West Bank settlements, Liberal values, and our Israeli sister party: time for a realignment

This part of an article written by Ruvi Ziegler on Liberal Democrat Voice. You can read the whole article here

 Dr. Ruvi Ziegler is Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading. He is an Advisory Council member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.

Our Autumn Conference passed a motion entitled ‘Towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine’. Critically, the motion was amended, calling for legislation ‘to cease trade with illegal settlements, unless and until a negotiated peace settlement is reached’. Speaking for this amendment, I argued that the UK has obligations under international humanitarian law to refrain in any manner from supporting illegal settlements and must therefore cease trading with them; and that if we are to retain the hope of reaching a two-state solution, it is critical to reject a one-state reality and uphold the legal – and moral – distinction between pre-1967 Israel and the occupied territories.

The illegality of settlements is unequivocal: the International Court of Justice in its Wall Opinion held that the transfer of Israeli civilian population into the occupied territories through the construction of settlements breaches Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This legal position was endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2234, which the UK supported. The motion originally proposed merely to label settlement products, but that did not go far enough: while enabling consumers to make informed choices, labelling still allows products to be sold, despite being produced in illegal settlements. Only by refraining from trade will the UK be desisting from active cooperation with the settlement project, and thus fulfilling its obligation to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions.

Moreover, by differentiating between the settlements and pre-1967 Israel, the liberal democrats are challenging both the Israeli right and the far left, including its manifestation in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS. The Israeli right and the far left share a desire to erase the so-called ‘green line’, and with that the prospects of a two-state solution. The Israeli right rejects a Palestinian state, seeking a so-called ‘greater Israel’, while the far left sees Israel as an inherently colonial project, in effect rejecting its right to exist in internationally recognised borders. For both, it makes no difference whether a product originates from Tel Aviv or from the Ariel settlement at the heart of the West Bank. But for liberal democrats, it surely must. Ben & Jerry’s, which has recently decided to stop selling their products in settlements, but to continue selling them in Israel proper, and is seeking a new licence holder to implement that policy, has adopted a principled and sensible position. At conference, we have done so as well, thereby amplifying liberal progressive Israeli, Palestinian, and Diaspora Jewish voices.

Yet, our anti-occupation position is misaligned with that of our sister party in Israel, Yesh Atid. Responding to the Ben & Jerry’s decision, Yair Lapid (its party leader) referred to it as ‘a disgraceful capitulation to antisemitism’. The party’s finance minister, Orna Barbivai, was filmed chucking her B&J ice-cream in the bin.

In contrast, the Israeli Meretz party has been consistently opposing the settlement project. Indeed, Meretz shares our core values: for instance, it stands for rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and other migrants, whereas Yesh Atid has consistently supported rights-restricting government policies; and it defends the international legal order, including the legitimacy of the investigation undertaken by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court into the situation in Palestine, while Yesh Atid roundly condemns it.