Overview position statement of July 2019
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine exist to campaign for the rights of the Palestinians through the Liberal Democrat Party. LDFP supports a two-state solution consistent with international law. In the current absence of credible progress towards that goal, LDFP asserts the principle of equal rights for all between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, in conformity with international law. We invite all people of goodwill who believe in the basic rules of the international order to support this principle, regardless of any sympathies for one or other party.
This conflict is now over 100 years old. There can be no doubt that the failure to resolve it justly has been a radicalising factor in some Muslim communities. While Israel has established a home for nearly 45 per cent of world Jewry, it has done so by depriving the indigenous (Palestinian) population of their right to self-determination, and of their land, resources and means of livelihood, rendering millions stateless, refugees either in exile or internally displaced. It continues today to expropriate land and resources in a process which amounts in places to de facto annexation and ethnic cleansing.
A history of British failure to protect the rights of Palestinians
Britain has a particular responsibility. It issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 in favour of Jewish settlement of Palestine. A year later it explicitly declared its intention to allow the people of Palestine freely to determine their own future, only deliberately to set this undertaking aside shortly after, and similarly failed to honour the “sacred trust of civilisation” that it undertook in its 1922 Mandate for Palestine, to prepare its people for independence.[i]
Since 1967 the UK has done virtually nothing effective to dissuade Israel from its occupation, which by legal definition must be temporary. The only substantive exception rests with its drafting of (United Nations Security Council) resolution 242 of November 1967, the preamble of which refers to a fundamental rule of international conduct, ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’.[ii] However, beyond refusing to recognise the legality of the annexation of East Jerusalem (and the Syrian Golan) and of its illegal settlements, the UK has taken no practical steps either alone or in concert with its allies to ensure that Israel respects the prohibition in 242’s preamble, or the Fourth Geneva Convention. On the contrary, it has refused to take steps beyond issuing statements of regret and concern, and non-recognition of Israel’s violations of international law. Such statements have barely inhibited Israel’s progressive colonisation of occupied land.
In December 2016, as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, the UK voted for Resolution 2334. Operative clause 1 ‘Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.’ Operative clause 5: ‘Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in all their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.’
Yet the Conservative government has done nothing to persuade Israel to distinguish between its sovereign and occupied territory (as clause 5 requires), nor has it taken any substantive steps with regard to trade. It does not, for example, forbid the import of goods produced on settlements land, leaving it to the public, unaware or uninterested in the rights and wrongs of the conflict, to make its own decision based on labelling. It has also refused to inform British firms that they must not undermine the will of the UN by trading with illegal settlements. Furthermore, it does not forbid the entry into the UK of Israeli citizens illegally domiciled on occupied and effectively stolen land. In contradiction to the demand of clause 5 to distinguish occupied territory from Israeli sovereign territory, it has also banned British publicly-funded bodies from acting appropriately by withdrawing investments from any company trading with illegal settlements. Rather than applying the principles for which it voted in the Security Council, this Government gives every impression of ‘running with the hares, hunting with the hounds.’
A moribund peace process
When Israel conquered the rest of Palestine in 1967, it repeatedly stated that all it wanted was to be recognised formally by its neighbours behind secure and recognised borders. Both Resolution 242 and the Arab League Peace Plan promise Israel this in a comprehensive peace settlement. However, over half a century Israel has declined to articulate what borders it wants. Besides incorporating an unlawfully expanded East Jerusalem area into its own domestic administration in July 1967, it formally annexed it in 1980 (and the Syrian Golan in 1981). Whilst these flagrant breaches of international law attracted international condemnation, Israel was allowed to continue its international relationships as if nothing had happened. Following the Oslo peace process commencing in 1993, Israel began the de facto annexation of Area C, confining the Palestinians to a series of segregated enclaves.
There are three compelling reasons why the peace process as contained in the Quartet Road Map (2003) has failed:
- The majority of Israeli citizens since 1967 have acquired a proprietorial sense regarding all Palestine with the exception of the Gaza Strip: over 70 per cent of Jewish Israelis do not consider the OPT to be ‘occupied’,[iii] while half of Jewish Israelis consider that God gave the land between the sea and the river to the Jewish people.[iv] A majority believe that there is no solution.[v] During the 2013-2014 Kerry negotiations, 35 per cent of Jewish poll respondents said that if they remained opposed to peace terms approved by national referendum, then they would ‘act’ to prevent its implementation regardless.[vi] It is not credible that any Israeli government would depart from the popular consensus implicit in these statistics unless the cost of not doing so became too high, or changed, public opinion.
- Since Israel controls the lives of both its Israeli citizens and the Palestinians of the occupied territories subject to its military rule, the only credible danger that would change its position would be severe adverse international consequences for failing to do so. Yet, over the past half century, the international community has remained unwilling to apply pressure. Until that changes, there is no possibility of a two-state solution.
Israel’s Nationality Law, July 2018
The opening sentence of this law states, ‘The Land of Israel, in which the State of Israel arose, is the historic homeland of the Jewish people,’ indicating that Israel’s implicit claim goes beyond its internationally-recognised boundaries to embrace all the land to the Jordan. There is clear and intentional ambiguity between the ‘Land’ and the ‘State’ of Israel. The Meretz Party introduced an amendment to prevent the new law applying to territory beyond Israel’s sovereign boundaries, but this was rejected in the Knesset by a ratio of two votes to one. By this ambiguity, Israeldefies international law and the principle of ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ incorporated as the basis for the Oslo Accord and the Quartet Road Map, to which Israel gave its formal assent.
The Nationality Law also affirms, ‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people’, an assertion which defies a fundamental democratic requirement of equality for all the state’s citizens, since this excludes the 20 per cent who are not Jewish citizens. On either count, why has the UK not publicly rebuked Israel?
Gaza has been under siege since 2007, creating a situation of dire poverty and unemployment for over half the population, acute power shortages, and contamination of 97 per cent of its water. According to a leaked US report, the siege is ‘to keep the economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.’ The Trump Administration has exacerbated the situation by withdrawing support for UNRWA, on which 66 per cent of the Gaza population depends. The UN predicts Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Its current population of 2 million is estimated to rise to 4 million by 2050. This situation of collective imprisonment gives rise to great frustration.
Since the commencement of the ‘Great March of Return’ in the Gaza Strip in March 2018, in the order of 300 largely unarmed Palestinians have been killed, mainly by rifle fire and all within the confines of the Gaza Strip.[vii] The Gaza Strip remains occupied territory, according to the international Committee of the Red Cross, , a view shared by most of the international community. The Occupier has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its inhabitants. By its collective punishments, Israel is violating international humanitarian law and the specific undertaking it made in 1995 (Oslo II) to facilitate free and safe passage for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank. Its aim appears to be permanently to cut off the Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestine, and thus undermine Palestinian self-determination.
What the United Kingdom should therefore do
An inconsequential peace process, which does not compel obedience to International Law and norms, provides the occupier with an alibi for continuing its illegal acquisition of occupied territory. We call upon the Liberal Democrat Party to support the following:
- Our Government, either alone or in concert with others, should take the steps necessary to ensure Israel’s respect for international law, and the Palestinian right to self-determination, with the mantra ‘there must be equal rights for all.’ A first step would be formally to recognise the State of Palestine, as party policy already requires, even if the Palestinian Authority is unable to exercise jurisdiction over its territory. This would be an earnest of the United Kingdom’s intention that Palestinian self-determination (which it had betrayed in 1918 and thereafter during the Mandate) should now be realised.
- It should also make clear that under international law Palestinian sovereignty should extend to all parts of Palestine occupied by Israel in June 1967, unless a sovereign government freely of its own will chooses territorial exchanges with Israel.
- It should take appropriate steps to ensure that the differentiation between Israel and the Palestinian (and Syrian) land it occupies as required by UNSCR 2334 is effectively respected in practical ways.4. As a matter of equal urgency, it should press Israel to discontinue its inhumane siege of the Gaza Strip, which violates international law, and to allow free ingress and egress, by land, sea and air.
[i] Respectively, the Anglo-French Declaration, 7 Nov 1918, and the Covenant of the League of Nations, Art. 22.
[ii] Professor Lassa Oppenheim, a leading expert, observed a century ago: ‘There is not an atom of sovereignty in the authority of the occupying power’, Law Quarterly Review, vol. 33 (1917) p. 364.
[iii] Israel Democracy Institute, The Peace Index, Apr. 2016.
[iv] Sixty per cent of those living within the 1949 Armistice Line, 85 per cent of West Bank residents. Akiva Eldar, ‘Are Israeli Jews racist?’ al-Monitor, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/polls-pew-israelis-secular-ultra-orthodox-occupation-god.html?_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+[English]&utm_campaign=239a751b0-March_08_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-2394a751b0-102312605, accessed 15 March 2016.
[v] IDI The peace index, Feb. and Sept. 2015.
[vi] IDI, The peace index, Feb. 2014.
Further information on this topic can be found on the following pages: