Palestine/Israel, the FCO and No 10 – briefing by Sir Jeremy Greenstock

Retired Foreign Office Political Director Sir Jeremy Greenstock talked recently with the Balfour Project Peace Advocacy Fellows about British policy on Palestine/Israel, and answered questions about British Government recognition of Palestine, which he supports, and Israeli annexation plans – which he describes as “illegal, wrong, and a poor policy choice” made by Israeli PM Netanyahu. Sir Jeremy spoke from personal experience of U.K. policy and diplomacy from the 1970s until today.
He was present in June 1980 at the Venice Declaration, when the 9 member European Community (including the U.K.), meeting at Head of Government level, acknowledged the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-government, and called on Israel to “put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967”. 
He  discussed the role of the UN and Saudi Arabia (he was Ambassador to both) and the policy interplay between the Foreign Office and No 10 Downing St. –  No 10 rules.

Jeremy Greenstock:

I’ve been involved since 1969 so it’s 51 years since I joined the Foreign Office. I’ve been involved with the Middle East almost from the beginning. The Foreign Office is often described as the camel corps. I have a slight bias towards the Arab and Palestinian perceptions of the Arab/Israel dispute, conflict, catastrophe… But the London political scene has been more attuned to listening to Israel’s views, particularly under the influence of Washington, than the Foreign Office would ideally have liked. I would like to describe, and Vincent I’m sure will feel the same, the Foreign Office approach over my career as being balanced between Israel and Palestine in terms of international law and UN Resolutions, particularly 242.

But we have to carry the mistakes that we’ve made in not implementing the Balfour Declaration on both sides of the equation since 1917 and we still carry that element of conscience about that and of our failings in the post- First World War Mandate in Palestine when we were so unpopular, we had to leave, and a new era took over.

But there is a tension between the even approach of the Foreign Office, which is based on international law, on precedents, on our perceptions of justice, and our long history of involvement in the Middle East, our involvement in Iraq in and after the First World War, in our creation of a monarchy in Iraq in 1932, our involvement in the Middle East politically, and commercially with oil, and in our holding of a permanent seat in the UN Security Council from 1945 onwards.

We in the Foreign Office have tried to create a distinction between British policy and other policies, particularly American policy, in our focus on an even approach to a settlement between the Arabs and Israel, and in resistance to Israeli arguments when they stray from international law or from a proper feeling for justice or into too subjective a view from Israel of what their rights under international law allow them to do.

It’s always difficult to criticise Israeli policy when you’re so easily accused of anti-Semitism in doing so. That is a tool in the Israeli box. But Israel has to recognise that abandoning a two- state solution and the basis of the Balfour Declaration and insisting on repressive security control on the West Bank and in Gaza has downsides for long-term Israeli interests internationally, in the Arab world, and with the West. They’d be protected by America in doing that, and that has enabled them to create an advantage which they need to be careful to sustain by not going across certain lines in international law.

We will talk later on in this session about annexation and what we need to do about it.

Equally, the Arab side has to recognise that the world has accepted Israel as a legitimate state in the Middle East, particularly behind the 1967 borders. And that the world will not abandon that and that therefore there needs to be an evenness in the approach to the dispute in recognising that Israel has security, political, social, economic, and other rights under international law or the UN Charter, which have to be respected if there’s going to be a settlement.

But coming back to the UK, we’ve had considerable trouble in the Foreign Office in persuading Number 10 and various Prime Ministers to take an even approach to the Arab/Israel dispute. And it normally stems and is viewed as stemming from the UK’s very close relationship with the United States – and to some extent from our subservience to the United States in the creation of Middle East policy, which is built into Number 10’s thinking as a norm, more often than not.

John Major tried to be pretty even handed on this. Foreign Secretary Peter Carrington, particularly, in my career experience, was very even-handed on this, but there were very few Foreign Secretaries who were able to stand up to their Prime Ministers when it came to a political flavouring of the UK approach to the Arab/Israel dispute. And not only the American influence but also the influence of the Jewish community in the UK had a hand in this. So all of that needs analysis if you’re studying the UK approach to this.

Let me give you one or two personal anecdotes. I was involved in 1980 in the drafting of the Venice Declaration. I had a job as Deputy Head of the Near East Department in the Foreign Office in London and got very involved in the whole business around Venice. And I think that the UK approach to Venice under the Government at that time, which was Thatcher, was pretty even-handed in trying to construct a foundation for an approach to a settlement that gave the Palestinians, within the negotiation towards that settlement, equal space with the Israelis. But of course, the Palestinians did not have a state, did not have more than an observer presence at the UN and therefore had a disadvantage which showed, and which the Palestinians played rather poorly in that period, as in other periods.

And so we didn’t achieve with the Venice Declaration what we should have achieved. And that was always a great disappointment to me because I had a young man’s ambition with Venice to be playing a part, even if a very small one, in the creation of a new approach to an Arab/Israel settlement. More recently as the Forward Thinking team will know, I’ve been involved with Oliver McTernan and William Sieghart in an approach to things on the ground where we’ve tried to promote an understanding on the more militant side of the Palestinian corpus of what it would mean to negotiate, for Hamas in particular, with an Israel drifting to the right.

I was asked to get involved by Number 10 in 2006 because they were intrigued by Forward Thinking’s contacts with the Hamas leadership, and wanted to know a) whether Forward Thinking was genuine, and b) whether Hamas was an organisation that the British Government could engage with. And so they asked me to play an intermediary role in that.

The more I got involved in understanding what Hamas was, which is not a terrorist organisation, but a political grievance organisation; the more I wanted to take the argument forward between Hamas and Israel and create a basis for further discussions, and indeed negotiation; the further I moved down that line, the more I became toxic with Number 10, who did not want me to do what they asked me to do because it was causing embarrassment for them with the United States. This was in 2006 under Tony Blair. Jonathan Powell was the person who asked me, and Nigel Sheinwald, in Number 10 at that time.

I didn’t get the support from the people who’d asked me to get involved in the way that I got involved. And when I reported back that Hamas had to be regarded as not an absolutist organisation like Al Qaeda or ISIS, but as an organisation making relative judgments about their future interests and therefore could be negotiated with, so long as they made a commitment, only one commitment, to non-violence, the more embarrassing I became to Number 10 and we were abandoned.

So that illustrates the difficulty that successive British Prime Ministers have had, and that includes David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, in taking what I would regard as an even approach to the Arab/Israel dispute.

Let me get on to UK public opinion, which when it’s expressed on this issue, which it has been less and less in recent years as the stalemate seems to have got deeper, when it’s expressed in the UK, it is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than to the Israeli one.

And Israel has to be careful with UK public opinion if it bothers about it. UK public opinion is quite sharply for justice being served in the Middle East. And they see that Palestine has not been given a good share of the argument in that. The Palestinian representatives in the UK have not worked to that public opinion particularly cleverly, in the same way that it has not being particularly intelligent and sophisticated in its approach in the United States in these areas.

And so the use of that slight bias in UK public opinion has not really been played out in the way that Arabs and Palestinians have used it. So it hasn’t come to very much, but if this fires up again, it is a potential instrument for evenness between Palestine and Israel, if we ever came back to this in a serious form, we the UK.

Similarly in the EU the Foreign Office has normally been very closely cooperating with a number of countries in the EU that want to see Palestine given room to create some momentum – Spain, Italy, Germany, France in particular. I did at one stage quite a lot of work with Bernard Kouchner when as Foreign Minister he was trying to get French policy going on this front. But the Foreign Office approach to cooperation and coordination with our European partners has not been reflected in the UK government’s approach at political level and they normally have been regarded in the EU, together with the Czech Republic, with the Netherlands, a little bit with Germany and one or two others, as the backmarkers on Palestine, the more inclined to insist that the Israeli voice be listened to. And that has not enabled a composite European position to be formed.

There will always be outliers who won’t join a more even approach to the two participants. Now that we’ve left the EU, we will not be so influenced in terms of the formation of policy by EU councils.

We will stay, I’m sure, in the Foreign Office, in very close touch with all the major players in the EU on all sorts of foreign policy issues, including this one. But now that we’ve left the EU and are absorbed with not just COVID, but of course with Brexit, there is not much scope in the British Government for looking afresh at the Arab/Israel dispute. And I don’t think there is any chance that in the near future we, as the British Government, will be instigators of a new approach on Palestine. That will make it harder to produce a British decision on recognition of Palestine as an incipient state, which I would support at this point, because there needs to be an evenness between Palestine and Israel within the context of any negotiation towards a settlement. And that could only be brought forward, I think, by many more countries recognising Palestine as a state that needs to implement its status as a state through international help, with some way to go on that front.

That is something that would certainly help a two-state settlement and preserve the possibility of a two-state settlement. At the UN, there was of course a huge majority of Member States who were sympathetic to the Palestine cause. Israel was an outlier, to some extent, a pariah at the UN, protected only really by the US.

Those of you who studied it will remember that normally in the General Assembly on any vote called by Palestine, there were plenty of abstainers, but there were always four votes against: Israel, the US, Guam and some other Pacific territory of the US; and that was all that the Israelis could get on their side. Nevertheless, there was that veto right in the Security Council of the United States. And I think the UK, at least in my time, was more against United States arguments on this issue than on any other in the Security Council. We were of course, as a mission in the UN, given instructions by London to stay closer to the US than I was inclined to, or than I thought the US arguments on the points in hand justified.

But that was the reality about the Security Council. I often used the Arab/Israel subject to show that the UK was not always in the US pocket, to expose the feebleness of US arguments in the Security Council and to try and persuade Palestinians to take a more subtle, more well constructed approach in their arguments to Security Council members.

I came to regard the Palestinian delegation in New York as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council. They were always there and always had to be taken into account on any Arab/Israel debate in the Security Council, because the rest of the UN insisted that the Palestinian voice was heard. And the US could not escape that fact.

But the fact is that international law is a shadowy concept when compared with domestic law, with national laws in national jurisdictions. International law has a very important organisation in the International Court of Justice, which delivers hard judgments; but the UN Security Council does not do that. It may construct international law through chapter seven resolutions, but international law as expressed by the Security Council is de facto a strong expression of a political opinion. And unless it has very wide political acceptance around the world, it doesn’t really have an impact on actual political decisions by Member States.

So international law is a concrete thing in the International Court of Justice and in various other international courts, but it is more of a metaphor when it comes to the use of the UN Security Council. And that was very much my experience in New York.

Currently, who does the UK listen to in getting into this subject? It certainly listens to the Arab States: Egypt and Jordan have special positions in respect of Israel in all of this. We listen to Arab States on Palestine. We listen to the Palestinians. We take account of their arguments, we try and help them both financially in looking after the West Bank and Gaza, and we support their cause. We also try and encourage Palestinians to raise their game and improve their tactics in taking forward their interests.

But the UK is very influenced at the moment and in recent years by the relative drop in the support from the Arab States for the Palestinian cause. Since the Saudis promoted the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 and then camped on that space without really pushing that initiative, the Arab nations and governments have been frankly feeble in their support of Palestine. That feebleness has intensified as the political threat to each regime in the Middle East, in the Arab world, has itself intensified. And Arab governments are frankly more concerned with their holding on to power than they are with the Palestinian cause. And this has been a considerable disadvantage for Palestine in terms of the impact their case makes internationally. Whether the Arab street, whether popular opinion in the Arab world, which is still extremely pro-Palestine and very active in certain places, will ever have an effect, really depends on that popular opinion making an impact on their own governments.

I run a geopolitical consultancy advisory service. I often describe the most important theme in international geopolitics at the moment as not being East-West, North-South, rich-poor, Christianity-Islam, but as being something more subtle than that: the relationship between governments and their own peoples. That is really where geopolitics are being played out, because of the rights of the individual, the greater voice of the individual, making government so much more difficult nowadays. And that’s going to be played out in the pandemic story, in the climate change story, as well as in the Middle East story.

The effect of public opinion on Arab governments is something that needs to be watched. It didn’t really take off in the Arab Spring because the Arab Spring changed some governments but didn’t produce a foundation for better governments in the Middle East, or for better governance in the Middle East. And the Arab Spring has died away.

But the power of public opinion in the Middle East is one thing that the Palestinian cause still needs to activate and to use in terms of the opportunities they may have to promote their arguments for a two-state settlement – if that is what the Palestinian leadership wants, which is of course an equivocal point.

Beyond the Arab world, the UK listens to France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, the Nordics, Italy, in Europe, and we’ll go on doing so I think in bilateral diplomacy. But of course Washington casts a bigger shadow than any of those on London policy-making, and I think will continue to do so even when governments in Washington and London change. And that’s something that I’ve tried to work on because I don’t think Washington policy is even-handed.

Finally annexation. There was a Forward Thinking call the other day with three Israeli political players, which went through the expectation that annexation was going to happen this year now that Netanhayu has got back into government. I think annexation would be illegal, wrong, and a poor policy choice for Israel. But that’s what we’ve been having from Netanyahu governments over the past couple of decades. And I think he is going to make a further long-term mistake in crossing a line with annexation, that is going to be an albatross around Israel’s neck in the future because Israel will be seen to have been so uneven-handed in its approach to the Resolutions on Palestine that it will affect international attitudes to Israel. But Israel doesn’t care about that so as long as it maintains security control. In the new era of geopolitics, hard power is coming back into the equation more than in the 1990s, when soft power was growing.

So in your study of this, you have to take a soft and hard power prism in looking at the capacity of governments to hold on to their perceived interests in this. I regard annexation as likely to be a mistake for Israel in the longer term. But it’s something that Netanyahu, in his service to his father’s memory, has long wanted to move forward with. I don’t think anybody in Israel is going to deter him from that. And there will be a Knesset majority for annexation when that is put to them in the next few weeks and months.

We can discuss how the international community might try and counter that or deal with it, but I think the most likely response of the international community is going to be high rhetoric and low action, and therefore we’ve got a problem with that.

I will stop there and let’s discuss. Thank you all for listening patiently.

Questions

John McHugo

When you talked about, in around 2006, you were asked by the Blair Government and Jonathan Powell to try and establish links with Hamas and you then found they weren’t very interested in your results, it must’ve been extremely demoralising to be achieving something and finding they weren’t interested in it because of political pressures. But would it be possible to go a little further than that? Would it be fair to say that they actually didn’t want you to succeed and had set this up in the expectation that it would fail because looking at Western involvement in the Middle East going back to the 19th century, I almost feel there have been quite a lot of things like this and there was a long stream of moderate Arab leaders, not just with Palestinians but with say Faisal in the First World War or the people who fought against the French mandate in Syria who often came up with very moderate ideas.

But then when it came to it, it was almost as though the Western powers hadn’t wanted them to succeed in the first place. Am I being fair in this with regard to your experience or am I just being paranoid?

Jeremy Greenstock:

You’re being slightly unfair but not paranoid. I think Jonathan Powell was genuinely interested in bringing Hamas forward into the area of negotiation because negotiation between Israel and Ramallah only would not produce an end to the conflict. And therefore with all his experience of Northern Ireland, I think he was genuinely interested as to whether we could learn some of the lessons in Northern Ireland for the Arab/Israel question.

I think it was Blair and people advising him around the political side who said, I can imagine the discussions in Number 10, ‘Be careful how far you go with Greenstock because it could produce problems with Washington’. And in 2006, I think, we had the Annapolis initiative, with Bush cynically trying to park the Arab/Israel problem; and London had other irons in the fire with Washington, and that was true with Gordon Brown shutting down David Miliband and David Cameron shutting down William Hague when they wanted to look closer at the Arab/Israel problem. In the British Government’s overall set of interests they needed to follow, there wasn’t space for expending brownie points on Arab/Israel. It was more that than any cynical approach.

Eleonor Lefvert:

I wanted to continue where you ended on your question about what the international community could do besides high rhetoric. So I was just wondering if you had, if you could choose and pick from whatever ideas you might have what do you think would be a more actual approach towards annexation.

Jeremy Greenstock:

I haven’t got deeply into this, I’ve been working in other fields. So what Vincent [Fean] could say on this is probably more worth listening to than what I can say. My first port of call is going to be Europe. I think Europe has been egregiously feeble on the Arab/Israel question, has not recognised that that support financially for Palestine is merely prolonging a period of imprisonment for the Palestinian people behind the walls of the occupation and international apathy, and Europe should have been much bolder in standing up to Washington on a lot of this. There are trends, there are other trends in American public opinion, the J Street Group and other things that are worth listening to. But the great majority in America I think is unmovable.

I think Europe could be more of a pivotal player, but they’ve been consumed by their own internal problems like the British Government and haven’t got the bandwidth to expend energy and brownie points on the Middle East.

So it’s got to come from somewhere else. China is not interested. I do not think that Russia, although politically sympathetic to Palestine, is going to expose itself on this question because there isn’t the current need, with everything else going on, to do that. Every government has got issues that drop the Palestinian issue down to tenth or lower on their priority list. So till you get some events, and events are very important in the Middle East, to change the equations, you’re not going to get the international community very active on this. Vincent, you disagree with that?

Vincent Fean:

I don’t disagree. I think your analysis is correct. The virtual breakfast meeting I attended today was about British Parliamentary activism, cross-party activism. Finding enough Conservative MPs willing to say to Mr. Johnson that we need to consider sanctions against Israel is challenging, but there are a number who will sign a letter to that effect. You’re right about the appetite across Europe as well. So in these circumstances, those of us who care, what can we do?


Try to prick the conscience. You talked about an expression of conscience about British involvement from the time of the Balfour Declaration to today. That is what the Balfour Project is about. Try to prick the conscience. The annexation issue is a big one. I listened today to an MP talking about the demise of the two state solution – which would take us into a new area of one and a half states or one state and the question of equal rights within that.

 I’m not really producing an answer for Eleonor. If there was a state willing to impose economic measures against Israel, that would be novel. I don’t yet see a state wanting to take the lead in doing that.

An interesting non-sanctions related idea came from one of my former Foreign Office bosses recently, when he signed the letter for signature by Peers and MPs drafted by CAABU (signed on 1 May by Crispin Blunt MP and 137 British Parliamentarians). It is a practical, factual issue: if and when Israel annexes, then receiving states, importing states will not have clarity about whether the goods that are coming labeled Made in Israel will be from a place that we deem not to be Israel – ie the Jordan Valley or the settlements. And in those circumstances, is that a problem for Israel or is it a problem for us? It should be a problem for Israel. It’s only a problem for Israel if importing states say it is and put the onus on Israel to clarify where the goods are coming from.

Jeremy Greenstock:

Eleonor, I see you’re interested in the Swedish approach to this.  Sweden’s recognition of the state of Palestine is certainly an example which I think the British government should have followed. If Sweden wants to be bolder and rattle the cages further on this, then that would be a good thing and others would have to choose their stance. But I think we’ll have to wait for after the pandemic and for the next year in EU foreign policy-making for that to happen.

Zac Lewis:

As I was brought up, there was always one issue on which it seemed everyone was in consensus. It was the red line for everyone, that if Israel ever crosses it, it will become a pariah state and therefore, it would never do annexation, and events in the last decade have shown that to be a misguided premise.

So if the international community has proved that it essentially won’t do anything, even now when the Israeli government has announced in public it’s going to annex its illegal settlements in the next three months, the cynic in me is thinking, what else could force pressure and change?

Even typically if there’s like a Gaza flare up, the media coverage on Israel/Palestine is actually quite good, compared to other conflicts in the world. You get quite good coverage from the BBC. I’ve not even noticed on mainstream news any talk about the annexation. Clearly there’s a global pandemic. That’s the primary reason why. But even if you go on world politics, it doesn’t seem to be prioritised in terms of headlines. Obviously as you said, we need an event and we need something activating to get people’s emotions going. It’s very difficult to do that without the media coverage to start off in the first place. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on maybe providing some hope.

Jeremy Greenstock:

It’s a very good question. I think I’m going to say something rather hard. Obviously Netanyahu is moving while he’s got Trump’s cover, in case he loses him in November. So annexation will happen before November. And Netanyahu is taking a deliberate risk with Israel’s international image because he sees the opportunity. To see it through the Israeli perspective, there is never a reason for the Israeli leadership or Israeli public opinion this week or this month, to make a concession on Palestine. There just isn’t the reason to do it today or tomorrow. It’s better to continue the awkward and expensive occupation than to change the scene entirely. There is just no compelling reason to do so.

And politicians make policy decisions on the basis of the possible. It’s always the art of the possible. It is not possible for Israel to move generously and proactively on Palestine within Israeli political opinion. And therefore, my real answer to your question, this is the hard bit, is that really the international community is not going to move Israel. Only events move Israel and those events to move Israel would have to contain an element of violence. I don’t think, short of violence, anything is going to change. Arguments are not going to move Israel.


Ed Pickthall:

We were able to listen in on the Palestinian ambassador’s briefing to some MPs last week and he made the argument that annexation would be the end of the two-state solution. And I wondered what your thoughts were on that.

Jeremy Greenstock:

I don’t think it’s literally true. I think the two-state solution is a policy option that remains there, but it’s another creation of fact, which would have to be undone for a two-state solution to be implemented. So it makes the two-state solution considerably more difficult.

Netanyahu is testing the international community with annexation. If the reaction to it is not punishing for Israel, then he will proceed to annex other parts of the West Bank, probably leaving Gaza to the end.

 Israel is proceeding in small steps, none of which will be big enough to get the international community to condemn or punish Israel. And as the international community gets feebler on this issue, the steps he’s able or prepared to take get bigger. He will judge the size of the step against his expectation of punishment. And as he takes more and more steps, the two- state solution fades, but annexation on its own does not literally put a total X through the two-state solution.

Matan Rosenstrauch:

I heard there are threats from the Palestinian Authority to stop functioning and that can create chaos in a scenario of annexation. So I don’t know, except for a future intifada, what other scenarios that can really change the situation and make any difference?

My question is about public opinion. You mentioned that British public opinion is sharply insisting on justice in the Middle East. And, nevertheless, like Zac, you mentioned it’s not an issue. We have the feeling that it’s more popular than other issues. But not so much recently, of course also because Covid-19, and it all comes back to public opinion because if there is public opinion, then the government will implement an even approach for example recognising Palestine, creating equality, et cetera.

I remember the director of B’Tselem, giving the example of their work when he speaks to European parliamentarians, he said, they say we are already on your side. We know what’s happening. We don’t need this, talk to our people.

So, if there is already a public opinion, what else can be made? Also if you can say where the UN plays into this triangle? Should it be taken into account in our actions or not really?

Jeremy Greenstock:

I have thought about this quite a lot because I was chairman of the UN Association in the UK for five years up to 2016 and certainly UN Association membership in the UK was 98% for wanting Palestine to be taken forward in the ways that we’ve been describing.

But if you do one of those diagrams where words come out larger on your square, the more important they are, Palestine in British public opinion will be quite a small word against health and jobs and poverty and services and everything else.

You’d hardly find Palestine as a major issue. It just isn’t current because the stalemate has wormed its way into people’s understanding of what’s going on and they know they can’t do anything about it.

You worry most about things you can do most about by your worrying, and they can’t do anything about Palestine.

And the UN is fading in its impact, because nation states have pulled the blanket of decision-making into capitals, away from the institutions. In a long period of no change, a long period of world peace, of global peace, the institutions lose effectiveness because they don’t reform themselves. Society is reforming itself, it’s changing. It’s behaving differently with each new year. But the institutions stay the same.

So the UN has a real problem in that sense. But we all realise as global citizens that we need the UN and it’s something that’s extremely important to preserve. But getting a decision out of it that means something is very difficult because the great downside of the UN is that it has very feeble implementation machinery. It can’t punish member states. Member states are in the lead and member states will always vote against the punishment of member states in case a member state itself needs to be punished. So you will never get real punishment out of the UN.

Vincent Fean:

The struggle that you mentioned is uphill. I’m sure the FCO at the bureaucratic level and possibly at the level of James Cleverly and Dominic Raab, I don’t know, are interested in an even handed approach.

This annexation issue is a sharp one. The British government, with the other four other European states that you mentioned, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, have spoken against annexation last September. They will continue to speak against it. My question:  if we can, how do we get beyond that?

That’s the question really of this letter that’s going to go and we’ll get an answer of some description; the bureaucracy will work. But how do we show that this step of annexation is actually a game changer?

I agree with you that it’s not the end of the two-state solution. The end of the two-state solution would only come if the PLO declared it. We British will not end the two-state solution. But can you see a way forward – or do we just keep trying to push the water uphill?

Jeremy Greenstock:

I certainly think you should keep trying and I’ll come back to that in a minute. But the arguments I think against annexation, with MPs and and Government leaders and other people like that, should, I’m sure you’ve calculated Vincent, focus very much on the illegality of annexation: that under the Geneva Conventions an occupier is not allowed to take steps like that. They cannot be recognised in international law. So underline as forcefully and as publicly as you can, that Israel is moving into illegal territory, even in a way beyond just putting settlements out which are themselves illegal and which I first described in the UN Security Council for the UK as illegal. Annexation goes one step further. And therefore you’ve got to shout this from the rooftops.

 MPs will be quite uncomfortable in supporting any move in Parliament to accept, as UK, Israeli annexation. It will not be possible I think for Parliament to allow the UK to accept and recognise Israeli annexation. Therefore if the Balfour Project and others can show MPs that even allowing annexation to go ahead without a very strong representation to Israel would be cowardly and feeble and against the UK interest in the upholding of international law, I think that’s quite a powerful argument.

The other reason you should keep going is what I call the Resolution 598 argument. It was the Resolution that set the Security Council’s view on the ending of the Iran/Iraq war. And it was passed under chapter seven by the Security Council way before the war actually ended. But the fact that the Resolution existed made it easier for Iran to move to a point of accepting an end to the war. And if on the Arab/Israel situation we can establish foundations of law or text or resolutions of solutions that are well-described and have a text to them, it makes it easier at some point when the pressures mount for the parties to move to a point, rather than having to start drafting from scratch at that moment.

And so there is a value which could pay dividends in the future.

Matan Rosenstrauch:

  Sir Jeremy, we all found your presentation and answers fascinating. It does seem that the odds are against justice and equality in Israel and Palestine with the new world order  – Trump coming in, annexation, now COVID. But maybe, just maybe, the annexation would become a game changer. And the Balfour Project will do whatever it can to make sure that it is, because it’s simply unacceptable. Thank you very much for your time. And I want to thank Oliver McTernan and Jordan Morgan and the Forward Thinking team for suggesting to host you for our Fellows.

28 April 2020

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