Straw defends Jericho withdrawal

Says UK asked the Palestinians repeatedly to improve security, conditions.

jack straw 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
jack straw 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended the withdrawal of monitors from Jericho stating the Palestinian Authority had failed to live up to the Ramallah Agreements and could not ensure the further safety of British monitors. Palestinian activists in the UK denounced the withdrawal, saying it gave "carte blanche for Israel to murder" jailed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Saadat. "We kept saying to the Palestinians" Straw told Parliament on March 14, "'please, please, please improve the security and ensure the conditions of the Ramallah Agreement are being observed and ensure the security of our personnel'." The Palestinian failure to comply, he argued, left the British government no choice. Straw gave the House of Commons a written statement on the morning of March 14 stating that as the PA had "consistently failed to meet its obligations under the Ramallah Agreement" and as the a result the British government has "terminated our involvement with the mission today". Betty Hunter, national secretary for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign [PSC], denounced the withdrawal, telling The Jerusalem Post she was "appalled at the complicity of the British government in this action". "We have called a protest at 10 Downing Street at 5:30 tonight" to "reinstitute the protection they were to give to Ahmed Saadat" she said. "Britain and the US had a responsibility to monitor the prisoners under the Ramallah Agreement," the PSC argued. "Jack Straw's statement that he had informed the Israelis in advance of the British and US withdrawal provided Israel with the opportunity to storm the prison and threaten to kill anyone who did not surrender." Saadat's London lawyer, Kate Maynard, told the Post that "my fear is that my client will be killed" by the Israelis. The British government has a duty to protect" him, she argued, saying the presence of British monitors at the prison invokes the protections of British Human Rights laws. If Saadat is killed, Maynard told the Post she would seek to hold those responsible "criminally liable for murder" and seek to extradite them to Britain. Straw returned to Parliament on Monday afternoon, and gave a second statement to the House of Commons deploring the "appalling acts of violence" that had erupted, but defended the government's actions. The 14 British and American monitors were not wardens and had no responsibility "to detain nor to protect the prisoners" he said. "Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority has never in the last four years met all its obligations under the Ramallah Agreement despite our repeated demands that they do so" Straw said, noting a pullout had been under consideration for over a year. On March 8 Straw informed the Israeli government and the PA the UK would pull out of the Agreement "with immediate effect". The timing of the withdrawal, Straw said, had been withheld for "security reasons". "If we gave notice, we could end up with a situation where our own monitors were themselves subject to kidnap or siege inside the prison" Straw said. Legal responsibility for the prisoners in Jericho rested with the PA, Straw said. However, "so far as the Israelis are concerned, they are prisoners at large under charge in Israel." Opposition leaders supported the withdrawal of monitors. Conservative Party foreign affairs spokesman William Hague stated the Government's "decision in principle to withdraw from the Jericho Monitoring Mission is therefore understandable". Liberal Democratic foreign affairs spokesman Michael Moore, also supported the action but faulted the Israeli government for the standoff.