A transcript of my talk to Open Discussions/ Gulf Cultural Club on 22/7/2020
I thought that in my own talk I would concentrate on what the international community’s reaction has been. As someone who was described as an engineer rather than a law professor, I write very much on the subject. I am from Jerusalem. My parents were both born before the state of Israel was created and I always say that my mother lives here with me in Birmingham. When she is able to return to live in Jerusalem peace would have come to the Holy Land. And she has not been able to go back and live there yet, so peace is a long way off.
I am also married to a lady from East Jerusalem. Imagine as a British person if you were told you are only a resident in Britain. The British government might decide to take that away from you and you may have to move from one place to another or you might have to leave. Imagine what it is like waking up in the morning and being told this is no longer your homeland. It is your homeland, and this is something that people do not understand. I have to say for my wife who has residency one of the worries that she had when we were getting married was what will happen to my residency. That is what the situation there does to you.
The topic of this discussion is Israeli annexation plans. Threat to Multilateralism, Peace and Stability. Israel is a threat to peace and stability. It is not just about its rule over the Palestinians. It has been attacking Syria and Iraq. It has attacked Lebanon. And we are told it might attack Iran as well. So, it is a threat to regional stability and of course the pretext it uses is its own security.
And before I say much about annexation let us be clear. Israel says it has security and sovereignty over the whole land. Never mind about maps. It will not allow the Palestinians to have an external entry or exit point with Jordan, contact with Syrian etc. So, it has done that already.
This is not the first annexation. So, you might say if this is the case why is this different. One of the first questions you might ask is why the heck are we even having to discuss this. What it is doing is illegal. Why does the international community not act now? What it is doing is clearly illegal. And if you want a comparison just think back to how the international community dealt with Russia a major power over Crimea. It immediately implemented sanctions. Some people say in the Security Council America would raise its veto. Russia may have raised its veto but collectively the other countries stood together. So, if you want to compare the situation over Israel the other countries decided outside the Security Council as sovereign nations to impose sanctions on Russia over Crimea. So, there is a precedent as to what can be done. And it has not been done today.
So, what has the reaction been? The Palestinian official leadership rejected the Trump line which included this annexation and when the Israeli government was formed, and annexation was at the heart of its programme the Palestinians said they would withdraw from all agreements with the Americans and with the Israelis. We still do not understand what that really means but we are told there is no longer security co-operation between the two. They refuse to speak to the Americans. The Americans have said that if you want to negotiate with Israel it has to be on the basis of the Trump plan not on the basis of international law and secondly anything you want to talk about has to be within that and you have to effectively sign away all your rights and accept the Trump plan and then see what crumbs you can have.
There were a few demonstrations in Gaza larger than in the West Bank, but things have quietened down which is quite disappointing considering the effect this could have on people. Let us look at the neighbouring areas. The King of Jordan condemned this. He warned that it would trigger a massive conflict. Jordan is in a very sensitive situation because of its borders. It is the only exit point from the West Bank and the make-up of the population has a very high number of Palestinian refugees who would like to go home, and Jordan would like them to go home as well. But most recently the trigger for the annexation has been that the Jordanian foreign minister yesterday started saying that if a two-state solution is not possible a one state solution might happen, and Jordan would not object to that if it could be done.
If it could be done as usual words but no action. There are a number of countries like the UAE who have been expanding their relationship with Israel. There are Emirati planes landing in Tel Aviv supposedly carrying medication for the Palestinians but why did they not go to Jordan as usual and then the medication could be transported in.
Through the formal channels like the Arab League not much was said so the threat is normalisation. A few years ago, there would have been a much larger objection to this from the Arab world, but it has not come. The Palestinian leadership is finding it hard to get condemnation from the Organisation of Islamic Conference and so on. There were words but there was no specific action. From Jordan there was no threat that the ambassador would be withdrawn but there was talk that the peace treaty with Israel would be annulled.
What happened in other parts of the world? We do not have to say much about the USA because that is part of the plan. Can you imagine another situation where the ambassador to a country which is annexing illegally land is on a committee to decide the terms of that annexation? That is exactly what happened. David Friedman who the Palestinians call the settlers ambassador rather than the American ambassador formed the committee which is drawing the lines in the sand. Does this bring back memories of Sykes-Picot? Foreigners deciding the fate of another people by drawing lines in the sand. We are not sure if he is pushing the Israelis to expand more or whether he is restraining them. I think the former. So, we know where the Americans stand. They want annexation but they want it to be in agreement with them.
Other reactions. France’s foreign minister said that the annexation decision could not be left without consequences. My goodness me. Can you hear the threat there? What is he going to do? When France has been really hiking its attack on the BDS movement. So rather than saying the Palestinians are entitled to ask for boycotts they penalise the Palestinians.
Even Germany which normally stands with Israel said peace cannot be achieved by unilateral stops. Australia, another country which normally goes with Israel warned against unilateral annexation or a change in the status of territories in the West Bank. And the Vatican called the Israeli and US ambassadors in to announce their objection to this. The Vatican has recognised the state of Palestine. That is an interesting dynamic itself. International human rights organisations like Amnesty International condemned this as well.
At the official level the European Union has to get 27 countries to agree to a statement. I think they could probably get 24 countries, but they can’t get them all so their statement talked about how important it is to preserve the two-state solution and they still think the settlements are illegal and annexation is an illegal act but no real threats. However, there was a letter signed by a thousand parliamentarians across Europe which sort of alluded to consequences. It did not go as far as sanctions, but it alluded to consequences.
This brings me to the UK. The UK opposition party, the Labour Party was completely against the Trump plan and when it came to annexation the Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy. wrote to her opposite number saying that is not acceptable. I don’t think Dominic Raab has even replied to her letter. However, about 150 parliamentarians in the UK issued a letter which for the first time had sanctions in it. I know that not enough and it is not the government doing it but that is actually quite significant.
Again, she has recently been quoted as calling for a ban on settlement goods. Again, a move in the right direction. At the moment the only thing that is there – it is not even a sanction – is the labelling of settlements products.
What the government there has said is that it took basically the side of sitting on the fence as usual but Boris Johnson wrote an article in Yediot Aharanot but if you read this you did not hear a sort of condemnation because this is an illegal act that should be condemned. It was more that he worries for Israel. Please don’t do it for your own sake. Rather than talking about the impact this would have on the Palestinians and international law he was only talking about his worry that this would not be in Israel’s interest, that it would slow down normalisation with the Arab world, that it would damage its reputation abroad. And he almost finished the letter by saying how proud Britain was and is of the Balfour Declaration.
So, it shows you that where he was coming from is not what was needed at this time. But that is what the UK government here has said. The UK government has always said to the Palestinians work with the Trump Plan. You want a two-state solution talk about a two-state solution but as you have seen from the maps displayed it is not a two-state solution. They used to say two states side by side but that shows you that it is a statelet inside Israel. There are no two states side by side where you have the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem, and you have Israel in the rest of the area.
Although there was condemnation from the world for the act there wasn’t really any action. Interesting is the Jewish community’s reaction. The Board of Deputies which claims to speak for the majority of British Jews who are Zionists and therefore will support Israel and there are some people who are not happy about annexation and want us to take that stand and there are others who are with it. So, we are going to sit on the fence. If you are calling for a two-state solution and you see it disappearing in front of your eyes you can’t call for a two-state solution. If you say that is the way forward, you should not be sitting on the fence you should be saying it is not acceptable.
So, it was left to 300 British Jews and a few of them are very well known, to write a letter to the departing Israeli ambassador saying for them this is beyond the pale and they do not agree with the annexation. They had a better position than the Board of Deputies. They did not talk about the impact on the Palestinians and the impact on the Palestinians is huge. It is difficult unless you live there or go there regularly to understand what it is like to live with the occupation on a daily basis. Very difficult to imagine it happening every day.
Lockdown has stopped me from travelling from Birmingham to London, but I still could travel to London if I wanted to. With the Palestinians it is going to have a huge impact if this annexation takes place. They were against this.
I wanted to finish by saying what is possible. I want to say it is possible for the world to take a stance that is similar to what happened when Russia occupied Crimea. There are lots of instruments they can use. They could look at some diplomatic measures. The Vatican called the ambassadors and the European countries did not. Even that level of protest was not there. They could impose some travel restrictions on the settlers – especially the settler leaders. They could freeze assets as they have done to some key people in Crimea related to that. They could ban settlement goods from coming to the UK. They could freeze the EU-Israel Association Agreement in terms of trade which gives Israel access to the market which is not given to many other countries and which the second clause speaks about respect for human rights.
There are things they could they chose not to do. They don’t even wave them as threat. They always say that a threat would not help with the peace process. What peace process? We are well beyond that. There is co-operation between the UK, European countries and Israel academically and companies and universities. Why should they benefit from millions of Euros of tax payers money now going to the European Union? Millions and millions of euros that go into these agreements with a country that behaves illegally.
And Michel Link the Special Rapporteur in his report of last year set out the types of sanctions that could be taken. Palestinians see the hypocrisy. What they did to Russia they failed to do to Israel. It is being singled out for special treatment that stops accountability.
So that is why we look forward to the International Criminal Court finally deciding that it has full jurisdiction in the area. Two hundred Israeli officials are on the list and they are considering what to do if the ICC begins to work.
So accountability is important. Nothing happened on July 1st that is true, but annexation is coming that is the de jure annexation. Annexation is there already on the ground and everybody sees it. So it is important that we discuss this and continue to pressure our leadership here in the UK and across the world to make sure that annexation does not happen. What the Palestinians have said is it is not good condemning it after it has happened. Let us work together to stop it happening now. Thank you.