This week, one would be forgiven for thinking the UK government is creeping closer to doing more than just standing by and watching the Israeli government’s settlement activity.
Yesterday night saw the House of Commons vote overwhelmingly in favour of recognising Palestine as a state alongside Israel. Although the motion was symbolic, and less than half of our MPs turned up to the debate, it was still a significant – and all-too-rare – opportunity for our MPs to make a statement on the status of the Palestinian territories.
Now a prominent Tory MP and former international development minister has launched a blistering attack against the government of Binyamin Netanyahu. Alan Duncan, speaking this morning at the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) in London, condemned the “wicked cocktail” of occupation and illegality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
The former minister, who served at the Department for International Development until this summer’s reshuffle, is a well-known voice in foreign affairs and has been a long-standing Conservative frontbencher. His words today are the strongest instance of a senior UK politician attacking Israel.
Here are some extracts from his speech:
Israeli settlements are the worst, most destructive, aspect of the military occupation, an occupation which has become the longest in modern international relations.
The continued expansion of settlements demonstrates that the occupier has little or no intention of ending that occupation or of permitting a viable Palestinian state to come into existence.
. . .
This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker. As such, it should be called what it is, and not by some euphemistic soft alternative.
. . .
Over the years, the wood and canvass has turned into concrete, the tents have turned into towns, the towns have turned into fortified cities. Nowhere in the modern age has the wider world so tolerated such brazen and repeated illegality.
. . .
In addition to being illegal, settlement activity is very often violent, nasty, and brutal. Not all, but many settlers are heavily armed and aggressive.
. . .
Occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity: this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame to the Government of Israel. It would appear that on the West Bank of the Jordan the rule of international law has been shelved.
Duncan also revealed that he wrote a letter last June to the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister stating his concerns about the UK dwelling “incessantly” on the Peace Process.
The fact that his grievances had to be aired privately when he was a minister visiting the region in question, and all government ministers, including the PM, abstained from yesterday’s vote, shows how far the UK still is from taking a committed stance against Israel. Successive British governments have condemned the Israeli settlements as illegal, but Duncan points out that it’s time for the western world, including the US, to “combine to protest against” Israel’s “deliberate violation of decent values”.
These are the 10 key points of his argument:
- Israeli settlements are the worst, most destructive, aspect of the military occupation. Their continued expansion demonstrates that the occupier has little or no intention or ending that occupation or of permitting a viable Palestinian state to come into existence.
- Settlements are theft. They should be called what they are and not by some euphemistic alternative.
- Settlement activity is systematically initiated, implemented and supported by the Israeli Government. This is reprehensible.
- In addition to being illegal, settlement activity is very often violent, nasty and brutal, but the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is required to be the guardians of illegal Israeli settlers, not the protectors of Palestinian victims.
- The illegality of settlements is so fundamental a matter of principle that until Israel admits as much, they forfeit their moral standing.
- It is unacceptable to question Israel’s right to exist. It is also unacceptable, however, to deny that settlements are illegal.
- Settlement endorsement- meaning the denial that they are illegal and the support for their consequences- should be considered a form of extremism.
- No settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party, or sit in a Parliament.
- Too many public representatives of Jewish groups seem to feel obliged to defend Israel for everything it does. Whereas Israel has adopted a policy of making itself a self-defined Jewish state that should not mean that Jews in all other countries should be required to become spokesmen for all that Israel does.
10. UK political parties should stop conflating British Jews with the pro-Israeli lobby. We need British Jews for the Conservative, Labour, or other parties; not the Israeli lobby for any party.