Palestinians welcome Boris Johnson’s article on annexation but it does not go far enough

First published at Palestine Forum on 5/7/2020

Boris Johnson and Mahmoud Abbas

The first of July came and went without Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making any announcement on the start, or extent of his annexation plans. TV stations had lined up panels to discuss the issue when the announcement came. Columnists with pens at the ready in all languages were available to analyse and comment on the announcement. Was it what was expected? Was it option 1, 2 or 3. What happens to the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocks? Will the Americans approve what he announces or have they already given the greenlight to what Netanyahu announced?

The above questions remain unanswered as Netanyahu has not made an announcement on the matter.

There are now more questions as to why he did not proceed with annexation. Was it internal disagreements within the Gantz-Natanyahu Government? Was it disagreements amongst the American Administration? Was it disagreements between the US Administration and the Israeli Government? Was it the warning from Jordan that it would put the peace treaty in jeopardy? Was it the PA withdrawing from all agreements with the US and Israel, including the security coordination? Was it the warning not to proceed with annexation that came from all corners of the earth, except of course the US and the settlers? Or was it the British prime minister’s op-ed in Yediot Aharonot?

Although many of the above questions were put to me by friends, activists and the media, the one that came time and again was about Johnson’s article. I have to say that I found it surprising that he was moved to write it. Johnson as he says is a staunch friend and defender of Israel. It would not have been surprising if he had kept his head down, particularly as he is embroiled in managing the Covid-19 pandemic at home.

In his article to Israelis, which was published in Hebrew, Johnson appealed to the Israeli Government not to proceed with annexation stating that “As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”

He therefore had already clarified that he was not doing this as a friend of both Palestinians and Israelis or that he was motivated by a quest for the elusive peace but because he is worried about the impact on Israel. He sets out his credentials as worthy of speaking directly to the Israeli public. At the age of 18, he spent several weeks working in the kitchens at kibbutz Kfar HaNassi. He claims that made him take away “a profound attachment to the State of Israel”. 

Johnson adds to his credentials by saying that “Few causes are closer to his heart than ensuring its people are protected from the menace of terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement.” He further asserts that Britain’s commitment to Israel’s security “will be unshakable while I am Prime Minister of the United Kingdom”. He completes his credentials as a friend by reminding Israelis that “the UK has often stood in a small minority at the UN in defending Israel against unwarranted and wholly disproportionate criticism.”

He then warns as a friend that annexation “would put in jeopardy the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world.” 

He perhaps took on board the remarks by the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaibawriting, again in Yediot Aharonot, recently who warned “Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE.” This perhaps led to Johnson asserting “I have never been more convinced that Israel’s interests overlap with those of our closest partners in the Arab world, including potential security cooperation against shared threats.”

Even when he presents annexation as “a violation of international law”. He again worries that if Israel embarked on this that it would “also be a gift to those who want to perpetuate the old stories about Israel.” 

There is thus far no mention of the Palestinians and how annexation would impact on them, except that he wants to see an outcome that “delivers justice for both Israelis and Palestinians”. However, Palestinians should not get too excited as Johnson still lands on the side of the Zionists rather than the oppressed victims not only of Israeli policies but Britain’s role in their dispossession. He brings up the Balfour Declaration, made in 1917 promising that Britain would use its best endeavours to help Zionists create a homeland for Jews in Palestine, another people’s land.

Johnson is “immensely proud of the UK’s contribution to the birth of Israel with the 1917 Balfour Declaration”. When it comes to the Palestinians, he suggests that the Balfour Declaration “it will remain unfinished business until there is a solution which provides justice and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians”. However, it is important to note that Britain still refuses to recognise Palestine as a state, an act which may begin to deliver this justice Johnson wants to see delivered to the Palestinians. 

The part of Johnson’s letter which excited many was his warning that if annexation does go ahead, the UK will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties”. However, there will be no consequences such as any sanctions or a ban on settlement goods as called for by Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandyrecently.

It is also worth remembering that although the UK did not recognise the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and boycotted the opening ceremony, as I understand it British officials attend it for meetings.

While Johnson’s article came as a surprise for many, it did not go far enough. If not now, when will the UK stand up to its responsibilities and sanction Israel for its many crimes? Since annexation has not started on the First of July, does the UK expect business as usual to continue? Will it look at take up the position on annexation of the so far very supportive HM Opposition stance on Covid19 and consider a ban on settlement goods? Will it recognise Palestine as a pre-emptive strike to protect the two-state solution that it sees as the only solution? 

Palestinians will hope, but Britain will always disappoint them and stand with Apartheid Israel.

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