“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence” – ex-Minister

In an article in the Mail-on-Sunday an unnamed former minister in David Cameron’s government claims successive governments have allowed donors’ money to shape our policy on Israel

 Read the whole Mail-on-Sunday article

“Last month Theresa May, like David Cameron each year before her, spoke to the annual lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

“She oozed praise for Israel as a democracy, spoke of the constant terrorist threat they face, and condemned the way that Palestinians supposedly incite violence and anti-Semitism.
“Her own policy that considers Israeli settlements on Palestinian land illegal received only a passing mention.

 

“The reason is clear: the Conservative Party wants pro-Israel donors’ money, and principle in the Government’s foreign policy has been relegated.

 

“Matters deteriorated further over Christmas after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful condemnation of the extremism and conduct of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

 

“Instead of agreeing with his comments – which are identical to her own policy – she criticised Kerry.
“Behind this inconsistent and concerning attitude lies a serious and troubling problem.

 

“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.

 

“For years the CFI and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), have worked with – even for – the Israeli government and their London embassy to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK Government policy and the actions of Ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights.

 

“Lots of countries try to force their views on others, but what is scandalous in the UK is that instead of resisting it, successive Governments have submitted to it, taken donors’ money, and allowed Israeli influence-peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of Ministers.

 

“Even now, if I were to reveal who I am, I would be subjected to a relentless barrage of abuse and character assassination.

 

“The CFI is not affiliated to the Conservative Party. It is incorporated in a way that means it is not too transparent about donors. Yet it arranges for the support of MPs and funds regular visits to Israel which distort the truth.

 

“Cameron turned a blind eye to Israeli misconduct – if he ever cared about it – because he was persuaded any criticism would reduce party donations.

 

“It now seems clear people in the Conservative and Labour parties have been working with the Israeli embassy which has used them to demonise and trash MPs who criticise Israel; an army of Israel’s useful idiots in Parliament.

 

“This is politically corrupt and diplomatically indefensible. The conduct of certain MPs needs to be exposed as the poisonous and deceitful infiltration of our politics by the unwitting agents of another country, which acts in defiance of international law, and whose government Kerry called its most extreme ever.

 

“We need a full inquiry into the Israeli Embassy, the links, access and funding of the CFI and LFI, and an undertaking from all political parties that they welcome the financial and political support of the UK Jewish community, but won’t accept any engagement linked to Israel until it stops building illegally on Palestinian land.

 

“This opaque funding and underhand conduct is a national disgrace and humiliation and must be stamped out.”

UN Security Council Resolution – as it happened day by day

Wednesday December 21: In a surprise move late on Wednesday Egypt circulatedkerry a draft of the resolution to other members of the Security Council and asked for it to be put to the vote the following day. It was put on the agenda for Thursday 6pm.

The last time that the 15 members of the Security Council voted on a motion calling for a freeze on settlement building was in February 2011. At that time the vote was 14 in favour and one against. Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China were in favour and only the US against, but the US vote is a veto.

Obama said in the spring of 2015, when he had just 18 months of his term left, that it was too late to launch any new initiatives on Israel-Palestine, but in the last few months – since the summer – there has been speculation that he might nevertheless come up w
ith something in the transition period between the election of a new president in November and his or her inauguration in January.

American presidents have the opportunity when they leave office to continue to exercise power for about 73 days (in this case between November 8 and January 20). From a British perspective this doesn’t sound very democratic, but in America it is accepted as part of the system. Both President Reagan and President Clinton used their transition periods in ways that helped the Palestinians, in Reagan’s case by recognising the Palestine Liberation Organisation and in Clinton’s by holding the Taba peace talks.

Despite these precedents and despite a lot of careful position-taking by Obama during the autumn, suggesting he was at the very least keeping his options open, very few commentators picked up on the fact that the White House was planning an initiative. The few that did assumed that it would come in January when several new states join the Security Council.

So when the news agencies reported on Wednesday that Egypt had asked for a vote the following night, it had an electrifying effect, especially in Israel. It was seen as an attempt to gain the advantage of surprise, of leaving the Israeli goveernment with too little time to put pressure of the smaller, more vulnerable countries to change their minds. Netanyahu cleared 15 hours in his diary for a sustained campaign of lobbying. His aim was simple: to cajole, browbeat or bully Egypt’s President Sisi to take his motion off the table.

Thursday December 22: Thursday did not start well for Netanyahu’s team. They read in the Times of Israel an interview with the French Ambassador to Israel, Hélène Le Gal, saying she thought the draft motion circulated by the Egyptians was “balanced” and that France would probably vote for it.

She made it clear the Israeli government had only itself to blame for that. It was the vote in the Knesset in favour of a law to legalise illegal settlement outposts and the calls from more extreme MPs for a new wave of settlement construction that was pushing Egypt and other members of the Security Council to sponsor this anti-settlement motion, she said.

Netanyahu spent the day on the telephone and so did many of his officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By the middle of the afternoon, the word was that they were in celebratory mood. They had persuaded the American President-elect Donald Trump to call Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the phone and persuade him to postpone the motion.

What threats or promises were issued over the ether is not known but it would be surprising if it did not involve the possible reduction or withdrawal of the State Department’s annual allocation of $1.3 billion in military aid to the Egyptian Army.

Despite his celebratory (and self-congratulatory) mood, Netanyahu cautioned his colleagues against assuming the Egyptians had withdrawn their motion for good and pointed out that it was they had only agreed to postpone the vote. They could table it again after Christmas.

In the event the motion came back a lot more quickly than that. The Palestinian delegation at UN did not let the Egyptian reverse paralyse them and contacted four other countries who currently have seats on the Security Council, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

It turned that all four countries were happy to pick up the resolution that Egypt had wanted to postpone. They issued a statement saying that if Egypt did not clarify by midnight whether it planned to call a vote on the resolution, then they reserved the right to table the motion themselves on Friday.

Friday December 23: The mood turned from joy to panic in record time when Netanyahu heard that the Spanish Chairman of the Security Council had put the motion on the agenda for Friday’s meeting, with a vote scheduled at 19.00 UK time, this time sponsored by New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

Netanyahu was back on the telephone, phoning foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, anyone he could reach in the 15 countries currently on the Security Council. His repertoire wasn’t limited to persuasion and rational argument. He quickly resorted to threats and sanctions.

The prime minister’s bureau announced that Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal had been recalled and that sanctions would be put in place against both countries.

A senior official in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem called New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, and warned that if New Zealand’s move came to a vote, Israel might close its embassy in Wellington in protest.

When this didn’t work, the Israeli PM called Murray McCully, the foreign minister of New Zealand, and told him: “This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not to promote it.

“It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Jerusalem.”

McCully must have wondered whether he was hearing correctly on the telephone line when he heard the voice say: “If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war.”

Netanyahu’s threats are perhaps unprecedented in relations between Israel and another Western country. Israel has a population smaller than London’s (8 million) but it has the fourth best-equipped armed forces in the world according to international defence publications. Nevertheless the foreign minister of New Zealand (population 4 million) refused to budge.

Indeed Netanyahu’s threat is being treated as a joke in his own country. As the Haaretz columnist Zvi Barel said: “A country that declares war on members of the Security Council is either a superpower or a joke. And Israel, despite the fancy dress, isn’t a superpower. Its prime minister has gone out of control, and it has become a country that shoots wildly in all directions, thereby destroying any chance of mobilizing an international coalition to deal with its real threats.”

Netanyahu made similar phone calls to Senegal, a developing country in West Africa that is taking its turn on the Security Council. The Israeli PM has been boasting in recent months of his successful strategy of building up support for Israel among African, Asian and Latin American countries.

He had courted Senegal in particular and felt betrayed by its support for the motion. So he instructed his Foreign Ministry to end all aid programs to the West African country and to cancel a planned visit to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister.

As the hours ticked by, none of these threats seemed to be having the desired effect. Then, a few hours before the vote, Netanyahu called the Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin asked for a closed consultation of the Security Council. A Western diplomat said that Churkin shocked the other ambassadors when he proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas. He said the problem was not the content, but the timing. He got no support at all. They all wanted to go ahead. Churkin backed down.

At 7pm the Spanish chairman called the meeting to order and asked the Malaysian representative to introduce the motion. The speeches were not long. The arguments were familiar. After all it has been the near unanimous view of nearly every country for years that Israeli settlements are illegal and that settlement building should stop. This has been the view of the United States for a long time too, even though Obama found an excuse to veto the last resolution to come before the Security Council in February 2011. The only issue was whether he would tell the US representative, Samantha Power, to veto again or to abstain. For many weeks the answer from the White House had been the same. No decision has been taken. It will depend on the wording. A decision will be taken nearer the time.

Sooner than expected, the Spanish chairman suggested they should move to a vote. There was a strong mood of expectation in the Security Council. The chairman called for those in favour. 14 hands went up. He called for those against. No one stirred. Samantha Power’s hands could be seen on the table in front of her. He called for abstentions. She raised her hand. The chairman read out the result: Resolution 2443 carried by 14 votes to nil.

Ever since President Jimmy Carter in 1980 Israeli governments have felt secure in the belief that – whatever they did – the Americans would guard them from any serious consequences at the United Nations by wielding their veto on their behalf if necessary.

This meant that Israel enjoyed impunity and the United Nations suffered impotence. The Israeli government could flout international law without fear of consequence. The United Nations were powerless and more and more discredited. Obama’s abstention was “a breath of hope in a sea of darkness and despair” according to Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy.

It’s worth sticking with Gideon Levy for a moment. He is no dewy-eyed admirer of Obama. “We must ask U.S. President Barack Obama in fury: Now you’re doing something? And we must ask the world in frustration: What about actions?” But even though it’s too little, too late, it does nevertheless put on public record a truth that will survive all attempts by the Israeli government to change the subject or to discredit the speaker.

In another column Gideon Levy says to his fellow Israelis: “So you can say ‘the entire world is against us.’ You can scream ‘anti-Semitism!’ You can ask ‘What about Syria?’ But in the end this clear-as-crystal truth will remain: The world thinks that the settlements are a crime. All the settlements and all the world.”

The fact that the entire world had spoken, the Security Council of the United Nations had passed a resolution, without dissent, did not in any way inhibit Prime Minister Netanyahu from giving vent to his fury. Within minutes the internet was reporting that he had said the resolution was “crazy”, “absurd”, “underhand”, “reckless” and “destructive”.

Israel’s relations with the United Nations, he said, would be reviewed, and as a first step, Israeli funding for UN institutions that he said were particularly hostile would be halted immediately.

As a parting shot, the Prime Minister’s Bureau accused President Obama of “colluding” against Israel at the UN. “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes,” the bureau said following the vote.

“Collusion” is a loaded word. A Palestinian delegation came to Washington in early December for the explicit purpose of urging the State Department to lift its veto and discussing with them the wording that would be most likely to enable them to do so. This is a part of normal diplomatic process.

At a later stage British lawyers and diplomats were working directly with the Palestinians on the wording of the resolution even before it was distributed by Egypt the first time on Wednesday evening.

The British objective was to advise on how to make the resolution acceptable to Obama without the need for the Americans to intervene directly in formulating it. Again, this is part of normal diplomatic process.

The venom against Obama is likely to continue, especially from Netanyahu, ignoring the fact that from any objective perspective he has been one of the most pro-Israeli presidents in history.

As Haaretz columnist Barak Ravid described the scene after the vote: “The prime minister let loose with a campaign of attacks on Obama that seemed like fake news on a delusional right-wing website in the US. The most bizarre accusation was that Obama was part of a conspiracy with the Palestinians and had in fact abandoned Israel and stabbed it in the back. Yes, the same Obama who just a few weeks ago gave Israel $38 billion in security aid. Netanyahu doesn’t dare say even one tenth of such things about Putin, May or Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

Sunday December 25: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassadors of the UN Security Council member states. An Israeli official said each ambassador would be personally reprimanded.

It wasn’t quite clear whether the American ambassador Dan Shapiro was summoned or “asked to come in” but the result was that he had to see Netanyahu on Christmas Day.

The calling or summoning of the American ambassador was considered a most unusual step. Even more unusual is the fact that unlike the other envoys who were summoned on Sunday to the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu conducted the conversation himself at his office.

Netanyahu also decided to cancel a visit by Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who was scheduled to arrive in Israel in the coming week. A senior official in Jerusalem noted that the decision was taken in light of Ukraine’s vote at the UN.

Tuesday December 27: Netanyahu had said on Friday that nothing would change as a result of the vote. And, as if to prove him right, an article in the Israeli press revealed that the Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee was expected on the following day to approve permits to build 618 new settlement units in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

It pointed out that, since President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, there has been a sharp increase in the number of plans being submitted and subsequently approved for Jewish housing for in East Jerusalem. So far this year plans for 1,506 housing units have been approved, compared to 775 units in 2014 and only 395 units last year.

Until recently, there had been a marked slowdown in the number of plans approved for East Jerusalem, with city planning officials repeatedly complaining that the Prime Minister’s Office was blocking plans seen as diplomatically sensitive.

No one can fault American Secretary of State John Kerry for effort. During what became known as the Kerry initiative he travelled endlessly and worked tirelessly with both the Israelis and the Palestinians for nine months to try to move the peace process forward.

It was supposed to end with a great speech in which Kerry would reveal his blueprint for peace, but the talks finally broke down in April 2014 when the Israeli government made yet another announcement of new settlement building.

On Wednesday John Kerry finally got to make that speech and was finally able to say what he had thought all along. It’s clear he puts the blame mainly on the Israelis.

“The Israeli Prime Minister publicly supports a two state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.

“The result is that policies of this government – which the Prime Minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history” – are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.

“If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won’t ever live in peace.

“The US and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, consistent with the transition called for by Oslo.

“Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes – effectively reversing the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority called for by the Oslo accords the vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution.

“Let’s be clear: settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security; many settlements actually increase the security burden on the IDF.

“If we had vetoed this resolution, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose That’s the bottom line: If we are serious about the two state solution, it is time to start implementing it now.

“We reject the criticism that this vote abandons Israel. On the contrary, it is not this Resolution that is isolating Israel. It is a policy of permanent settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.

“Virtually every country in the world other than Israel opposes settlements.”

In an official UK government response Theresa May said: “We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” she said.

“The government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN security council resolution 2334 last week.

“But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

However the US state department reacted with some bluntness to May’s statement. A spokesperson said: “We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks—which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements—were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

The statement also said: “We are grateful for the strongly supportive statements in response to Secretary Kerry’s speech from across the world, including Germany, France, Canada, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others.”

Israeli bulldozers set to demolish Israeli Arab village to build Israeli Jewish town

Umm Al HiranEmboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to be sending his army’s bulldozers in at dawn today (Tuesday) to demolish this peaceful Bedouin village in Israel.

The Israeli government has long been planning to demolish the village of Umm Al Hiran and evict its inhabitants in order to build a Jewish village with the same name – Hiran – on exactly the same location.

For the last two years Netanyahu has been delaying the demolition because of international protests at this extreme case of ethnic cleansing, but now with Trump elected, he gave the go-ahead for the village to be razed.

The 500 Arab residents of the village have lived in the village for nearly 60 years and were ordered to move there by the Israeli military commander of the Negev who gave them a lease to build a village, farm the land and graze their sheep.

The village leaders say there is no need to evict them as the Jewish settlers can move onto a site nextdoor. “We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours,” says Atwa Abu Alkia’n.

They point out that there is plenty of space – 3¼ million acres – in the Negev and the settlers don’t need to move to the one small acre of land where they have been living since 1956.

The Israeli state has made it clear that the new village is for Jewish residents only and the Arabs must move out.

Villagers say: ‘Why evict us when we can both live here? There’s plenty of space.’

This village is in Israel, not the Palestinian Territories. Its residents are full citizens of Israel. Yet they are treated as though they had no rights, no importance.

At the time of Israel’s war of independence in 1948 the villagers were thrown out of their ancestral village in a more fertile area in the Western Negev to make way for a Jewish kibbutz as part of the drive to “make the desert bloom”.

Eight years later they were forcibly moved again to their present location in the Atir valley in the less fertile northern Negev where they rebuilt their village and called it Um Al Hiran.

“It was a desert with no roads, water, houses or services. We built the village. We invested in the houses, the roads and the water pipes. Life has been tough, but we worked hard to develop this place into a beautiful and wonderful village,” said the village sheikh.

Like all the other “unrecognised” villages in the Negev, they were provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water, no sanitation. They had to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar panels for intermittent power.

This is not because it was remote. On the contrary, the Jewish owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all mod cons. The Israelis do this solely to make life difficult for Arab villagers so they will move.

And it is not a question of money. Often if the villagers try to pave the roads, army bulldozers break them up; if they install water pipes, they are disconnected; if they build stone houses, they are demolished. The Israelis want the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.

This makes it easier for the Israelis to sustain the myth that the villagers are Bedouin nomads who originate from other countries. In fact, while they are all proud of their Bedouin heritage, it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years.

And while a few of the villagers were still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep-farming, Umm Al Hiran also had lawyers, teachers and doctors among its 500 residents.

Last year the leader of the Jewish settlers came and drank coffee with the villagers to ask them, disingenously, why they were trying to block plans for the new Jewish village in the courts.

Salim Abu Alkia’n, Atwa’s brother, explained patiently: “To all the Jewish people who want to live in this town I say that people are already living in this town. We have been living here for 60 years and, even if they demolish our homes, we will stay here forever.”

Israelis can be excused for not knowing about the village, as it does not appear on Israeli maps. Even when the National Council for Planning and Building approved plans for a new Jewish town on the site in 2010, they submitted a map to the planning committee that made no reference to the fact that there was already an Arab village on the land.

When they applied for demolition orders, they claimed the buildings “had been discovered” by an inspection patrol and they had been “unable to identify or reach the people who owned the houses”.

When they applied for eviction orders, they described the villagers as “trespassers” squatting illegally on state land and the magistrate had to point out that they had lived on the land for years with the state’s knowledge and consent.

Aid suspension will undermine peaceful politicians and play into hands of Hamas

 

International Development Questions Wednesday November 16th 11.30 am

Mrs Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con) T2. I welcome the work the Secretary of State is doing to ensure that UK aid to the Palestinian Authority does not directly fund payments to terrorist prisoners, but will she assure the House that she is doing everything possible to ensure that they do not indirectly fund such payments by freeing up resources that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day PA activities?

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Rory Stewart) We have made it clear that our focus will be very much targeted on health, education and co-existence projects. We ensure that any support going in is carefully vetted, with an independent auditor; is directed to what will provide value for money; and, above all, will benefit the Palestinian people.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP) T5. Further to an earlier question, will the Minister commit to fast-track the review of aid for the families of Palestinian prisoners, in the knowledge that any reduction in that aid will bankrupt the Palestinian Authority, undermine politicians who are working for a peaceful solution and play into the hands of those, like Hamas, who want to pursue a course of violence?

Rory Stewart The Department remains entirely committed to the following principles. First, anything we do must encourage a two-state solution by ensuring that the Palestinian people are served with proper services. Secondly, we must make sure that the money goes in the right way to the right people. That is all about auditing, vetting and making sure that the real beneficiaries are there. Of course we will ensure that the review is done as efficiently as possible to serve the interests of the Palestinian people and the stability of the region.

Read this in Hansard

Knesset votes to retrospectively legalise settlements built on Palestinian land

Jerusalem Mayor threatens demolitions as revenge on Supreme Court

The decision of the Israeli supreme court to order the evacuation of 85 houses in an lllegal outpost by December 25 has started a battle for the soul of Israel.

All settlements are illegal in international law but the hilltop settlement of Anona considered illegal even by the Israelis. The Palestinian farmers who owned the land on which it was built went to court and for once the court found in their favour.

The response of the Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu was not to force the residents of Anona to move back to Israel, but to announce the building of a new illegal settlement at Shiloh in the West Bank so he can decant the evicted settlers from one illegal settlement into another.

Even this was not enough for the MPs in his right-wing coalition who voted on Wednesday November 16th by 58 votes to 50 to pass an emergency law that will retrospectively legalise Anona and all illegal outposts.

The reaction of the Mayor of Jerusalem showed scant respect for the rule of law: “Unless Amona is legalised, we’ll have to destroy hundreds or thousands of houses in Jerusalem too.”

In other words he is threatening to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in an act of revenge against the Israeli Supreme Court.

International law states clearly that an occupying power “shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

Yet in 49 years Israel has transferred 650,000 of its own population into illegal settlements in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

One MP from the left-wing Meretz party said the Knesset vote “resembles legislation in third-world countries where laws are written retroactively to whitewash their crimes”.

Another MP from the mainly Arab Joint List party said: “Whoever wants more proof of the cruelty, immorality and violence of the occupation got it in this bill. It spits in the face of the law and the international community.”

The UK government (and all Western governments) have consistently condemned the settlement project as illegal, but have refused to take any effective action even to stop settlement expansion. The EU, as Israel’s major trading partner, could easily exert enough pressure.

The UK now needs to make representations to the Israelis over the announcement of a new illegal settlement at Shiloh, to encourage President Obama to use the period between the election and the inauguration to lift the US veto and pass a UN Security Council calling for an end to settlement building and a deadline for peace talks , and to support the French peace initiative and back whatever motion they move in the Security Council.

 

Six reasons to stop Israel’s illegal settlement project

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.

Crisis

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”.

Balfour

The Government has said it will ‘mark’ the centenary of this famous letter on November 2 2017. But anything that smacks of a celebration is in danger of leading to protests, if not worse. The Palestinians see this letter as the cause of their national tragedy. In any case Balfour’s promise was not just to support a homeland for Jewish people but to do so without “prejudicing the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – which it has clearly failed to do.
Can we allow the occupation of Palestine to enter its second half century without any serious attempt to bring it to an end? Can we allow the centenary of the Balfour Declaration to pass without any attempt to fulfil our national promise that the creation of national home for Jewish people would not be done at the expense of the rights of Palestinians?


Trade

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.

Academia article

Wikipedia article 

World Bank information