UK Palestinian refugee conference distorted MP's speech

UK Palestinian refugees

Organizers of a conference in London last week on the plight of Palestinian refugees, which came under fire last month after organizers invited a far-Right politician to take part, may have misrepresented a speech made by a government minister at the conference. The one-day conference, entitled "UNRWA and Future of Palestinian Refugees," was organized by the London-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), a group which has a history of organizing public meetings that include Hamas figures. One of PRC's trustees is Majdi Akeel, who has been identified by The New York Times as a member of Hamas. The PRC claimed in a press release posted after the conference that Mike Foster MP, Minister of State for International Development (DFID), had called for the international community to support the Palestinian's right of return - a contradiction of government policy. "Mr Foster spoke of the long and terrible ordeal which Palestinian refugees have faced over the past six decades and stressed the responsibility of the international community in supporting them [the Palestinians] through UNRWA until their right of return is guaranteed," the PRC press release said. However according to a DFID spokesman, the minister attended the conference only to praise UNRWA's work with Palestinian refugees. "Mike Foster attended the event solely to give praise to UNRWA's excellent and unstinting work in the region," the spokesman said. "It was an opportunity to describe DFID's support to a UK audience, and also to highlight the need for UNRWA to receive more funding." Asked if the minister called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, a deviation from government policy, the spokesman said: "His speech did not go into final status issues. The UK Government has publicly stated that it supports a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee issues consistent with UN [GA] Resolution 194, which calls for the right of return, and compensation, for Palestinian refugees." The DFID spokesman said that his department has contacted the PRC with a request that it amend the press release. "We have spoken to the PRC and asked them to clarify the wording on [their Web site] to remove any ambiguity. To be clear, at no point at the event did Mike Foster say anything that went beyond the government's position on this." Foster spoke at the conference despite Labour MP Neil Gerrard pulling out last month after it was reported that Kristina Morvai MEP, leader of the extremist Hungarian nationalist party Jobbik and ally of British National Party leader Nick Griffin, was scheduled to attend. Also speaking at the conference was Daud Abdullah, deputy-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and a Hamas supporter. The government recently distanced itself from Abdullah after he signed the Istanbul Declaration earlier this year which the British government has interpreted as a call for attacks on the Royal Navy, were it to enforce a ban on arms smuggling to Gaza. He also called for continued military action against Israel. In response, the government said it would have nothing to do with the MCB while Abdullah was secretary-general. Asked if the minister was aware that Abdullah was attending the conference, the DFID spokesman said, "The minister did not share a platform or have any contact with Daud Abdullah." The spokesman also said he was not aware of PRC's affiliation with Hamas. "We are not aware of any alleged links between the organizers and Hamas. More generally, our position remains that we do not believe it is productive to talk to Hamas directly until it makes significant movement towards rejecting violence, accepting Israel's right to exist and recognizing previous agreements," he said. Leading Hamas figures regularly speak at PRC meetings in Europe. In May, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed a PRC meeting in Milan via video link. In 2006 he also spoke at a PRC meeting in London via video link.