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Editorial: Labour's fudging amendment won't get it off the hook on Palestine

“NO CEASEFIRE, no vote.” That is the chant heard at the biggest demonstrations Britain has seen in 20 years, sustained remarkably week-in, week-out the length and breadth of the country.

For all Labour frontbenchers like Wes Streeting sneer that they won’t be “pushed around by protesters,” it’s a chant which echoes through the halls of Westminster. 

That explains the contortions forced on Labour, and even to an extent the Conservatives, over the Scottish National Party’s opposition-day debate motion on a ceasefire today — which MPs of conscience should not have had any problem supporting unamended.

Opposition-day debate motions carry no legal weight. The fact that the Tories, as well as Labour, felt the need to put an amendment rather than simply vote the motion down shows the scale of Israel’s killing in Gaza, and its repeated bloodcurdling threats to invade and pulverise the town of Rafah on Egypt’s border, is embarrassing even the British government.

The people of Gaza never had anywhere to run: the territory has been held under a crippling siege by Israel for 17 years.

From the start of the Israeli invasion its forces have bombed even those trying to comply with its evacuation warnings by fleeing south. The active battlefield has been repeatedly extended, from the initial flattening of Gaza City to the more recent slaughter in Khan Younis. 

Now, with over a million people crowded up against the closed Egyptian border, it tells them it is moving in, that they have to evacuate by the first day of Ramadan or face the consequences. 

We know what the consequences are, since Israeli forces have been bombing hospitals, rounding up and executing civilians (including three Israeli hostages taken by Hamas) and demolishing homes. 

The political purpose of the planned assault may be to try to press Egypt to open its border to the desperate refugees — which would advance the cause, openly promoted by some in Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, of driving Palestinians out of Gaza and populating it with Jewish settlers. 

Egypt’s military rulers — without whose collaboration the siege of Gaza would be impossible — have seldom shown much concern for Palestinian life and are unlikely to be moved. 

The United States has been voicing its unhappiness with Israel’s savagery, but we shouldn’t look to this to halt the massacre either. It’s a diplomatic posture aimed at appeasing outrage across the region (and much of the world) at the fact it continues to arm and supply Israel’s war. 

And that explains the Conservative amendment, which likewise affects concern at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while providing political cover for continuing to worsen it — through nonsense about Israel’s right to “defend itself” against a people under its own illegal military occupation.

It is Labour and not the Tories who have been driven into crisis on the issue, because the “no ceasefire, no vote” threat carries more weight against a party that took 86 per cent of the Muslim vote in 2019.

It’s Labour that faces parliamentary revolts, an exodus of councillors (who are beginning to organise themselves into a coherent electoral force) and dangerous challenges in target seats.

Which is why it has gone to the effort of concocting today’s miserable fudge, demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” tied to caveats nullifying the demand.

MPs hoping this will pull the wool over our eyes should think again. No MP who failed to back the SNP’s motion should imagine they have met the “no ceasefire, no vote” test.

As for the Labour leader, his continuing to withhold the whip from MPs suspended for supporting Palestine gives the lie to his newfound concern. He is acting in bad faith.

The mass movement which has forced this issue to the top of every major party’s agenda cannot let up now: we must build the pressure till Labour is forced to concede more than empty words.

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