We now post all of our articles for Palestine Briefing on our Travel2Palestine site – just easier to have everything in one place! However, this is still an interesting archive if you want to dig in.
Thanks for visiting!
We now post all of our articles for Palestine Briefing on our Travel2Palestine site – just easier to have everything in one place! However, this is still an interesting archive if you want to dig in.
Thanks for visiting!
Everyone who wants to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, from the President of the United States to your local peace campaign, agrees on one thing: the major injustice aggravating this conflict is Israel’s illegal settlement project.
For nearly 50 years now, since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the Palestinians have watched helplessly as armed Israeli settlers, backed by the Israeli army, have built their homes on Palestinian land while Palestinians are denied permits to build on their own land.
Having been left with only 22% of historic Palestine after the creation of the Israeli state, the Palestinians have seen the land they control dwindle further as settlements grow. They could end up with just 8% of historic Palestine even though they are more than 50% of its population.
These settlements are regarded as illegal by every country except Israel. A motion calling on Israel to end settlement building was supported by 14 or the 15 countries on the United Nations Security Council in 2011, including the UK, France and Germany. Only the US voted against and that vetoed it.
President Obama now has a window of opportunity in the ten weeks between the US election and his successor’s inauguration on January 20 2017 to lift his veto and allow the international community to move towards a resolution of the conflict.
We are also about to start a year of unhappy anniversaries: March 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, June 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and November 2017 is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the letter written by British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour promising “to view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
We think of the conflict as insoluble, but it will be easy to resolve if the international community is working together. Settlements equate to just over ½% of Israel’s trade with the outside world and Israel is a small country heavily dependent on its major trading partners, the EU and the US. Only a hint of concerted international action will be enough to persuade most Israeli voters that they are better off without the settlements.
That is why all the major organisations campaigning for justice for the Palestinians have made their major policy objective over the next year to stop settlement building and settlement trade.
MPs have a crucial role to play in this. They can put this issue on the agenda and make sure the international community takes this opportunity. Or they can look the other way and let the Israeli government get away with the gradual takeover of the West Bank, sowing the seeds for another century of conflict.
1. Settlements are illegal
The Israel government always disputes this, but international law states quite clearly that an occupying country “shall not … transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” and the International Court of Justice confirmed in 2004 that Israel was breaching its obligations under international law by establishing settlements in the West Bank. Even the US has always opposed settlements on the grounds they are illegal, though they prefer the word “illegitimate”.
2. Settlements are growing fast
Many people’s image of a settlement is just a cluster of houses on the top of a hill. In fact, the largest settlement now has a population of 60,000. Five are over 40,000. The last official number for the total number of settlers was 547,000 but that was in 2013. The settlers themselves say it is now nearly 800,000 among a Palestinian population of 2.9 million.
3. Settlements are eating up the West Bank
The Israeli government will tell you settlements cover only 3% of the West Bank. This is misleading. Settler councils control 42.7% of the land area. The Israel army is in administrative control of 62% of the West Bank, known as Area C. Settlements are constantly expanding. Palestinians are refused building permits with almost no exceptions. One of the parties in the Israeli coalition government want Area C annexed to Israel, leaving the Palestinians in control of isolated pockets of land amounting to just 8% of historic Palestine.
4. Settlements are strangling the Palestinian economy
The Israeli government wants you to believe settlers are more successful because they are better at business. No, it’s because they take 80% of the water and all of Palestine’s natural resources to which they have no legal right. Palestinians’ freedom of movement is restricted by 490 roadblocks in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. A report by the World Bank in 2013 calculated that the restrictions in Area C cost the Palestinian economy £3.4 billion a year or 35% of its national income. A Palestinian report in 2010 calculated that the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestine cost them 85% of nominal GDP.
5. Settlements are bad for Israel as well as Palestine
The settlements have cost an estimated £15 billion to build and cost £500 million a year to subsidise, which many Israelis think is a huge waste of money. But their government continues to offer subsidies to house prices and rents to persuade new immigrants to move there. Spending per citizen is double what it is in Israel, treble in isolated settlements. Religious settlers will never willingly move, but the majority are economic settlers, often locked in by negative equity on houses they cannot sell, and would willingly be bought out to live in Israel, where there is plenty of space. Exports from settlements do not benefit from lower tariffs under EU law and must be labelled as coming from settlements, not Israel.
6. Settlements are the main obstacle to the peace process
The Israeli prime minister says he is willing to enter ‘unconditional’ talks with the Palestinians. What he means is that he is willing to enter talks on condition that he can continue building settlements while talks are going on. The Palestinians are wise to this one. During the 20 years of Oslo talks, no progress was made towards peace but the number of settlers trebled. “It’s like negotiating shares of a pizza with a man who is eating the pizza as you negotiate so your share is always getting smaller,” they say. Obviously, settlement building has to stop before peace talks can resume.
The gap between the election of the next US president on November 8 and her (or his) inauguration on January 20 is 73 days. That is the gap in which the outgoing president has a relatively free hand to do what he wants with only a minimum of consequences.
Some commentators have believed for some time – and the Israeli government now fears they are right – that Barack Obama will use this opportunity to lift the US veto and allow a resolution calling on Israel to stop building settlements to pass in the United Nations Security Council.
Until the middle of September it looked as if Obama had decided not to make any dramatic last-minute attempt to get the peace process restarted. He tried twice and failed twice. As an Israeli commentator said:
“The one who promised ’yes we can’, was revealed at the end of two terms as not only one who cannot, but one who doesn’t even try. He appears to have thrown in the towel.”
But in the last few weeks there have been a number of hints that Obama may try one last time to reset the bearings of the Middle East peace process with the US joining in a major international effort to put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to change course.
The first hint came in the Lotte New York Palace hotel where Obama held a 30-minute talk with Netanyahu during the UN General Assembly. Obama raised “profound concerns about the corrosive effect” of settlements on the two-state solution.
Why would he raise this issue if he was just drawing attention to his own failure? If the most powerful man in the world highlights an issue, it could be because he intends to do something about it.
One week later Obama found himself in Jerusalem, leading the tributes to the former Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Peres fought in the Haganah, started the settlements, launched Israel’s nuclear programme and presided over the occupation, so Palestinians have no fond memories of him. But towards the end of his life he became – in his public speeches if not in his actions – a leading “dove”.
Obama was not only the only speaker to mention the “unfinished business of peace” but he made a point in his tribute of quoting Peres’ most “dovish” remarks: “The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people.” “We are against slaves and masters.” “True security comes from making peace with your neighbours.”
Most tellingly, he quoted Peres’ statement that Israel “will be best protected when Palestinians have a state of their own”.
Few people noticed that in his peroration he drew parallels between the early days of American democracy and today’s Israeli democracy. Both had flaws, he said. He didn’t specify what the flaws were, but there can be little doubt that he was talking about slavery and the occupation of Palestine.
Netanyahu’s response – as so often to Obama’s criticisms – was to announce the building of a new settlement. The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the evacuation of an illegal outpost in the West Bank and instead of relocating the settlers to Israel, Netanyahu announced that he will decant them into 300 new homes to be built elsewhere in the West Bank.
According to Israeli ministers this is just “building a few dozen homes” for the residents of the outpost and the 300 new homes “do not constitute a new settlement”, but Obama’s spokesmen have not bought these excuses.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said: “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said it was “disheartening” that while the world mourned Shimon Peres, the Israelis were busy advancing plans “that would seriously undermine the prospects of the two-state solution he so passionately supported.”
The Israeli press have said it was “especially insulting” coming just a few weeks after President Obama signed a deal giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years.
Payback will start on Friday October 8th when the Security Council holds a special debate on Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank initiated by the Palestinians. The usual US defence of Israeli actions is expected to be muted, if not entirely absent.
There will be no vote on Friday, but there can be a vote on a French resolution on the settlements which is expected any time after Tuesday November 8th – the date of the US elections. The US veto – which has protected the Israelis at least 40 times in the past – may be absent this time.
The last time the veto was used was February 18th 2011 in a similar motion condemning Israeli settlements which was supported by 14 of the 15 countries on the Security Council (including the UK). Only the US using its veto against – even though the motion was in line with US policy at the time.
This time Obama is being urged to lift his veto from many different directions – including the New York Times who say the “best idea would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement, covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states”.
Both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have asked the President not to sign any “one-sided” motions against Israel, but in between election and inauguration they could press but not prevent him from doing so, and once the Security Council has passed the resolution they will not be able to revoke it.
Since the US veto was first used on September 10th 1972, Israel has been shielded by the US from any effective action to bring it into line with international law and with United Nations resolutions. If Obama ends Israel’s 44 years of immunity and joins with the international community in putting pressure on Israeli to comply with international law, it will be no inconsiderable legacy.
The new International Development Secretary Priti Patel has frozen a transfer of £25 million out of the £72 million annual aid to Palestine – until the conclusion of an investigation into whether any of the money has been passed to the families of prisoners.
This follows questions from MPs from Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel targeting the UK’s aid programme to Palestine, which goes roughly in thirds to the United Nations refugee agency, the Palestine Authority and co-existence projects.
Both DfID and the Palestine Authority say none of the money from UK taxpayers is used to pay welfare benefits to prisoners’ families, but the MPs argue that UK aid allows them to use more of their own income to make these payments.
There are four answers to this:
The first is humanitarian. Welfare payments go to families of prisoners, not prisoners. In answer to similar questions former aid minister Sir Alan Duncan aid: “The PA operates social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence”.
The second is also humanitarian. Israeli prisons refuse to provide adequate food and shelter for their 6,000 Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives who in turn have no income. As the Jerusalem-based civil rights organisation Addameer says: “The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations once a month. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.”
The third is political. The Palestinian Authority is answerable to Palestinians and it has no intention of abandoning the families of prisoners. As Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to MPs on the Commons International Development Committee: “The idea that you could have, at this stage in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority that does not treat its prisoners in a certain way, I do not think can exist with the reality we are in.
“If you asked the Northern Ireland warring parties to disavow the people of violence at the wrong moment in that process, one would have undermined that process…
“We de-Palestinianise the PA at our own peril, because the less credibility and legitimacy we impose on it vis-a-vis its own public, the less useful it is, to be honest, for the main purpose it is designed for, which is to be a vehicle for making a peace deal.” Read the Committee report
The 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails include many of the leading Palestinian politicians, such as Marwan Barghouthi, and other elected members of the Palestinian parliament.
The fourth is economic. Palestine would not need any aid from the UK or anywhere else if Israel lifted their restrictions on the Palestinian economy.
As the aid minister Sir Alan Duncan said in March 2014: “A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.”
Palestinians are entrepreneurial and their economy is very resilient in spite of the crippling burden of the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli theft of land, water and resources in the West Bank, which alone was estimated by the World Bank to cost $3.4 billion a year or 35% of Palestine’s GDP.
The UK’s Palestinian aid budget is a subsidy not so much to Palestinians as to the Israeli government whose obligation it is under international law to shoulder all the costs of occupation.
Sources in the British Foreign Office said: “We are not stopping aid to the Palestinian Authority overall, just delaying it to a date when we know our money won’t be going to people who do nothing in return for it.”
The former Labour and now independent peer Norman Warner sponsored a debate about Palestinian children in the House of Lords just as it was breaking up for the summer recess which produced many powerful speeches, not least from Lord Warner himself.
Here we reproduce a speech by the new Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Oates as an example of how the strongest criticism of Israel can come from people who regard themselves as friends of Israel:
“My criticisms of the occupation and its inevitable and devastating impacts on Palestinian children arise not out of any hostility to Israel, but, quite the contrary, from a profound respect for the achievements of Israel and its people, and the consequent horror that its values are being so corrupted by the near 50-year occupation and consequent oppression of millions of people. Israel is the only state in the region in which I, as a gay man, could live freely and under the protection of law. I have a great respect for the values of Israel.
“Nevertheless, while there is no comparison between the Government of Israel and that of apartheid South Africa, it is unavoidable and undeniable that many conditions that pertain in the Occupied Territories are similar to those that those of us who spent time in South Africa saw under the apartheid regime: the occupation and settlement of land; the checkpoints; the bulldozing of homes; the military incursions; the detentions of minors; the disregard for legal rights; the night raids; the closed roads; the separate laws; the ongoing humiliations; the deepening anger; the loss of hope; the spread of violence; the settler retaliations; the authorities’ passive and sometimes active acquiescence in the excesses of their own settlers, with whom they inevitably side; and the steady dehumanisation of one side by the other. None of this should be surprising. Whenever one people seeks to rule another through occupation and settlement, it is inevitable that similar methods will be used and similar reactions engendered.
“In all this, children are always in the crossfire: oppressed and exploited by the vile Hamas regime in Gaza and suffering under the suffocating Israeli economic blockade and periodic and overwhelming military assaults in response to Hamas attacks. Or else they are radicalised in the West Bank from years of witnessing their parents humiliated and defeated, and their own aspirations curtailed and destroyed. Hundreds of children are killed, thousands maimed and hundreds of thousands traumatised.
“Given the occupation, it is inevitable that young people come into conflict with the occupying forces. In June 2012 the FCO funded a report into children in military custody, which found that Israel’s military detention system violated six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In February 2013, as has also been alluded to, a UNICEF report described the ill treatment of children in the military detention system as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.
“B’Tselem itself has reluctantly concluded that there is no point continuing to file complaints against the military detention system as it has no desire to give credence to a justice system in which there is no justice. A review of developments since the 2012 FCO report indicated that just one of the report’s 40 recommendations had been addressed four years later.
“All of us who passionately believe in Israel need to recognise that true friendship does not lie in defending the indefensible. It exists in having the courage to acknowledge and confront the truth. Organisations such as B’Tselem understand this. Their painstaking work does not, as some detractors suggest, give succour to Israel’s enemies. On the contrary, it bears witness to the enduring values for which Israel was created. After the 1967 war, the founding Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, presciently warned that the continued occupation and settlement of the Palestinian Territories would corrupt the valiant soul of Israel. Nowhere is that more evident than in the willingness of the Israeli authorities to countenance the terrible suffering of Palestinian children as an acceptable price of occupation and settlement.”
Thank you to Owen Smith’s team for forwarding us this response from the Labour Leadership team to Grahame Morris MP, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. We hope this will be helpful for those Labour Party members deciding how to vote.
Owen Smith writes:
“I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.
“I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security.
“The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised,within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises.Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.
“I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.
“I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation.
As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East makes an important contribution to that understanding.”
Members will already be familiar with Jeremy Corbyn’s views on all these issues. To recap, during the 2015 leadership election Labour Friends of Palestine asked the candidates for their views on six issues: Are settlements illegal? UK recognise Palestine? Lift the blockade of Gaza? Stop settlement trade? Suspend tariff reductions? Stop arms sales? Jeremy Corbyn answered yes to all of them.
Westminster Hall debate on “Local government and ethical procurement” House of Commons Tuesday 15th March at 14.30 – 16.00 Introduced by Richard Burden MP
MPs will have their first opportunity on Tuesday to debate two proposed government regulations which seek to restrict even further any discretion that public bodies still have over decisions on contracts, procurement or pension funds other than on strictly financial grounds.
The government is using parliamentary procedures that leave very little opportunity for scrutiny and debate, but Richard Burden MP has succeeded in getting a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall at 2.30 pm on Tuesday.
Although the regulations cover any kind of action against any country, there is no doubt that their main target are the councils that are trying to take action against illegal Israeli settlements and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
This is clear from two facts:
First, the original announcement did not come either of the two sponsoring departments, the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office, but in a Conservative party press release on the Saturday before last year’s Conservative conference.
The press release claimed the regulations would stop ‘militant left-wing councils’ boycotting Israeli goods and named Leicester City Council as a target.
Leicester City council passed a motion in November 2014 to ban goods from illegal settlements “insofar as legal considerations allow”. Similar motions have been passed by seven other councils.
Secondly, the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock announced the next stage of the process not in the House of Commons but at a joint press conference with the Israeli premier, Benyamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem.
There also appears to be a disconnect between the two sponsoring departments, Communities and Cabinet Office, and the two departments actually responsible for trade with Israel, the Foreign Office and the Department of Business.
The UKTI website, sponsored by the FCO and Business, announced new business guidance in December 2014 advising UK firms that that it would “neither encourage nor support” them if they traded with illegal settlements and warning them of legal and reputational risks if they did so:
‘There are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment. EU citizens and businesses should also be aware of the potential reputational implications of getting involved in economic and financial activities in settlements, as well as possible abuses of the rights of individuals.’
The Communities/Cabinet Office regulations threaten councils with “severe penalties” if they impose a ban or a boycott on trade and investment with any country unless the Government has already taken a decision to impose sanctions.
So while the Foreign Office is warning UK companies and private individuals against trading with settlements, the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office are threatening to make it illegal for councils and council pension funds to follow their advice.
Britain has a clear position on settlements: “Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.” Yet at the same time it keeps the settlements in business with EU trade worth €300 million every year.
Total EU trade with Israel was worth €30 billion (£23 bn) in 2014 so trade with settlements at €300 is just a hundredth of trade with Israel. But whereas the EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner, Israel accounts for only 0.9% of the EU’s trade. The EU is therefore in a strong negotiating position to force Israel to stop building settlements tomorrow. Even the UK alone could exert very strong pressure.
If the UK government says the settlements are illegal, but does not have the courage to do anything about it, why oh why is it trying to stop local councillors from representing the views of their local communities by refusing to trade with lawbreakers. It is vital to defend the right of councillors to represent the interests of their local communities.
This all started in November 2014 with a motion to Leicester City council not to buy goods from illegal settlements “insofar as legal considerations allow”. The motion was passed, but a pro-settler lobbying group filed for judicial review. Seven other councils have passed similar motions.
A few days later in December 2014 the Foreign Office and Business Department published their long-awaited guidance on trade with illegal settlements. This said that buying goods from illegal settlements carried risks, such as legal disputes over ownership of land or natural resources, over the abuse of human rights and they also carried “reputational implications” for companies, so the UK would not “encourage or support” trade with settlements.
The Israeli government, alarmed at the success of the campaign against firms like Veolia and G4S who were at risk of losing local authority contracts, started to put pressure on sympathetic politicians to make it illegal for councils to follow Leicester’s example.
In October 2015 the Conservative Party issued a press release on the day before their conference saying the government would introduce new policy guidance to public bodies and new regulations for local authority pension funds to stop boycotts against countries that were not already being boycotted by the UK government.
This was announced as a joint initiative by the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office to stop ‘militant leftwing councils’ boycotting Israeli goods. The Leicester motion on settlement goods was cited as a target.
In November 2015 there was another setback for the Israelis when the EU unanimously agreed new labelling rules. Goods from illegal settlements would have to be labelled “Produce of West Bank (Israeli settlement)”. This extended voluntary labelling rules already in force in the UK since 2009.
The UKTI makes it clear that the government supports the right of individuals to boycott goods from settlements and that is why it supports the labelling requirement: “We understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It was in order to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy that, in December 2009, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introduced voluntary guidelines to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories to be specifically labelled as such.”
In February 2016 the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock (above right) announced the new public procurement guidance – at a press conference in Israel with Benyamin Netanyahu – claiming it would prevent “divisive town hall boycotts”, though the wording appeared to fudge the issue of how the guidance related to existing EU and WTO procurement rules.
Clive Betts MP and Richard Burden MP both sought clarification from the Foreign Secretary on this. Clive Betts asked: “Do the Government give exactly the same advice to public bodies, including local councils, with regard to their procurement decisions?” and Phillip Hammond replied: “Yes, they are bound by and must follow procurement rules, but we are clear that we do not support boycott movements.”
[It is worth remembering that what Leicester and other councils want is not even a boycott, but a ban on settlement trade. A boycott is a refusal to buy until a certain condition is met, but a ban on settlement trade would be a legal ruling that trade with an illegal settlement is itself illegal and will always remain so.]
Lawyers says that the guidance does not remove the power of councils to refuse a contract to a company on the grounds of gross misconduct, which can include using stolen land or mineral resources from an illegal settlement.
But campaigners fear that the guidance will put one more layer of difficulty in the path of councils considering action against illegal settlements knowing it will be contested by well-funded lobbying groups in the courts.
The government’s main argument is that local councils have no responsibility for foreign affairs and should not have their own foreign policies. But councils have large budgets and councillors will sometimes take multi-million-pound decisions that impact other countries when they award contracts, procure services or invest pension funds. When they take these decisions, they are still answerable to their local communities.
In any case, as the Foreign Office implied in their business guidance, one may need to consider the “reputational implications” before decided what is the best financial decision.
The government itself is facing in two directions on this issue, with the Foreign Office and the Department of Business warning companies and of the risks of doing business with illegal settlements while the Department of Communities and the Cabinet Office try to make it illegal for public bodies to avoid these risks.
And why Britain is one of the few countries that can help in the Israel-Palestine conflict
Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, Tuesday 9th June 11.30 am
Attempts by Government ministers to justify their continuing refusal to recognise Palestine are looking threadbare after MPs raised the issue at Foreign Office questions last week.
The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond did not challenge the statement by aid minister Desmond Swayne that “the Palestine Authority is now ready for statehood” when it was put to him by Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman.
He even forgot the Foreign Office rule and called the country “Palestine” in his reply instead of the officially preferred “occupied Palestinian territories”.
The main reason he gave for witholding recognition was that it would be “throwing away ..an opportunity that the European Union has to exercise leverage collectively by holding out the prospect of recognition or non-recognition as a way of influencing behaviour”.
This overlooks the fact that nine of the 28 counties in the EU have already recognised Palestine (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Malta, Romania, Estonia and Cyprus).
It overlooks the fact the fact that 137 countries in the UN (out of 193) have already recognised Palestine.
It also overlooks the fact that the House of Commons has voted by 274 to 12 to recognise Palestine.
But the main factor it overlooks is that there is very little leverage in holding out the prospect of “recognition or non-recognition” when it’s pretty clear it’s only a matter of time before we recognise.
If we say a country should be given statehood and is “ready for statehood” and we already call it “Palestine”, then we are close to recognising Palestine as a state. All that is missing is the diplomatic nicety of conferring the recognition by accepting the credentials of its ambassador at the Court of St James.
The other reason the Foreign Secretary gives is one of timing. “We will recognise Palestinian statehood at a time that we judge contributes most to the delivery of a settlement”, as he said at Foreign Office questions this week,.
This seems to imply that the decision is already taken and it is just a question of when to announce it. But he has already passed over several opportunities to say it is the right time to recognise, notably the collapse of the Kerry talks in April 2014.
Palestinians could certainly be forgiven for concluding that Hammond is playing a game with their national aspirations and wants to postpone recogntion as long as possible.
Certainly he sometimes gives the impression of hiding behind the US. He repeated his mantra this week that the “United States … is the only power that has any leverage over Israel” and we should be pressing for “a new, American-led initiative”.
He must surely know by now that this will not happen. Even if President Obama wants one, he could not get another peace mission through Congress.
In any case the EU does have leverage over Israel. The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner. A third of Israel’s trade is with the EU (while only a fortieth of the EU’s trade is with Israel). The EU’s most generous trading agreement is with Israel, giving it duty-free access to the world’s largest market on condition that it respects human rights and democratic values.
If the EU enforced this human rights clause, suspending tariff reductions until Israel reversed its settlement programme, they could make progress overnight. But this would require a unanimous vote by all 28 members. As well as hiding behind the US, Hammond hides behind the EU, calling for “collective action” when he knows it is unlikely to happen.
The truth is that the only countries in a position to make a difference in the Israel-Palestine conflict are Britain, France and other leading EU countries and the first small step in that direction would be for Britain to go ahead – with or without other European powers – and recognise the state of Palestine.