Month: December 2017

Targeted action is not a boycott

As its name implies, the BDS movement advocates three policies: boycott, divestment and sanctions. The boycott campaign is aimed mainly at civil society, the divestment campaign at investors, pension funds and banks and the sanctions campaign at persuading governments to sanction other governments.  The boycott campaign can be directed against Israeli settlements in the West Bank (the TUC has supported this policy since 2009 and the Co-op since 2013) or against companies that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine or against all Israeli products.


The Labour Party confirmed on December 13th that Jeremy Corbyn supports  targeted action against illegal Israeli settlements.  This would not be a boycott and nor would it be a temporary sanction to be lifted when certain conditions are met.  It would be a statement of law – that we will permanently target trade with settlements that are illegal. The UK Government already in its business guidance to UK firms says it does not encourage trade with Israeli settlements and it has withdrawn the support of its embassies and consulates from UK businesses intending to trade with settlements.

Hopefully, Jeremy Corbyn will support a complete ban on trade with settlements, but it is worth remembering that what he proposes is different only in degree and not in kind from what the Government already does. The Government does not use the word ‘sanctions’ in this context, though it has used the word ‘disincentives’ which means much the same.

There are already many precedents for the imposition of sanctions on countries that conquer territory by military force.  It took only 17 days for the UK to impose sanctions in the case of Crimea – from the date when unmarked Russian troops were first seen in Crimea till the European Council meeting when sanctions were imposed.  It is now just over 50 years since the Israel conquered the West Bank by military force and started building illegal settlements.




Why Jerusalem is so important to the Palestinians

Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine under the British Mandate which ended in 1948.  The United Nations put forward a partition plan in 1947 dividing Palestine into two states but leaving Jerusalem and Bethlehem under international control.  At the end of the Israelis war of independence, the Israelis controlled West Jerusalem, but not the Old City in East Jerusalem and the areas to the north and south of it.

Israel army tanks invaded East Jerusalem in June 1967 and the Israeli parliament passed a law in 1980 annexing East Jerusalem (and surrounding areas) as part of the Israeli state. This has never been accepted by the UN or by any country other than Israel itself.

Ever since Israel was founded in 1948, West Jerusalem has been recognised by the international community as part of Israel, but not as its capital.  That has been Tel Aviv. This is not because they are necessarily against the idea of an Israeli capital situated in Jerusalem, but because it has to be part of a negotiated peace settlement.

Every US President in the last 50 years has refused to recognise Jerusalem or move the US embassy – even though Congress passed a law to that effect in 1995.

In all negotiations (including Brexit) it is a fundamental principle that nothing can be finally agreed until everything has been agreed. The status of Jerusalem can only be settled as a part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem. At one time 16 countries did so (without recognising it as the capital), but one by one they all moved their embassies back to Tel Aviv.

The founding principle of the UN in 1945 was to stop the acquisition of territory by force. If Trump is recognising the whole of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory (and that is not entirely clear yet) it means he is accepting the right of countries to take land by force. Certainly, by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is breaking ranks with the rest of the world and undermining the diplomatic solidarity of the international community in upholding the principles of international law.JerusalemEastAndWest

There is a real danger that the recognition of Jerusalem will be taken by Netanyahu as a signal that he can gradually annex most of the Palestinian territories.

UK policy is that Jerusalem should be a shared city.  The policy of the Palestinian Authority is that East Jerusalem should be their capital, although President Abbas has said they would be willing to discuss a shared city. Many on the Israeli left believe that Israel should let go of occupied East Jerusalem.  “There will be no peace without the division of Jerusalem,” said the leader of Meretz Zehava Gal-On.

However, there are 350,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem, 38% of the whole population and a substantial majority within the boundaries of East Jerusalem.

The strategy of the current Israeli government is to create settlements in East Jerusalem and gradually drive the Palestinians out. The Israelis known that Palestine is not a viable state without East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians would almost certainly recognise West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital just as soon as Israel recognised East Jerusalem as their capital.


Why Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as ‘capital’ of Israel

There appear to have been two main reasons why President Trump made his statement about Jerusalem on December 6th – both of them related to internal US politics.  The first was to win the support of Evangelical Christians in the election of a new senator for Alabama on December 12th.  The second was to raise the profile of the Middle East tour by Vice-President Pence planned for December 15th.

Both ended in disaster. The Alabama election was lost and the Vice-President’s tour has had to be curtailed since the Palestinians refused to speak to him, the Mayor of Bethlehem made it clear he would not be welcome and the leader of the Egyptian Christians cancelled his meeting with him. He will not now visit a single church or meet a single Christian on a visit which was billed as being to “bring an end to the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East”.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on the day of Trump’s announcement that he would not meet Pence as the Americans were no longer qualified to act as “honest broker” in the Middle East peace process.

Pence could hardly complain about this, since he himself had criticised Obama for wanting to act as “honest broker” in the Middle East in 2012. “We certainly want to be honest, but we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides. But America is on the side of Israel,” Pence said at the time.

The issue of Jerusalem is high on the agenda of Evangelical Christians and there is a lot of evidence that Pence, as an Evangelical, pushed the President to carry out his campaign promise to move the US Embassy and send him on a visit to what he imagined would be a hero’s welcome in Jerusalem.

In June – when every commentator was saying that the campaign promise had been dropped – Pence reassured a meeting of Christians United for Israel that “it is not a question of if, it is only when.” In October he announced the visit and said it would focus on the persecution of Christians. In December he was standing at Trump’s shoulder as he made his declaration.

What really alarmed the Palestinians was that he made so little attempt to hide that his conviction that Jerusalem should belong to Israel was not political but religious. “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith,” he told the Christians United for Israel.

“Though Israel was built by human hands, it is impossible not to sense that just beneath its history lies the hand of heaven.”

Interviewed a few days after the declaration by the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said: “If you believe you know His Will, then it shuts the discussion.”

Netanyahu, on the other hand, was elated by the declaration and went to Paris in a buoyant mood for a meeting with President Macron that was intended to focus on Iran. Instead almost the entire meeting was given over to forceful denunciations of the Trump declaration and the illegal settlements.

He went on to a breakfast meeting in Brussels with 23 European foreign ministers in the hope of persuading some of them to follow the American example and move their embassies to Jerusalem.
Instead the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was able to tell him that none of the EU 27 would follow Trump’s lead, not even the Czech Republic.
“There is full EU unity on this, that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states with Jerusalem as the capital of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.

“The EU and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz focused on Mogherini’s broad grin as she told him: “He can keep his expectations for others — because from the EU member states’ side this move will not come.”

In response to a comment from Netanyahu that peace must be built on ‘reality’, Mogherini verged on sarcasm: “You want three states, four, five, ten? Two states are the only viable and realistic option.”

Mrs May said: “We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement.

“We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.

“In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”