Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes has said that the opportunity for a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute is now “near to the end” and the international community should consider a “one state solution”.
Speaking on the eve of his party conference, the veteran Lib Dem politician said he believed a single federated state in which Muslims, Jews and Christians had separate constitutional rights may now be the best option.
Mr Hughes’s controversial words are a departure from Liberal Democrat and government policy.
The Lib Dem deputy leader said: “We are near to the end of the opportunity of being able to get a peaceful two-state solution because of the extent of the settlements.” The separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the increasing encroachment of the settlements meant that an alternative to the two-state model must be explored: “We need to be honest and realistic about having a Plan B and a Plan C as well as a Plan A, as an international community.”
Mr Hughes said that the UK Jewish community should press the Israeli government to honour international law. “I call on Jewish friends who are moderate and internationalist and careful about these things to use all their influence to make sure that international law is honoured and particularly that forced removals of people don’t go ahead where possible.
“On the minority rights issue, the human rights issue, the international law issue, the United Nations issue: these are things that just stack up against Israel as unnecessary steps that don’t enhance its reputation. That’s a government of Israel point, it’s not an anti-Jewish point.”
Asked about the stand-off between his party and significant sections of the Jewish community, Mr Hughes said that JC readers needed to understand the genuine feelings of anger and frustration felt by his colleagues over Israeli government policy. This had been brought home to him, he said, during a recent visit organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians. “Some of them came back much more angry about forced removals of Bedouin and the wall and demolition of houses on the outskirts of Jerusalem than I would have imagined. These are colleagues who are balanced and rational and don’t come with any prehistory on this.”
He defended his decision to chair a meeting of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine at his party’s spring conference at which Baroness Jenny Tonge was a panellist, even though she had lost the party whip after a series of controversial comments about Israel.
Mr Hughes said she was motivated by a genuine concern for Palestinian human rights.
“It’s not surprising that sometimes these things bubble over and sometimes people speak more intolerantly than they should. Jenny Tonge… comes at all her politics as a doctor specialising in the care of women, children, and families.
“Like many people when they go to see people in refugee camps and people without adequate food and water, the emotions are very strong.”
Mr Hughes also sought to explain his role in last year’s controversy over the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, which initially appointed the anti-Zionist organisation i-Engage to act as its secretariat.
Following the resignation of the group’s Conservative co-chairs Kris Hopkins and Labour’s Lord Janner, Mr Hughes took on the leadership of the group and initially appeared to back retaining i-Engage.
He now says he was merely attempted to be fair to everyone in the dispute. “I was the senior politician involved so I thought I had the responsibility of taking the lead to try to make sure we got into a fair place.”
He said it was right that i-Engage was no longer working for the group and that it was now working closely with the police and groups working to monitor anti-Muslim attacks.
Ultimately, he said, the aim was to draw on the lessons of the Community Security Trust and create a group on the lines of John Mann MP’s APPG on antisemitism.
“I’ve always seen as the best model, the work being done on antisemitic activity, because it has clearly been accurate, well-respected, useful and persuasive”.