UK criticised over ‘lacklustre’ response to West Bank plan
Pressure on the UK government to commit to concrete measures and not just “lacklustre” verbal condemnation if Israel goes ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank has been stepped up by a coalition of 14 British charities and human rights groups.
The pressure follows the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, at the weekend confirming that the Labour party supported a ban on Israeli imports made in West Bank settlements if annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territories went ahead. Her proposal, condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has been backed by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and is likely to be raised in the Commons today.
There are no official figures of settlement exports to the EU, as the Israel government makes no distinction, but the most recent estimated value is €229m (£210m) – less than 2% of total Israeli exports to the EU, which were €14.7bn in 2017.
The Foreign Office has so far said an illegal annexation could not go unanswered or unchallenged, but has gone no further, partly since it is still hoping Israel may yet pull back.
The UK will also be coordinating if possible with other major European states, but the EU is divided on how to respond, with some groups such as the Belgian parliament voting for sanctions, if necessary in a coalition of the willing.
UK diplomats will also be gauging the true depth of the so far surprisingly strong opposition in the Arab states.
The charities, including Christian Aid, accuse the UK of a “lacklustre” response so far.
Their statement said: “While reiterating its principled opposition to annexation, and stating that such action is illegal, the UK has consistently failed to outline how it will meaningfully oppose it. The precise shape that this annexation will take remains unclear, though it is likely to encompass existing settlements, and potentially the resource-rich agricultural lands of the Jordan Valley that are so vital to the Palestinian economy. But whether an inch of land or the entire West Bank, such a move would be manifestly unlawful.”
The groups, due to their charitable status, make no specific proposal, but stronger options include recognition of Palestine, wider sanctions built on UN resolutions and use of an imminent UK-Israel trade agreement to punish human rights abuses.
The Middle East minister, James Cleverly, told the UN security council last week that the UK strongly opposed annexation. “Such a step would go against the rules-based international order and the UN Charter. Annexation could not go unanswered, and we implore Israel to reconsider,” he said.
Nandy said annexing nearly a third of the West Bank would undermine the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution and had serious implications for the stability of the Middle East.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy has called for a ban on imports from the West Bank