SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Private or public, open or secret?

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

The issues of Israel and Palestine, the homeland for the Jews and the rights of refugees in Palestine have concerned me through my years of parliamentary service.

Soon after we had lunched together at the House of Commons the moderate Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in London, Said Hammani, was assassinated.

From the start I had said I would visit the West Bank and Israel with the Israelis and then with the PLO. I saw the same places, though the experiences of the locals made it appear to be different.

Israel is democratic, subject to the unfair treatment of those who are not Jewish and in my view diminished by the consequences of proportional representation that appeared to require a large moderate party to change policy in order to gain the Knesset support of an extreme minority: I call it the ‘last past the post’ system.

With the PLO I met Palestinians whose treatment by Israeli police and security forces was very bad. The mayor of Nablus, disabled in a gun attack, had shown the police clear footprints by the would-be killers.

The officer scrubbed them out and said he should be called if more evidence were found.

Later, Tom Hurndall, a friend of one of our daughters, was shot by an Israeli soldier when protecting a child in a conflict area.

The sergeant was eventually convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness.

At times, I speak publicly on these issues. When I do, I try to say that the countries around Israel should recognise its existence, even if boundaries are marked as disputed.

I write about this now because a respected constituent has raised the issue of arms sales to Israel.

Many, like me, will be viewing the Simon Sharma series on the History of the Jews.

The second part this week was touching and horrifying. There were so many opportunities to get along better. There were terrible times of mass killing. Much was shameful to host communities.

In Worthing and district, we should judge ourselves by how we protect, how we promote the interests of those who may in some ways appear to be different from us.

That should be done publicly, across normal boundaries.

On a gentler level, my practice is to try to avoid embarrassing political alternatives when they or their over-enthusiastic supporters make a misjudgment, overstepping a line.

At Westminster, during a Labour government, I was wrongly sent half the budget a day early.

Quietly, I arranged to meet the right Labour minister’s private secretary in the street, saying I would not refer to the episode for two decades.

Locally, when a school allowed the Labour party to have a stall on the premises, I quietly asked that it did not happen again.

A fine local charity also investigated why party literature was delivered with their own material.

On education, we are united in trying to gain extra resources and to raise ambitions for achievement. When there is the attempt to make this an issue for political division, I become wary.

Some say, rightly, that my reticence to accuse others of error is a sign of softness.

I say, rightly, that political progress and public benefit comes when people in different parties, in different countries and religions know each other, understand each other and know that in time they should come to agreements with each other.

Public progress often depends on private cooperation.

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