UK Election 2024: the parties reply on Gaza

In answer to the Balfour Project’s request to the four main Westminster parties for their positions on the Gaza situation and the wider crisis in Israel/Palestine, in particular the list of demands that emerged from our annual conference in London on 6 June, we have received three statements: from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. The Conservatives have not replied. The Labour response is much briefer than the other two replies: a generalised prospectus for a peaceful outcome.

(We print the full statements below.)


The Balfour Project sums up

All three parties call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Labour’s first ceasefire appeal arrived much later (February 2024) than the stands taken by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP (November 2023). All urge the immediate restoration of humanitarian aid. Unlike Labour, however, the Lib Dems advocate immediate recognition of a Palestinian state by any new British Government (Labour’s position appears to be similar to that of the Tories’: i.e.: “when the time is right”.) The SNP notes the need for Palestinian “self-determination.”

The Lib Dems and the SNP each begin their statements by condemning –as terrorism– the Hamas attacks of 7 Oct. (Labour has made its identical position here very clear since 7 Oct but does not mention it in its reply to the Balfour Project’s letters to party leaders.)

Both the Lib Dems and the SNP emphasise the immediate restoration by the next UK Government of its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, cut in January after Israeli charges (never substantiated) that a dozen UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attacks. Labour does not mention this most crucial point. UNRWA’s role is central in bringing shelter, food, education and sustenance to over 6 million Palestinian registered refugees in the Middle East; they constitute some 70 per cent of the Gaza population.

Again, the Lib Dems and the SNP are clear in their support of the International Court of Justice’s and the International Criminal Court’s investigations into alleged war crimes and genocide in Gaza by Israel as well as crimes committed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad on 7 October 2023. Labour’s brief statement makes no mention of this.

Both the Lib Dems and the SNP mention the rapidly deteriorating situation in the West Bank, where we are witnessing increasing settler violence and ethnic cleansing. They call for a ban on trade with settlement concerns and for sanctions against individual settlers. The SNP is clearer on demanding a complete ban on arms sales to Israel than the Lib Dems. Again, Labour does not tackle these matters in its brief reply to the Balfour Project.

We are aware that international matters rarely make the news pages or the main menus of mainstream broadcast bulletins during a domestic general election (pace Brexit). This is the case even when there is an appalling political and humanitarian disaster such as we witness in Gaza today, bringing death and misery to tens of thousands of civilians, carried out by a state Britain supports and with which last year it signed a “Road Map” for stronger bilateral relations in many fields to 2030. That document mentioned Palestinians only in passing – and only as deserving economic development. Not a word about political rights.

So, these statements are valuable material for discussion for those who wish to make this debate much higher profile in the last days of the campaigns.

The Lib Dem and SNP positions given at some length here should bring some hope to us and the British civil society we speak to, which overwhelmingly condemns Israel’s military campaign and supports the Palestinian case for self-determination and freedom. Neither, however, will form the next Government.

The Lib Dems should certainly have a louder voice in Parliament than they have had in recent years.  Labour’s position on Palestine, as stated here, is too enigmatic to be able to read one way or the other, but its positions so far have not been encouraging.

The good news is that the next Parliament should hear louder and more consistent voices from different parts of the House in support of fairer British dealings and more compelling British policies in the Middle East. These will, hopefully, call for an end to the sufferings of the Palestinians and legislative action to help bring justice and steps towards their freedom and independence.

With bipartisan support, the starting point for the next Government should be immediate recognition of Palestine as a state.

The Balfour Project will watch and work for this inside and outside of Westminster.


The Labour Party Position:

We have stated in our Manifesto that long-term peace and security in the Middle East will be an immediate focus of a Labour government. Labour will continue to push for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, the upholding of international law, and a rapid increase of aid into Gaza. Palestinian statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It is not in the gift of any neighbour and is also essential to the long-term security of Israel. We are committed to recognising a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

These words will form the firm basis for Labour’s approach if we form a government.


The Liberal Democrat Position

The Liberal Democrats unequivocally condemn the terrorism of Hamas. The scenes that emerged on 7 Oct were horrifying. In 2022 Layla Moran, the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson, travelled to the Gaza border and met Israelis living in villages there. She says she was incredibly distressed to learn those communities had been attacked. In February this year she met Israeli peace activists who had lost loved ones and was incredibly moved, she said, by their commitment to peace, even in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.

In the months since 7 Oct, we have seen utter devastation in Gaza. As the UK’s first British-Palestinian Member of Parliament, Layla Moran says it has been one of the most challenging times of her professional career. But the Liberal Democrats have been unwavering in our policy, with our commitment to international law and human rights, and support for international institutions at the forefront.

The Liberal Democrats are clear – we need an immediate bilateral ceasefire and we needed it yesterday.

We were the first UK-wide political party to call for a ceasefire, back in November 2023. This is the only way to get the hostages safely home, to get humanitarian aid in, and to stop the killing.

That was true in November, and it is still true now.

Layla Moran writes: “I have met with a number of doctors who have travelled to Gaza with Medical Aid for Palestine, and their testimonies are harrowing. Operations performed without pain killers, instruments sanitised with bacterial hand gel, and patients dying in hospital corridors, without dignity even in death. Swathes of the population in Gaza are experiencing acute malnutrition. The WHO has reported that over 8,000 children under five have been treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza, with 32 deaths attributed to malnutrition since the conflict began. That is why the UK government must restore funding to UNRWA immediately.

“While an immediate bilateral ceasefire is essential to save lives, it must be the first step on the road to peace, and not an end in itself. Liberal Democrats have long supported a two-state solution, based on the 1967 lines. Only a two-state solution will deliver the dignity and security that Israelis and Palestinians deserve. We will continue to push the Government to immediately recognise the State of Palestine based on 1967 borders. I laid the Palestine Statehood (Recognition) Bill in every parliamentary session I could since my election in 2017. Immediate recognition of the state of Palestine would send a message to Palestinians that the UK stands with them, and is prepared to right the historical wrongs of the Balfour Declaration.

“It is also vital that the UK government full-throatedly support both the ICC and ICJ in their investigations and judgements. Where accusations of breaches of international law are concerned, the UK government must support the process and outcome without fear or favour. It has been deeply disappointing to see the UK government undermine these processes.”

It is also vital that we address the biggest blockers to peace. It is clear that Netanyahu and the extremist Israeli settler movement do not want peace. The settlements are illegal under international law, undermine the viability of a two-state solution, and exacerbate tension.

The Liberal Democrats called for British trade with the illegal Israeli settlements to cease back in 2021. We have also called for the individual violent settlers who breach international law to be sanctioned. The Conservative Government took some small steps, sanctioning some individual settlers, but there is so much further to go. We have called for sanctions to include extremist Ministers Itamar Ben Gvir (national Security) and Bezalel Smotrich (Finance), as well as connected entities who provide support or enable these individuals.

Finally on the issue of arms exports, the Lib Dems have called for a policy of presumption of denial for arms exports to governments listed as Human Rights Priority Countries in the FCDO’s annual Human Rights and Democracy report since 2015. Israel has for many years been listed in that report. It is unacceptable that any British made weapons could be used against a civilian population anywhere in the world.

We have urged the Conservative Government to publish any advice they have received on whether Israel’s actions in Gaza are not compliant with international humanitarian law. If the Conservative Government received legal advice stating that Israel is not compliant with international humanitarian law, but Ministers are continuing to authorise arms exports, it raises a question about whether this would make the UK Government complicit in such breaches of international law. We referred Kemi Badenoch and David Cameron to the Ethics Adviser, urging them to open an investigation. Sadly they refused.

The last few months have been heartbreaking for anyone with a connection to the region. Layla Moran writes. “I have received more emails about this conflict than almost any other issue in my time as an MP. I know that thousands of people across the UK are watching the scenes unfolding in Gaza and thinking: this has to stop.”

The Liberal Democrats are clear that, although the road may be long and difficult, we have to keep our eye on the horizon and look towards that political solution. Two states. Two peoples.

Side by side. Living in peace. That is the future the Liberal Democrats believe in, and the future we will continue to fight for.


The Scottish National Party Position:

The terrorists attack by Hamas on 7 Oct, 2023, was a shocking and depraved act. The direct assault and targeting of innocent Israeli civilians, and the horrific capture of hostages, was an attack for which Hamas must face the full force of justice.

Following that terrorist attack and the subsequent brutal bombardment and military occupation enacted by the Israeli Defence Forces, the SNP is widely regarded as the most consistent voice on Gaza in Westminster since October 2023. We aim to reflect the consensus of legal and human rights experts in our interventions in Parliament, and to make clear our demands for the UK Government to adhere to their legal and moral obligations.

In Westminster, the SNP have been a consistent voice challenging and calling out both the government and the Labour opposition on their reluctance to condemn Israel’s egregious breaches of international humanitarian law. The SNP have aligned ourselves closely with international human rights monitoring bodies in ensuring that the 37,000 innocent Palestinians who have been killed are never used as part of any moral or legal argument to justify Israeli self-defence.

The SNP was the first party in Westminster to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza by all parties and the first to use the language of collective punishment regarding Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. The SNP categorically condemned the UK Government’s decision to pause funding for UNWRA and it remains our position to demand the restoration of funding immediately – which the Conservatives still fail to do, and the Labour party has not fully committed to. Moreso, the SNP agree that there must be unfettered access for all UN agencies as a matter of urgency, and that the safety of humanitarian workers and protected places and people are respected under IHL, with consequences for the violation of this fundamental law.

The SNP were the first in Westminster to unconditionally support the ICJ and ICC, and we remain rooted in the conviction that the UK Government must support any future arrest warrants issued by the ICC and to fully implement the Advisory Opinions of the ICJ.

Furthermore, the SNP has been clear that we disagree with the UK Government’s rejection of the ICJ jurisdiction in their case. The SNP maintain the Israeli government must face consequences for its prolonged, illegal occupation of Palestine and that the UK Government must have an active role in the ending of this occupation. As such, the SNP are clear that all trade with illegal settlements must be ceased as a matter rooted in international law and morality. The SNP opposed the Economic Activities of Public Bodies Bill at all stages and is fundamentally opposed to a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the UK and Israel.

The Palestinian people must be allowed full political autonomy and political representation. There can be no conditions placed on this right, as the right to self-determination is an invaluable right within international law and it is not for other states to determine the scope of this right for others. Palestine must have the full support of the international community in the realisation of their self-determination and to further their ability to advocate for themselves on the international stage. As such, the UK Government must follow in the actions of Spain, Ireland and Norway, and recognise the State of Palestine immediately. Additionally, Labour must take a more decisive step than the Conservatives and remove any conditions or ambiguity in their pledge to recognition. The SNP will not cease in our efforts to ensure the removal of any barriers to recognition from within Parliament. This has been, and remains, a point of priority in SNP Foreign Policy for an independent Scotland.

The SNP remains clear that the hostages must all be released by Hamas and that Hamas must face the legal consequences for their horrific crimes and acts of terrorism. It is our underpinning position that there cannot be a military solution, only a political one. While international pressure towards ceasefire agreements has progressed since the calling of the general election in the UK, which is a welcome development, the SNP remain positioned to ensure that the incoming UK government are committed to protecting international law and the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes. As a critical element  to this political solution, there must be the suspension of arms licences to Israel on day one of a new government. The SNP tabled a debate on arms exports which was pulled due to the general election announcement. It is an issue we will return to as a matter of urgency.

Beyond Gaza, the SNP has been wary to ensure that settler violence in the West Bank remains at the forefront of conversation in Westminster. It remains our position that the UK Government must do more than the three sanctions on individual settlers and recognise that this illegal annexation is state sanctioned by the Israeli Government. This is even more pressing given the recent news that the IDF have transferred powers from the military to civilian settlers in the West Bank. The impacts on Palestinians living in Area C especially will be catastrophic and the UK Government has a responsibility to use all legal and political tools in defiance of this annexation.

While SNP MPs remain in Westminster we will continue to act as a moral and legal steer for any UK government who grants impunity to states who are breaching international humanitarian law.

We are committed to working with civil society and relevant organisations who have Palestinian and human rights expertise. What has been ongoing in Palestine since October 2023 is the culmination of generations of tension and violence. The SNP understands that there is anger and mistrust on both sides, and that the UK Government has a historic responsibility to be a broker for the end of the siege and for a political process centred on justice.

The Israeli and Palestinian peoples deserve a future that promises the potential of a permanent peace. Our collective responsibility involves doing everything in our power to help them on that journey.



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