President advised to abandon his paranoia about Britain

Shimon Peres, the 87-year-old President of Israel, comes from Belarus, in eastern Europe.

His immediate family were lucky.

His father emigrated to the then British-controlled protectorate of Palestine in the early 1920s.

The rest of his family stayed in Belarus.

All perished in the Nazi mass-murders in the 1940s.

Virtually everyone of Jewish ethnicity has a similar family history to Shimon Peres’s.

The idea of a defined State of Israel, a homeland for the Jewish people, pre-dates the Nazi Holocaust by many decades.

But it was the Holocaust which made the world-wide Jewish community determined to have their own state whatever the opposition to it, and it is the Holocaust, the worst-ever genocide human kind has ever known, which continues to define Israel’s attitude to itself, and the rest of the world.

I support the State of Israel, and the right of its people to live in peace, with secure borders.

But I also support the right of the Palestinians to enjoy the same rights of property, and freedom, as the Israelis.

I strongly condemn Israel’s theft (for that is what it is) of Palestinian land, through Jewish settlements across the West Bank, its continued incursions into (Palestinian) East Jerusalem, and its brutal and inhumane treatment of Palestinians, and those of other Arab nations too.

There was and is simply no justification whatever for Israel’s killing in Gaza of at least of 1,400 people, many of them women and children, as a response to the deaths of 20 Israeli civilians from rockets from Gaza; nor for much else that they have done allegedly better to secure their state.

In 1994 Shimon Peres was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhah Rabin, and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat for his work, as Foreign Minister, in the ‘Oslo Accords’ for peace in the Middle East.

I worked with him when I was British Foreign Minister.

But he has now changed his tune.

In an astonishing outburst he said a few days ago that England was ‘deeply pro-Arab…and anti-Israel’, ‘they’ve always worked against us’.

He added ‘our next big problem is England.

There are several million Muslim voters.

And for many MPs that’s the difference between getting elected and not getting elected.’ Don’t judge others by your own standards, President Peres.

Such remarks are wholly misplaced.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was unpopular across the UK, but nowhere more so than with those of the Muslim faith.

My backing for the invasion greatly taxed many (white and Muslim) in Blackburn.

In the 2005 election the world’s press came to Blackburn to watch me lose.

In the event the swing against me was half the national swing against Labour.

It is simply insulting to Muslim (as well as white) voters to make such sweeping, and inaccurate claims on no evidence.

President Peres would be better advised to abandon his paranoia about Britain.

Instead he might start examining why it is that Israel is now so isolated internationally, and then do something about it – namely see that at long last Israel acts justly towards the Palestinians.

He might too recognise that our horror at the Holocaust cannot mean a blank cheque to the Government of Israel to do as they please.

Israel cannot continue on this course

The land of the Bible may be nearer the Equator than Blackburn, but don’t be misled by the travel advertisements for places like Sharm el Sheik.

The Middle East can be cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. Hence, one of my indelible recollections from my time as British Foreign Secretary – a day of truly dreadful weather.

This was on the border crossing between Israel and the West Bank of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, near the city of Ramallah.

There was no bloodshed that I witnessed that day. Just people queuing in the rain to cross the border.

All very ordinary but for the fact that the Israeli authorities made no disguise that they had ‘organised’ the crossing in a way designed to maximise the humiliation of and delays endured by the Palestinians.

There was no shelter from the rain; no tarmac. None of this was remotely necessary. Indeed co-operation from the Palestinians would have been that much better if the Israelis had treated them with even a modicum of respect and dignity.

But that was not on the agenda.

The right of the Jewish people to have their own State was first promised by the British Government (with responsibility for the area) in 1917, towards the end of the First World War.

Israel was formally recognised by the United Nations after the Second World War. Few these days argue about that. Not least because it suffered quite the worst single human atrocity in human history – the Holocaust (at the hands, it is well to remember, of fellow “civilised” Europeans), Israel has a right to live in peace and security.

But it does not have a right to prevent millions of Palestinians from doing likewise; nor does it have any right unlawfully to take Palestinian homes and farms in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Above all it has no right to take the law into its own hands as it did on Monday to intercept a ship carrying humanitarian supplies in international water, kill some of those on board and take the rest into custody.

Israel has correctly been condemned by the UN Security Council for this action.

Israel probably judges that if they “tough” this out, as they have similar incidents in the past, the world’s attention will move away from them. I hope that they are wrong, for the strategic, as well as the humanitarian consequences of Israel’s actions are far reaching.

This aid convoy was organised by a Turkish charity.

The attack on it has been seen as an attack on the Turkish people, and state. We in the west have every interest – as I sought to do in opening EU negotiations with Turkey – to have it face west, not east; but this task is now made more difficult.

What makes Israel’s action doubly short-sighted is that it damages the longer-term interests of Israel itself. It can only sustain its security if it starts treating others in its neighbourhood with greater humanity.