ceasefire in his first talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been presented as reasons to believe in change. Under the previous British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, Israel had received support that was just as supportive as that of its most important allies in Washington.

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Moreover, a report in The Guardian indicated that the British government does not intend to pursue legal action against the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant. Yet, reading between the lines, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Prime Minister Keir Starmer will differ much from his Conservative predecessor on the Palestinian issue.

Under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the party pursued a national socialist agenda and ardently supported the creation of a Palestinian state. Corbyn’s pro-Palestinian stance, campaigning throughout his adult and political life for the human rights of the Palestinian people, quickly became a concern among Israeli leaders and the Israel lobby in the UK.

Despite Keir Starmer backing Jeremy Corbyn in the early stages of his leadership, describing him as a friend, he later reversed course and pounced on the Israel lobby’s allegations of a crisis of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

While the Labour Party’s anti-Semitic witch-hunt eliminated countless members, staff, and notably left-wing Jewish activists from the party, largely because of their criticism of Israeli policies, Labour then found itself emptied of many of its core socialist elements by the time Jeremy Corbyn resigned as leader following the 2019 general election defeat. The new Prime Minister then took control away from Corbyn and essentially pushed him out of the Labour Party, forcing him to run as an independent in the election and crush his Labour opposition.

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While Keir Starmer has pledged to make Labour more attractive to its Jewish supporters, ignoring British Jews who are not Zionists, he has faced major problems with the party’s failure to combat anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiment. Looking specifically at the Muslim vote, despite Labour’s landslide victory, in constituencies with large Muslim populations Starmer’s party has lost seats or seen its electoral majority significantly reduced.

Asked about this, Keir Starmer declined to address the grievances of the British Muslim community directly, preferring to boast about the strength of his tenure as Prime Minister. The British Muslim community is statistically the most supportive of Palestine and voted on the Gaza issue. The British Prime Minister’s record is dismal, to say the least.

Last October, after Israel announced it would cut off fuel, water, food and electricity supplies to civilians in Gaza, Starmer told LBC radio in an interview that the Israeli government “had the right” to cut off water and electricity. He had also initially asked his party to vote against a ceasefire in a motion put forward in the House of Commons, forcing it to make last-minute changes after some of his MPs threatened to break ranks over the issue.

Keir Starmer also refused to label the Israeli attack on Gaza as genocide, after judges at the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled that Israel was likely committing genocide in the besieged coastal enclave. The British prime minister has also repeatedly supported what he calls “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The International Center for Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has even sent British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer a notice of intent to prosecute him for his role in complicity in Israeli war crimes. If Scotland Yard’s investigation into Israeli war crimes uncovers evidence of such violations of international law, it could lead to calls for the ICC to issue arrest warrants for those accused of aiding such war crimes, although the chances are slim.

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Now, having lost many seats or seen its electoral base reduced in minority constituencies, in addition to failing to win the popular vote and having received fewer votes than Jeremy Corbyn in the last two elections, Labour is seeking to highlight Starmer’s initial conversations on the Gaza issue.

By promoting the idea that Starmer is urging Netanyahu to accept a ceasefire and offering sympathy to the Palestinian Authority, he is presenting the idea that Keir Starmer is preferable to his opposition.

Despite the British Prime Minister’s rhetoric about the need for a so-called “two-state solution” and the birth of a Palestinian state, he quietly tore into the Labour Party’s position of recognising the state of Palestine in January.

While more than 130 nations have recognized Palestine, the UK remains one of the most staunchly anti-Palestinian nations as it does not even recognize the existence of Palestine.

(The Chronicle of Palestine)

– Robert Inlakesh is a journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the Middle East, particularly Palestine. He contributed this article to the Palestine Chronicle.