ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan (AP) — British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said Friday that a government under his leadership would recognize a Palestinian state “very early on” and push hard for a political solution to the Syrian civil war.
Corbyn spoke during his first international trip outside Europe since he was elected Labour Party leader in 2015.
On Friday, he toured Zaatari, Jordan’s largest camp for Syrian refugees. On Saturday, he is to visit a decades-old camp for Palestinians uprooted during Arab-Israeli wars.
In Zaatari, he walked through the camp market, lined by hundreds of stalls, where he sampled falafel and chatted with a sweets vendor who told him his dream is to return to Syria as soon as possible. Corbyn also inspected a sprawling solar power installation that provides about 12 hours a day of electricity to the camp’s 80,000 residents.
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Labour under Corbyn gained parliament seats, but narrowly lost to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party in 2017 snap elections.
Opinion polling suggests the two parties are neck and neck. Britain is not scheduled to have another election until 2022, but there could be an early vote if May’s fragile minority government suffers a major defeat in Parliament.
With his visit to Jordan, Corbyn appeared to be burnishing his foreign policy credentials.
Taking questions from reporters in the Zaatari market, he said that a Labour government would “work very, very hard to regenerate the peace process” in Syria. He said two parallel sets of talks about a solution for Syria would need to “come together,” but did not offer specifics.
Without a solution in Syria, “the conflict will continue, more people will die in Syria and many many more will go to refugee camps, either here in Jordan or come to Europe or elsewhere,” he told The Associated Press.
More than 6 million Syrians have fled civil war in their homeland, with a majority finding refuge in neighboring host countries such as Jordan. Hundreds of thousands more have migrated onward to Europe, with Germany taking in the bulk.
Corbyn said Britain could do much more to shelter Syrian refugees, particularly unaccompanied children, arguing that the government’s quota of 20,000 refugees is “very, very small compared to any other European country.”
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Corbyn said the Trump administration’s decision to recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there was a “catastrophic mistake.”
The Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.
“I think there has to be a recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to their own state which we as a Labour Party said we would recognize in government as a full state as part of the United Nations,” he said. Such recognition would come “very early on” under a Labour government, he said.
Since Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, allegations of anti-Semitism in the party have grown. Some in the party have claimed that Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli actions against the Palestinians, has allowed abuse to go unchecked.
Asked to respond, Corbyn said Friday that “there is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in our society.”
“There has to be a peace process, and there has to be a right of the Palestinian people to live in peace, as well as the right of Israel (to live in peace),” he said.