How can a new UK government support Palestinian health and dignity?

The dust is yet to settle from the UK’s general election, and it is too soon to know whether there will be a shift in the government's policies with regard to the Middle East, the peace process, or the rights and health of Palestinians.

Nevertheless, these issues will continue to be significant challenges for UK foreign policy. The vote happened in the same week as Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza mark 50 years under Israeli military occupation. The new Government will have to decide how to respond to this critical point in history.

Earlier this week, speaking on the anniversary, MAP CEO Aimee Shalan said: “The occupation is a major driver of the desperate humanitarian needs MAP is addressing in the West Bank and Gaza. The marking of half a century of occupation today demonstrates the devastating failure of the international community to take decisive action to uphold Palestinians’ rights to health and dignity. We hope for a future where MAP’s work is no longer necessary. Until there is international action to bring the occupation to an end, however, these needs will only increase.”

Despite the urgent need to uphold accountability and protect health in the occupied Palestinian territory, the UK has recently failed to support related resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council, and last month voted against a World Health Assembly decision calling for support for the Palestinian health system.

Another anniversary on the immediate horizon is the 10th anniversary of the crushing blockade and closure of Gaza which Israel imposed on 14 June 2007. In 2012 the UN warned that Gaza could be ‘unliveable’ by 2020, which may be within the term of this new parliament. The recurrence and escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years suggests a high risk that the next five years could bring further clashes and loss of life. It is vital that the UK Government take this major anniversary as an opportunity to grapple with the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and commit itself to the protection of civilian wellbeing and the Palestinian health sector which have been so badly harmed by conflict and closure.

The 70th anniversary of the Nakba and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinian refugees will also take place in May next year. Much more must be done to support Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including those who have fled war in Syria, and who suffer limited health services or opportunities in the camps and gatherings in the country.

International action is vital to resolving the underlying political causes of these humanitarian needs. Aid and foreign policy must be unified: supporting the development of sustainable, Palestinian-led health infrastructure while also reaffirming commitment to – and promotion of – international humanitarian and human rights law. Given the UK’s historical responsibility and international clout our Government must play its part, both in its bilateral relations with Israel and Palestine, and in multilateral forums such as the UN.

At the end of the last Parliament the Foreign Affairs Committee had opened an inquiry into the UK's engagement with the Middle East Peace Process. The next Parliament will have to answer many of the questions the inquiry posed, not least of which what role the UK can and should play in promoting peace and human rights in its relations with Israelis and Palestinians.

Later this year we will deliver to the UK Government a joint call from Palestinian and British people, urging action to end the occupation and the blockade and closure of Gaza, and demanding health and dignity for Palestinians.

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