10 Jul 2024

Labour losses showed political class Palestine ‘matters’, says Ambassador to UK

We spoke to Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

We began by asking what he will be asking the new government to do to change the situation in Gaza.

Husam Zomlot: To do what they have promised to do, to embrace the change they have promised the British public. I believe they have gotten the support of the British people because of that change, the promise not only domestically, but embracing an ethical foreign policy. I believe the British people’s verdict has been delivered loud, not only in the last elections on Thursday, but also throughout the last nine months. The vast majority of the British people want to see an immediate and permanent ceasefire. All polls, the vast majority, want to see an equal application of international law, accountability and punishment for war criminals. The mass majority of the British people want to see an immediate recognition of the state of Palestine. So what we need them to do is to follow the pulse of the British people.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Is recognition the key thing that you’re asking the new Labour government for?

Husam Zomlot: It’s a major thing. It’s long overdue. We should not even ask for it. This is our inalienable right. But it’s also the right thing to do right this moment, because it provides clarity about the way forward. We have got to give people hope. It provides that clarity, but it also levels the field. For 30 years, it’s been Israel and the Palestinians. So Israel interpreted that as a licence to grab more land, to inflict more ethnic cleansing. This is a time when the British government, the new one, comes and says, ‘Here it is, this is our position’. Particularly in light of the historic responsibility of the UK, the Balfour Declaration and all that has followed since then. Our story is a story of extermination, and it continues up until that report of yours about Gaza. It’s extermination, ethnic cleansing, mass expulsion. Your reporter said the entire population of Gaza has been displaced more than once. This is the first time in history. So we don’t need to discuss what is happening for the last century in Palestine, what we need to discuss and talk to this government about is what do we do about it.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But this government right now, as we speak, is in Washington. That is the key relationship, as you know, between the British government and any other country in the world. It’s the American government. So do you believe the British government is able to actually effect any change?

Husam Zomlot: We are hopeful. We are hopeful because of the clear verdict of the British people. We are hopeful because the Labour base, the labour movement, the trade unions, are absolutely in line with an ethical foreign policy, including Palestine. We are hopeful because the prime minister and the foreign secretary happen to be lawyers. The prime minister specialised in international law. We are hopeful that actually because of all this, they will stick to the promise to stick by international law.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Because Labour also lost seats to people who were campaigning over Palestine.

Husam Zomlot: Five. I’ll tell you, Thursday has really shown the political class here that Palestine matters to the British people and it matters a lot. And you know what? I was literally so heartened and inspired by that very loud message by the majority of the British people. And that’s why this is a historic moment when the new government can listen to its people and do what is right, and again, play a global role as they want to be a source of stability. And that comes through the prism of international law, the prism of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the commitment to accountability and punishment, the revoking of the license of exporting weapons, arms embargo, immediate…

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: We will see whether they publish the evidence.

Husam Zomlot: The reversal of some of the steps taken by the last government in the last few days, the last government. They have given an intervention at the ICC, trying to obstruct the ICC from its own mandate of issuing arrest warrants against Netanyahu and [Defence Minister Yoav] Gallant. This government, headed by a human rights lawyer, is expected to reverse that immediately and respect their commitment of the independence of the international judicial system. That is the ICJ and the ICC, and not meddle in that. To the contrary, we expect them to support the course of international justice.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: When it comes to representation, we saw that quite rare moment from a woman in that film expressing her anger with Hamas in Gaza. And the problem you have is that the Palestinian Authority is not the authority in Gaza, it is Hamas. So how do you get a voice in this process? Otherwise you’re just talking TV studios.

Husam Zomlot: The Palestinian people, including that hurt woman, most likely she has lost everything. She has lost her home, her family members. She’s been displaced many times. Starved. She has the right to criticise Hamas, scrutinise Hamas or any Palestinian groups for that matter. But every Palestinian, including that woman, knows that the issue, those who are doing the mass murder, those who are dropping these bombs, those who are killing our children in these schools. Four schools have been bombarded in the last 24 hours, not just al-Awdah school. Those who are doing that are the Israeli army. It’s Israel. And this is not just the last nine months, it’s a history of 76 years…

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But what’s your proposal?

Husam Zomlot: That’s why our message to the prime minister, the new British prime minister, our message to the world, we have got to focus on the root cause now. We have got to forget about the status quo, how we bring things back to where they were. We need to think of how do we go into a different direction.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But you’re not in the room at the moment, are you? Do you have any communication with Hamas as the Palestinian Authority?

Husam Zomlot: There are dialogues happening in many places, and the dialogue has been ongoing for a long time. But the dialogue has got to yield an understanding of the national direction. Yield an understanding of our commitment, yield to an understanding of what is our national project. The dialogue is ongoing and it should continue and it should be successful. Hamas, all other Palestinian groups, is a Palestinian matter. What is an international matter, what is a British matter, what is an American matter, is Israel. Because Washington and London are backers of Israel, and Israel, since its inception, has been such a militarised society and state. Thinking that by doing more violence, killing more innocent people, you have security. Somebody has got to tell them, and this body has got to be the international system, the international judicial system. By killing more innocent people, you will be punished, and this will not bring you security. What will bring you security is respecting international law, including protecting civilians and giving up your subjugation and control of the Palestinian people.