What’s happening in Israel and Palestine?

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 a member of the English Council Executive, of the Federal International Relations Committee, of West Midlands Regional Executive, and is Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

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15 Comments

  • As with each Israeli expnasion there will be ‘words’ from the rest of the world and nothing else…
    Israel plays the long game with each violation of Palestinian rights; within a couple of years this will be accepted history (until it’s time for the next ‘grab’.) Eventually Palestine and the Palestinians will be just a memory..

  • R A Underhill 4th May '20 - 4:35pm

    John Kelly | Mon 4th May 2020 – 1:11 pm
    “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.”
    In which case Gantz has made a mistake by allowing his rival to go first,
    These two are not natural bed-fellows, so the agreement may not last for long, other such ‘agreements’ have not lasted, so natural differences and ambitions are likely to work for the destruction of the agreement. Under the party-list system of proportional representation in a parliament of 120 members, a small number of dissidents can bring down a party and thereby break a coalition.
    In the UK we can recall the Lib-Lab pact between Sunny-Jim Callaghan’s Labour Party and Liberals led by David Steel. A special bill for slate-workers (in Wales) was hurried through in about two days.
    In the Republic of Ireland Fianna Fail, then led by Charles Haughey, arranged a deal with the Progressive Democrats, which fitted together perfectly in terms of the number of members of the Dail after a general election, and in no other way. The parties need to have strong reason/s to cohere, which, in the UK were the Fixed term Parliament Act as well as the coalition agreement.
    Please assume that Donald T rump will want to attract Jewish votes in the USA for the a presidential election in November 2020.

  • Rodney Watts 4th May '20 - 5:30pm

    Thank you John, these are indeed pivotal times, and good to see the cross party action as reported by CAABU (Thanks for link John McHugo and agree re Balfour) In fairness to the conservatives who have signed we should applaud their stand and note that the letterthead is that of Crispin Blunt. Another 11 signatures have been added so far post publication.
    I am puzzled to see Margaret Hodges name on the list. So I wonder if the reason is something to do with the possibility, if annexation occurred, of a single state eventually emerging with liberal principles of equality, justice and human rights for all? Read this:
    https://mondoweiss.net/2020/04/palestinians-are-happy-to-pursue-equal-rights-in-one-state-and-european-and-arab-countries-will-advocate-for-that-shapiro-says/

    Also of importance is the deposition last week, by the chief prosecutor of the ICC, of documents in support of criminal investigation of Israel wrt Palestine. These are to be ruled on by 3 pre-trial judges.
    https://www.icc-cpi.int/CourtRecords/CR2020_01746.PDF (You may need to copy and paste this link). I am hoping expats, on this occasion, that your prediction isn’t right.

  • I am pleased that 7/11 Lib Dem MPs have signed this letter. What have the other 4 been doing?

  • Andrew Daer 5th May '20 - 8:17am

    The words ‘international law’ sound impressive, especially where it has been ratified by 196 countries, but it is only effective if backed up by threats of consequencies. The Geneva Convention(s) are recognised by ordinary people as the standard ‘rules of war’ (and the aftermath of wars, as in this case) but less so by governments. However, it can’t be too much to expect of the British government that it will tell Israel it would pay dearly if it continued to ignore the ban on annexation, provided enough people make their voices heard.
    It would be interesting to know how Trump’s endorsement of annexation affects supporters of Israel. Trump is now very close to certifiably insane, and the image of a gleeful Netanyahu shaking his hand must have made many uncomfortable. Netanyahu is deeply unpopular in Israel, and remains Prime Minister courtesy of Coronavirus. Those who’d like to see him deposed need our support, and concerted international condemnation of his plan to formalise annexation of large parts of Israel in July is now urgently needed. We must all play our part by lobbying our MPs.

  • Mark Frankel 5th May '20 - 10:09am

    The Palestinian leadership have had 70 years to sort themselves out – or over 100 counting from the Balfour Declaration. They are all protest and victimhood and no willingness to make a deal or stand by their word. The last agreement was the Oslo Accords of 25 years ago, which were followed by not one but two intifadas. Of course the Israeli hardliners take advantage of the Palestinians’ chronic duplicity.

  • Toby Keynes 5th May '20 - 10:56am

    I share Mohammed Amin’s concern.

    The MPs in question are:
    Jamie Stone
    Tim Farron
    Wendy Chamberlain
    Sarah Olney

    Why on earth would any Lib Dem MP NOT sign the letter?

    If that’s due to oversight – which is quite possible – it looks as though they are still able to sign up.

    I very much hope their names will appear: better late than never.

    If any of them are unwilling to sign for reasons of practicality or principle, I do think they should be willing to stick their heads above the parapet and say what those reasons are.

  • ark Frankel 5th May ’20 – 10:09am………..The last agreement was the Oslo Accords of 25 years ago, which were followed by not one but two intifadas. Of course the Israeli hardliners take advantage of the Palestinians’ chronic duplicity.

    The last ‘agreement’ was the ‘Road Map for Peace’ of 2003 (led by G.W. Bush) Palestinians agreed the plan but, before the ink was dry, Sharon backtracked on the primary clause (a halt to illegal settlements)…
    Israel then came up with a14 point list of conditions before the ‘plan’ could even be discussed; conditions which Israel knew made any agreement by the Palestinians impossible
    For example item 1, “The Palestinians must complete the dismantling of Hamas and other militant groups and their infrastructure, and collect and destroy all illegal weapons. Israel is not obliged to cease violence and incitement against the other party”. (The other 13 can be viewed on line.)

    Yet it is “Palestinians’ chronic duplicity.” that is to blame?.

  • R A Underhill 7th May '20 - 10:56am

    Jonathan Fryer 5th May ’20 – 11:33am
    I agree with Jonathon. The party should listen more often and more carefully to the British Group of the liberal International.

  • Toby Keynes 7th May '20 - 6:27pm

    The good news is that Jamie Stone, Sarah Olney and Wendy Chamberlain have all now signed the letter.

    Their names appear at the bottom of https://www.caabu.org/news/news/127-british-politicians-demand-uk-impose-sanctions-israel-event-annexation-occupied-palest.

    At least one of them thought they were already on the list.
    So we’re now up to 10 of our 11 MPs, which is a pretty solid showing.

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