What’s happening in Israel and Palestine?

By John Kelly | Mon 4th May 2020 – 1:11 pm

While international focus has been on Covid-19, one could be excused for thinking all was quiet in Israel and Palestine. Benny Gantz, who got one more seat for his coalition than Netanyahu in the January elections, tried to form a government initially which included Arab and Centre Left support. He failed, as did Netanyahu with the far right. The two of them have now agreed terms for a centre-right coalition, in which Netanyahu becomes PM for the first 18 months and then Gantz follows.
The Netanyahu/Gantz agreement specifies a timetable formally to annex East Jerusalem and the West Bank in July and start to implement it in the autumn. This contravenes the 4th Geneva Convention (1949), which reinforced the ban on states incorporating territory occupied in war. This general rule of international law was reaffirmed in UNSC Resolution 242 (1967) and, even more strongly by Resolution 2334 (2016). Israel rejects this law and has consistently flouted it.

The UK supported UNSC 2334 and has been consistently clear that the occupation of the West Bank and the settlements are illegal. It also still supports Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, but has been reluctant to confront the US for its tacit support for Israel’s expansionist ambitions.

On 31 January 2020, Dominic Raab stated:

The United Kingdom is concerned by reports of possible moves toward annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel. Any such unilateral moves would be damaging to renewed efforts to re-start peace negotiations, and contrary to international law. Any changes to the status quo cannot be taken forward without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves.

Other examples of invasion followed by annexation have led to international intervention; most recently the Russian incorporation of Crimea in 2014 which immediately led to international sanctions. The only “sanction” against Israel by European countries so far is the requirement to label illegal settlement goods as such when exported to Europe. Trade with settlements is still allowed. Settlers with Israeli passports have visa free entry to the UK, although their Palestinian neighbours do not. People with joint Israeli and British citizenship are free to join the Israeli Defence Force and help enforce the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the illegal siege of Gaza. In these ways Britain condones and collaborates with the occupation.

Last week 127 MPs and Peers signed a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Unsurprisingly only the Guardian seems to have picked this up. A key and unprecedented paragraph in the letter reads:

Our government has stated that any annexation ‘cannot go unchallenged’. The government must now make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation will have severe consequences including sanctions. Words are not enough: Prime Minister Netanyahu has ignored our words. We need to prevent his government from setting this alarmingly dangerous precedent in international relations.

Lib Dem signatories include 7 of our 11 MP’s led by Ed Davey, and many peers. There are quite a few Tory and SNP signatories, but the majority are Labour. Labour signatories include several shadow ministers and even Margaret Hodge.

The lack of any serious opposition in Israel to the plan for annexation is worrying. Sadly, around 60% of the Israeli electorate supports right wing parties. Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics since he first became PM in 1996 and has convinced most Israelis that he is internationally fireproof. He has opposition from some wonderful liberal politicians and NGO’s, who enjoy growing support in the Jewish diaspora. The lack of pressure from foreign governments however weakens their influence. Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine is planning a series of webinars in the coming months in which it hopes to feature some of these brave standard bearers for liberal values.

Will the UK government have the courage to face down Donald Trump, who has forfeited any credibility he might have had, and take the right stance on international law? Even better, will it have the courage to try and remedy its failed Balfour promise to protect the rights of Palestinians, and intervene as honest broker to help achieve a lasting peace?

Please note that, given the ever controversial nature of this topic, all comments will be pre-moderated. Your patience in this regard is appreciated.

John Kelly is Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and active in Warwick District Lib Dems.