Friday 18 January 2019

Richard Humphreys: The Middle East needs peace talks, not another intifada

A Socialist MEP's call for a renewed struggle is spectacularly ill-chosen

ZEAL: Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy
ZEAL: Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy

Richard Humphreys

WITH an exquisite sense of timing, in the week that US Secretary of State John Kerry managed to get Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together for the first time in three years, Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party found himself calling on Palestinians to rise up in another intifada against Israel.

Just to remind you, the first intifada (or "uprising") resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people, many of them civilians. The Palestinians killed over 800 of their own people as alleged "collaborators", many in the most brutal manner possible, and most without any real evidence. The Palestinian concept of human rights embraces such practices as killing collaborators by dragging them through the streets tied to motorcycles.

Huge numbers of injuries were also sustained on both sides, with over 1,400 Israeli civilians injured, as well as 1,700 soldiers, and thousands more on the Palestinian side. Over 100,000 Palestinians were arrested during this disastrous period in recent Middle Eastern history.

Given those facts, it seems a bit eccentric that anyone would use language that would be seen to urge Palestinians into a re-match.

The Socialist Party is facing a difficult local and European election next year, having already lost half of its Dail seats due to Clare Daly's resignation. Surely the Socialist Party should be cognisant of the risk of pain and misery that Murphy's suggestion would, if adopted by combatants in waiting, inevitably inflict on thousands of people?

In an interview with Russia Today last week, Murphy is reported as saying that "You've seen significant protest, significant movement, the potential to redevelop a struggle along the lines of the first intifada. That's the kind of thing that is necessary. Such a movement could ... overthrow the capitalist establishment of Israel."

Murphy clarified afterwards that he did not intend his intifada to involve violence of any kind. That being the case, his call for a struggle "along the lines of the first intifada" was spectacularly ill-chosen. Perhaps "along completely different lines to the first intifada" would have been a better way of putting it?

His disclaimer, while undoubtedly sincere, would be of little benefit considering it runs the risk of lighting the touchpaper.

It is also interesting to note his call to overthrow the "capitalist establishment of Israel". This projects a certain hostility to one of the two sides in the conflict that I would venture to suggest is unhelpful.

Only a hardened campaigner would try to view the long and complex history of the Middle East as a struggle between one side that is entirely in the right versus one entirely in the wrong.

If our own history and the lessons of the Irish peace process teach us anything, it must be that we need to address the legitimate identities of both sides of any complex problem.

This earnest young campaigner and veteran of the Gaza flotilla may believe that his remarkable call for another intifada will be supported by the electorate come next May.

Before falling into the role of MEP, Murphy was a law student in UCD, completing a thesis on the subject of Does Socialist Law exist? I think he should be allowed by the voters of Dublin to free up his schedule and head back to college to ponder this presumably important question at greater length.

By contrast, the Labour Party position on the Middle East has been one of balance and sensitivity. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has done everything possible to encourage the resumption of talks, through our own contacts and the EU. Eamon Gilmore has also lent no support to any boycott of Israel proper, and quite rightly walked past an angry protest from the ultra-left in order to open the Israel Film Days.

In recent weeks, the Tanaiste has also courageously been part of the EU decision to categorise the armed element of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. I am glad to be a member of a party that takes such a balanced view on many important issues surrounding the Middle East.

Labour's candidate for the Park ran under the slogan of 'The President who will do us proud', and I believe that the same is true of Labour's MEPs, Emer Costello and Phil Prendergast, who have done us proud in Europe.

It is a shame that the same cannot be said for Mr Murphy, with his zealous ultra-left extremism and his embarrassing call for a new intifada. For the sake of Ireland's reputation, I hope that the Socialist Party will be sent packing by the voters come the May elections next year.

Richard Humphreys is a senior counsel and is the Labour councillor in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown

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