Theresa May should put Britain’s opposition to settlement building in the West Bank centre-stage when she meets Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu at Downing Street on Monday. The UK’s credibility can ill-afford a repeat of her recent visit to President Trump in the United States. If Theresa May says she will stand up to her allies when they are wrong, that must include standing up to Israel over settlements too – in line with international law, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which the UK supported as recently as December, and in line with longstanding UK Government policy.
In the last two weeks, Israel has announced the construction of thousands of new buildings in the West Bank and hundreds in East Jerusalem. As both the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territory, all settlement building by the occupying power in either is illegal under international law. Just as important, by confiscating more and more of the West Bank for settlements, Israel is physically undermining the viability of any Palestinian state being established alongside Israel.
UK Foreign Office Ministers – along with those of many other countries – have condemned Israel’s latest announcement of a settlement building spree and that is to be welcomed. The reality is, however, that governments in Israel have for too long displayed a culture of impunity – safely assuming that while their breaches of international law will incur the disapproval of the international community, very little in practice will be done to stop it. Emboldened by some of the noises coming from the White House under President Trump, that culture of impunity has reached new levels under Mr Netanyahu’s government.
All this is why Theresa May must put the UK’s opposition to settlement building centre stage when she meets Mr Netanyahu. It cannot be treated as a kind of side issue to be politely mentioned amid the photo calls and glad-handing that accompanies visits of this kind. Indeed she should make clear to Mr Netanyahu that the preferential trade and other relationships which the UK has with Israel will not be allowed to be used for the benefit of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Existing Foreign Office Guidelines already warn of the dangers of trading financial and investment links with illegal settlements. But the UK Government should strengthen the message that UK business should not collude in the illegality of settlements and that the products of those settlements are not welcome in the UK. Mrs May should underline Britain’s belief that a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine can only be based on equality and security for both peoples. She can do that by acting on the overwhelming recommendation of the House of Commons in October 2014 and recognising the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.
Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to reinforce these messages this Thursday 9th February, when the House of Commons holds a special debate on settlement building, negotiations and the Two State Solution. Taking up many of the themes covered by Resolution 2334 passed by the UN Security Council in December, the motion to be debated in the Commons on Thursday calls for an immediate halt to settlement building and for talks to achieve peace between two sovereign states of Israel and Palestine.
The October 2014 call by the House of Commons for the recognition of the State of Palestine was a powerful symbol of how international support for recognition has been growing in recent years. By passing the motion to be debated this week, the House of Commons can underline the message that Israel must stop flouting international law and that settlement building must stop. And it can also send a signal that whatever the twists and turns that occur in the USA’s policy towards Israel and Palestine under President Trump, there remains an understanding in the broader international community that a lasting peace can only be built if there is equal commitment to the rights of the peoples of both countries.
Richard Burden MP is Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group. This article was first published on the huffingtonpost.co.uk at Monday 6th February 2017.