Israel receives pledge from Brown, Obama

THE Arab-Israeli conflict has been dominating not only my thoughts this week following a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, but also those of Gordon Brown and putative United States President Barack Obama, who both pledged their support for maintaining Israel's integrity.

Graham Dines

THE Arab-Israeli conflict has been dominating not only my thoughts this week following a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, but also those of Gordon Brown and putative United States President Barack Obama, who both pledged their support for maintaining Israel's integrity.

In the first speech by a British prime minister to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Mr Brown said Britain would stand by the country when its “very right to exist” was under threat.

His remarks were seen as a signal that the UK could be prepared to support a military strike against Iran if all other diplomatic routes fail, including a tightening of sanctions.


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In a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, the Prime Minister told Israeli MPs: “Britain is your true friend. A friend in difficult times as well as in good times, a friend who will stand beside you whenever your peace, your stability, and your existence are under threat.”

Singling out Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said Israel should be wiped from the map, he said: “To those who question Israel's right to exist, and threaten the lives of its citizens through terror, we say: the people of Israel have a right to live here, to live freely and to live in security.

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“And to those who believe that threatening statements fall upon indifferent ears, we say in one voice that it is totally abhorrent for the president of Iran to call for Israel to be wiped from the map of the world.”

But the Prime Minister did call on Israel to think again about its controversial security barrier, which is depriving Palestinians of human rights and to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Barack Obama promised his abiding commitment to Israel's security, alleviating Israeli doubts that if he becomes president, the Illinois senator with Arab roots would go soft on Iran instead of taking the strong line of President George W. Bush and the European Union.

During a meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres he declared: “I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the US.”

An Israeli government spokesman said they discussed “all the relevant issues” and the “future challenges facing Israel and the region” - which meant probably Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Israel's determination that Iran not be allowed to build atomic bombs.

During their tours, Brown and Obama also visited Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on the West Bank.

Coinciding with the visits, terror attacks were being stepped up, the latest being when a Palestinian driver rammed a construction vehicle into three cars and a bus in Jerusalem. Security forces shot the man dead.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said: “They keep on inventing ways to attack us. Every work tool has become a weapon.”

The three latest attacks in Jerusalem have been carried out by Palestinians from the city's eastern sector.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank, and annexed it. The 208,000 Palestinians who live there make up less than a third of the city's population. They are not Israeli citizens but carry Israeli ID cards that allow them freedom of movement throughout Israel, unlike West Bank Palestinians.

THE international community should “seize the opportunity” of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to bring the Palestinian group into the peace process, MPs said yesterday. Although the Hamas armed takeover of Gaza was “neither justified nor acceptable,” it was important to include Hamas in peace talks, the Commons International Development Committee said.

The so-called Quartet - made up of the US, EU, Russia and the United Nations - was urged to use the opportunity provided by the truce to begin a reconciliation between rival Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah. The Quartet's insistence that Hamas must first agree to three principles - to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements - before being involved in peace talks had achieved “very little” in the last two years, the Committee said.

SIR MICHAEL CALLS PROTESTS `DREADFUL'

SIR Michael Lord, one of three deputy Speakers in the Commons, took the unusual step of commenting from the neutrality of the chair when he described protests outside Parliament against returning servicemen from Iraq as “dreadful”.

Sir Michael, who is Conservative MP for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North, was agreeing with Hemel Hempstead Tory Mike Penning, who said MPs and peers had had the “pleasure and honour” of welcoming 120 British servicemen returning from Iraq.

“But while we were waiting for them, the lunatic fringe that is the peace camp outside, broke through the police lines and got into the ranks of those brave servicemen and women and actually abused them, attacked them and called them cowards.”

Mr Penning asked: “Can we investigate how on earth British servicemen and women returning from Iraq marching through the streets of London to this House were attacked and make sure when we invite them next time, there is enough police there and we can welcome them in a proper way.”

Sir Michael told him: “We're all aware of the demonstrations, which are a permanent feature outside this House and how they sometimes, perhaps, stray beyond the limits.

“We as politicians are used to those things. But when we have people like the soldiers you mentioned who are not only here to be honoured by us, but also are our guests, I think that really is a dreadful situation. Let's hope that kind of thing doesn't happen again.”

More than 120 representatives of the 4th Mechanised Brigade were on the march to Parliament - the first of its kind involving British troops on operation in Iraq.

HANNINGFIELD QUERIES MILITARY PASSES DATE

LORD Hanningfield, the shadow Tory transport minister in the Lords who is also leader of Essex county council, asked for the estimated annual cost of providing free bus travel to seriously injured military personnel and when these free bus passes will be introduced.

Replying for the Government, Lord Basham said: “We estimate that 35,000 to 40,000 seriously injured service personnel and veterans under the age of 60 will be eligible for concessionary travel. Based on generous assumptions, we estimate the additional costs to be in the region of £4 million to £8 million per year. The new concession will be introduced by April 1, 2011.”

THE BROWNS HEAD FOR NORTH SUFFOLK

GORDON Brown and his family head to north Suffolk tomorrow for their annual holiday. What a contrast to the Blairs, who revelled in staying at the glitzy pads of the rich and famous. With David Cameron due in Cornwall, this double boost for the tourism industry at home shows that politicians can have sensitivities to the impact families are facing as the recession starts to bite,

TORIES AND ULSTER UNIONISTS FORGE ALLIANCE

THE Conservatives and Ulster Unionists are to forge an alliance to strengthen politics in Northern Ireland and through the UK. David Cameron said: “I'd like to see the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party actually come together and create a new force in Northern Irish politics.”

Mr Cameron added: “Politics in Northern Ireland shouldn't just be about orange or green or constitutional issues, it should be about rational politics as well and I'd like to give the people of Northern Ireland the chance to join a party and take part in a party and take part in politics that is about all of the issues we care about.”

**A week in politics returns for the party conferences in the autumn.

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