He talked about what was happening on the ground and the Annapolis Conference. But, as he rightly observed the sticking points are Jerusalem and the Right of Return. I was at a UN conference in Brussels last year where Danny Rubenstein (Haaretz) talked about the issue of the Right of Return being a red line for the Jewish state. They could not and would not agree, since that would spell the end of the Jewish state. (Incidentally he got a lot of criticism for having referred to the Israeli state as apartheid). Similarly, Palestinians do not want a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.
Manuel stressed that there must be an end to the occupation. He acknowledged the $7.4 billion pledges which the donor countries thought would promote economic development. But how would it ever be possible to develop the economy with 600 checkpoints when children can't reach school, or Jerusalem, or their villages, and with the total isolation of Gaza? He said that Israel is consistent, both Fatah and Hamas politicians are imprisoned. He regarded this as a systematic approach because they don't want democracy for Palestine.
He complained about the collective punishment that Israel, who never left Gaza, is imposing on the Gazans, they are effectively imprisoned. They are trying to put themselves on an equal footing, but just can't resist the superior power of Israel. He felt that any notion of the Israeli action being self-defence, was just hypocricy. Also that the European community could do more instead of bolstering the occupation.
Despite everything Manuel is still committed to a two state solution - with contiguity for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders - that was the compromise. Instead the current process was resulting in a confiscation of 50% of the West Bank and the isolation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Other speakers, such as Richard Burden MP reflected on the impact on ordinary Gazans of the current situation. The sanctions against them were indiscriminate and counter productive. The siege is resulting in a lack of power supply of 8 hours a day at least. And Gaza are dependent on Israel for power, of course they would be less dependent if their power station hadn't been bombed. The powercuts in hospitals were particularly devastating and the current situation couldn't go on. There should be a recognition of the root of the problem - it's the occupation stupid! Gaza is a prison without a roof. There is also the issue of water and the control of water. The occupation is about control. Control of water, power, access to goods. The people of Gaza want to know they have solidarity and support outside. Richard reiterated the view that until the occupation is ended there will be no progress. The current Israeli solution is not a solution at all.
Dr Daud Abdullah from the Muslim Council of Britain mentioned the natural gas in the waters of Gaza which they are unable to exploit. He wondered, if it were Israel under siege - how would the West react? He spoke movingly about the impact of the denial of medicine and food in Gaza, of candlelit wards with babies dying in incubators for lack of power, and reflected that Palestinians were being killed on a 55 to 1 ratio. There are daily tragedies where people can't get through checkpoints, like the 67 year old woman who could not get through for vital treatment. There was real concern that plans were already in place for an all out invasion of Gaza he urged that we shouldn't give legitimacy to further bloodletting we needed to give hope. In order for there to be true reconciliation there had to be a just settlement.
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein from ICAHD spoke about the fact that there was not a viable Palestinian state, the Israeli government were employing the practice of divide and rule. She reminded us that Britain bears some of the reponsibility and we should assume some leadership. Angela, an Israeli citizen said you don't let your friends drive drunk, Israel must be pressured to allow freedom of movement. IDF cannot be allowed to continue as they are and the EU Trade Association Agreement should be suspended. She described what was happening as apartheid and believed that sanctions must be threatened. Funding for Israel should be stopped or they will obliterate Gaza. She believed Israel was creating the ghetto that they feared. Hamas ceasefire offers had been rejected. She said that Israel had no respect for international law and were guilty of serious war crimes. She called for the British Government to have some moral courage and expressed her feeling that there was a crisis of leadership with no one to speak into the situation.
This was a couple of weeks ago and clearly things have moved on. The feared major invasion could be days away. What is happening in Gaza is a tragedy for Palestinian people, but is equally a tragedy for the people of Israel. There can be no progress on peace whilst the Israeli state continues to behave as a special case, relying on it's protector the US government to condone and turn a blind eye to its flouting of international law, the Geneva Convention and human rights. Like Angela, I long for the emergence of leadership, wherever it may come from and for a leader who has the metal to stand up to bullies, whoever they are. As a party we can begin to show some of that leadership, I trust we will.