The UK raised concerns with Israel over Netanyahu’s threat to annex part or all of the West Bank on April 30. It also raised concerns over the US decision to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel on March 26.
New UK Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison, told the House of Commons that being America’s closest ally “does not prevent us from criticising it from time to time, but that is what being friends is all about”.
The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard ask what he will actually do if President Trump’s “deal of the century” includes proposals that support the Netanyahu administration’s plans to go ahead with annexation, but the Minister replied: “I am not going to speculate on the matter he raises.”
Former Conservative minister Andrew Selous said that the ability of the UK to broker peace in the Middle East was undermined by “a perception that the West applies the rule of law partially…. So what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the international rule of law is applied equally to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements?”
The Minister pointed to the postponement of the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in Area C of the West Bank as an example of the effectiveness of UK diplomatic pressure, although the threat had been postponed, not lifted. “We urge Israel to convert that postponement into something permanent.
“‘If Israel does something edgy, we’ll be keen to discuss that with them” – Minister
“In general we would support the Israeli Government, who are the only democracy in the Middle East and a firm friend of this country. Where we find that our friends are doing something that we consider to be edgy or with which we disagree, we will certainly be keen to discuss that with them.”
This did not impress shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) who said little had changed in the year since the slaughter on the Gaza border. Netanyahu was now backing legislation to give himself immunity from prosecution and was attacking the freedoms of Israeli Arabs, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and completing the annexation of the West Bank.
“Does the Minister agree that now is finally the time for the British Government to take a different step by recognising the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise?”
The minister gave the usual reply: “We support the two-state solution. When the time is right, that inevitably implies that we will support—recognise—the state of Palestine, but in the meantime we are engaged in building institutions that are necessary to sustain such a state.”
Ms Marie Rimmer asked the minister for international protection for the human rights of Palestinians given Netanyahu’s call for the annexation of part or all of the West Bank and Trump’s endorsement of the acquisition of territory by force. In his reply Dr Murrison said: “We want to see a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I hope that makes our position clear.
In welcoming the new Minister for the Middle East to his post, Emily Thornberry pointed out it had taken the Government seven weeks to replace Alistair Burt after he resigned over Brexit and it was “a disgrace that, at a time like this, we should have 50 days without a dedicated Minister for such a critical region”.
Unlike most of his predecessors Dr Murrison does not appear to have been a member of either Conservative Friends of Israel or the Conservative Middle East Council and there is no record on the House of Commons register of members’ interests of his visiting either Israel or Palestine.