The UK must stand by the Palestinians when they need us

Ask your MP to ask a question for Nakba Day

Foreign Office Questions
Tabling by Wednesday May 8th 12.30 pm
Questions Tuesday May 14th 11.30 am

With President Trump’s “deal of the century” due to be published at the end of Ramadan – just a few weeks away – his son-in-law Jared Kushner dropped a hint of what it may contain when he said on Thursday in Washington:  “What we need to start doing is just recognising truths – and I think that when we recognised Jerusalem, that is a truth – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that would be part of any final agreement anyway.”

Israel’s strategy has always been to build “facts on the ground” in contravention of international law and hope that sooner or later the international community will accept them. For many decades it did not work. The whole world – including the US – refused to recognise East Jerusalem or any part of the West Bank as part of Israel.

But in the last few months the situation has changed. Last summer Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved his embassy across the Green Line. Just last month he recognised the Golan Heights – a part of Syria under military occupation – as sovereign Israeli territory.

Netanyahu then said – two days before last month’s election – that he planned to “extend sovereignty” (in other words annex) all parts of the West Bank covered by settlements,  both the large settlement blocs close to the border and the “isolated settlements” deep inside the West Bank.

Are these the “truths” that Jared Kushner will want the world to recognise when he unveils the “deal of the century” in early June?  Will his plan allow Netanyahu to annex all the areas controlled by settlements (42%) or the whole of the area administered by the Israeli army – the so-called ‘Area C’ (62%)?

That would leave the Palestinians with between 12% and 8% of the territory of historic Palestine and roughly 50% of the population.

One  thing is already clear. Trump has gone back on the founding principle of the United Nations – and the basis of the entire post-world-war consensus – that territory can no longer be taken by military force.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already made it clear that he disagrees with Trump on Jerusalem and on settlements.  But will he stand up to Trump if he tries to pressure the Palestinians to accept his deal?

If that happens, then clearly statements in the House of Commons will not be enough.  Hunt will have to do something substantive if it wants to stop President Trump from steamrollering the Palestinians into submission.  The obvious weapon he has in his hands is the UK’s long-promised recognition of Palestine.

Recognition would have significant legal and diplomatic consequences, but it would have little tangible effect on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, so it would need to be strengthened with stricter “differentiation” against settlement products. It has even been suggested that Palestine should be invited to join the Commonwealth.  That invitation might well be declined, given the UK’s role in Palestine’s history, but it would send a powerful message.

The day after Foreign Office questions – May 15th – is the 71st anniversary both of the foundation of the state of Israel and the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees to create a Jewish majority in the new state.  It is known as Independence Day in Israel and as Nakba Day (the day of the catastrophe) to Palestinians.

The 14th would be a good day for MPs to tell the world that they will stand by the Palestinians when they need us to stand by our principles.  Ask your MP to ask the Foreign Secretary a question on Palestine.  It needs to be tabled not later than 12.30 on Wednesday. If it is drawn in the ballot, it should be answered on May 14th – in time for Nakba Day.

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