Tuesday, July 16

Commons committee to debate about leak of Saudi arms sales report



Andrew Tyrie, the Liaison Committee’s Tory chairman, believes the leak is among the most serious and disruptive Westminster has seen.

MPs and parliamentary staff face the prospect of an extraordinary trawl of their emails by private investigators, as anger grows over a leak of a report into Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Independent has learnt that a Commons committee is poised to debate taking the unprecedented step and that its chairman believes a demand for a probe must be taken seriously.The move would be a backlash against the BBC’s Newsnight being handed extensive details about a forthcoming report into whether weapons sales to the Saudis should be banned.

The leak revealed a draft report by the parliamentary committee charged with scrutinising arms exports, and found it was likely that British weapons had been used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

Leaked emails ‘show confusion of Labour’s EU referendum campaign’

The Saudis stand accused of bombing international hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as schools, wedding parties and food factories, in a military blitz against rebels.

However, it then became clear that an effort was underway to dilute the call to halt arms sales – suggesting a battle between rivals on the committee.

Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, condemned the initial leak as a “deliberate campaign to influence a select committee” on “life and death issues”, and he urged the Commons Speaker John Bercow to call in private investigators to find the culprit responsible for “in-confidence information provided by a member of this House or their staff”.

That decision would have to be taken by the Liaison Committee, the body comprising the heads of every parliamentary select committee. The Independent has now learnt that Andrew Tyrie, the Liaison Committee’s Tory chairman, believes the leak is among the most serious and disruptive Westminster has seen.

The investigators should, Mr Blunt argued, have the power to “interrogate the electronic records, including deleted emails” of MPs and staff.

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Last week, the Speaker also agreed it was a “serious matter” that threatened the effective working of the committee system.

Mr Bercow told MPs: “If the committees of this House are to work effectively, we cannot have a situation in which individual members of a committee leak information, in advance, to advance a particular point of view or to retard the progress of another.”

Mr Tyrie told The Independent: “I will discuss this in the first instance with the deputy chairman of the Liaison Committee and then, if appropriate, with the whole committee.”

A police investigation into the affair is not possible, because the leaks would not be a criminal offence.

The draft report by the cross-party Committees on Arms Export Controls, made up of 16 MPs from four select committees, said it was “inevitable” that arms supplied by the UK had been used in breaches of international law.

On Newsnight, Mr Blunt refused to say whether he had deliberately walked out of a meeting of committee members, to make the meeting inquorate and impossible for the report to be approved.

PM Netanyahu: Dear Arab citizens of Israel–take part in our society in droves. (photo credit:screenshot)

Washington expressed outrage on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu characterized as “outrageous” the world’s apparent acquiescence in the Palestinian demand for a future state without Jews.

While Israel has nearly two million Arabs living inside its borders, the Palestinian leadership “actually demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: no Jews,” Netanyahu said in a video released by his office.

“There’s a phrase for that,” Netanyahu said. “It’s called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous.”

What is even more outrageous, he added, is that the world “doesn’t find this outrageous.

Some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.”

Since when, he asked, is “bigotry a foundation for peace?” Within hours of the video being uploaded on Friday on Netanyahu’s Facebook pages, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau was asked about it at the daily press briefing, and roundly condemned it.

“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank.

“We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. We share the view of every past US administration, and the strong consensus of the international community, that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution,” she added.

Netanyahu began the brief, two-minute video by saying that he has always been “perplexed” by the notion that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, since no one would seriously claim that the Arabs living inside Israel are an obstacle.

Trudeau did not respond to that part of Netanyahu’s message, focusing instead on continued settlement activity.

“Let’s be clear,” she stated. “The undisputed fact is that already this year, thousands of settlement units have been advanced for Israelis in the West Bank, illegal outposts and unauthorized settlement units have been retroactively legalized, more West Bank land has been seized for exclusive Israeli use, and there has been a dramatic escalation of demolitions resulting in over 700 Palestinian structures destroyed, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians.

“As we’ve said many times before, this does raise real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”

Asked whether the administration was going to ask Netanyahu to “walk back” the video, Trudeau said, “We’ll have our conversation with our Israeli allies and friends and we’ll see where that goes.”

The brief video is the eighth that Netanyahu has made since David Keyes took over from Mark Regev as Netanyahu’s English spokesman in March. The Prime Minister’s Office views these videos as a very effective way to get the premier’s unfiltered message out to millions of people. Some 750,000 people have seen this video since it was uploaded Friday, and the number of those who have seen the others – which have dealt with issues varying from Israeli Arabs to gay rights – have been seen by tens of millions of people.

The PMO, not wanting to get into a tit-for-tat with the State Department, had no response to Washington’s sharp reaction.

One government official, however, advised not looking for any meaning in the timing of the video, saying it was designed to highlight an “outrageous Palestinian demand.” The “ethnic cleansing” argument that Netanyahu stressed in the video has been tucked into previous speeches he has made, but never underlined to such a degree.

The official said this was “one step” in the direction of getting the world to pay attention to this demand.

Palestinian leaders have on a number of occasions stressed that all settlements would have to be completely removed from a future Palestinian state. For instance, in July of 2013, just prior to the start of US-led Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Egyptian journalists in Cairo that “in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”

And at a dinner in 2010 with Jewish leaders in the US hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, he said, “If we want an independent state, I will not accept any single Israeli in our territories.

We are not against the Jews.

We are against the Israeli occupation.”

The Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni responded to the video, saying that the US is now saying that all the settlements are obstacles to peace, including those inside the large settlement blocs, while in the past Israel received recognition for those blocs.

“I worked to get diplomatic benefit while paying a political price, while Netanyahu is trying to get political benefit while paying a diplomatic price,” she said.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, slammed Netanyahu for comparing Israeli Arabs to “settlers.”

Netanyahu, he said, “is comparing a minority born here, who has lived in the place for generations, which Israel came and foisted itself upon, to settlers that were transferred against international law to occupied territory, all the while trampling the human rights of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza.”

But reality, he said, “never bothered Netanyahu.”