Letter from Israel to Sir Keir Starmer: For Israel’s sake, prevent Annexation

The Policy Working Group is an Israeli NGO which affirms that it is in Israel’s interest to end the occupation which began in 1967, and to recognise the state of Palestine. In the letter below, it asks the Labour Party leadership to oppose Israeli Government plans to annex parts of the Palestinian West Bank. PWG Chairman Ambassador Ilan Baruch, who co-signed the letter, spoke at a Balfour Project event on Gaza in Edinburgh in March 2019.

Please find the letter below.

       Jerusalem, 10.5.2020

To:      Right Hon. Keir Starmer, Labour Party Leader
            MP Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary

From: The Policy Working Group, Israel

RE: ISRAELI ANNEXATION OF THE WEST BANK

Dear Sir and Madam,

The Policy Working Group (PWG) is a voluntary team of senior Israeli academics, former diplomats, media experts, and human rights defenders who are engaged in advocacy to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and secure a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict based on the two-state solution. 

We are writing to you because, as you are aware, the Israeli High Court ruled that there are no legal impediments to the implementation of the coalition agreement concluded between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Gantz. While the agreement contains many articles that weaken the Israeli legislature and judiciary, of primary concern are Articles 28-29 regarding the process to expedite annexation of parts of the West Bank.

While the fact that unilateral annexation of territory taken by force is illegal under international law is unassailable, annexation in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict will lead to untold consequences that go beyond the seizure of the lands that will be annexed, regardless of the scope.  The issue is not one of territory alone, as annexation of any scope will leave as yet unknown numbers of Palestinians without civil rights, effectively turning Israel into an apartheid state.

We have seen the letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed by 145 MPs calling for economic sanctions against Israel should it proceed with annexation, and we were heartened to note that prominent members of your party were among the signatories.  Similarly, we welcome MP Nandy’s letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling on Britain to use its diplomatic influence to prevent any annexation of the West Bank.

We believe that the passage of the Balfour Declaration afforded Britain a unique role in working toward the realization of the national aspirations of both the Jewish and the Palestinian people.  While the Jewish people’s right to self-determination was realized in 1948, the Palestinian people have been under the yoke of occupation for 53 years. Throughout this period, Israel has defied endless international condemnations and multiple UN resolutions without being held accountable. It now enjoys the patronage of a U.S. president who shares Netanyahu’s view that legitimacy can be won through the unilateral establishment of facts on the ground rather than adherence to international law. Under these circumstances, we fear that the Israeli Government may gamble on the international community’s response to annexation being limited to condemnations alone.

We are aware of the cloud of anti-Semitism that hung over the Labour Party throughout your predecessor’s term as party leader, and we understand that lifting that cloud remains a major goal for the party.  It is in that context that we wish to share our view that a firm stand against annexation is actually in Israel’s best interests. President Mahmoud Abbas has already threatened to dissolve the Oslo Accords and end security cooperation with Israel if annexation goes forward, and there are concerns regarding the future of the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt which, if compromised, would endanger the security of Israel.  Furthermore, a recent poll by the credible Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicates a rise in Palestinian support for violence to achieve independence. Should the Arab street rise up in solidarity with the Palestinians, we will witness the destabilization of the entire region, which would have consequences for European security as well.

The Likud-Blue and White agreement sets July 1 as the launch date for the process to anchor annexation in law.  Given that the U.S. presidential election will take place in November, Prime Minister Netanyahu is likely to implement annexation within the four remaining months of President Trump’s first and possibly final term in office. We believe that the only force that can stop this from happening is a warning from the international community that annexation will bear severe consequences.  We urge you to add your voice to the calls that are beginning to rise from European capitals and advise the Israeli Government that the UK Labour Party will not tolerate annexation of any parts of the West Bank and will consider it a game-changer in terms of UK-Israeli relations.

The PWG wishes to assure you of its highest consideration.

Cordially yours,

Ambassador (ret.) Ilan Baruch, PWG Chairperson

Ms. Susie Becher, PWG Steering Committee Coordinator

CC: H.E. Neil Wigan, UK Ambassador to Israel

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