Vincent Fean on Annexation, International Law and Recognition

Q&A Session with Sir Vincent Fean, Chair of the Balfour Project

Vincent Fean:

It’s a pleasure to be with you. I think it’s important for us to address questions raised by participants at the 2 April talk. We will try and make a habit of that.

Diana Safieh:

Welcome to the new Balfour Project podcast. My name is Diana and I work with the Balfour Project. We will be taking questions from our online lecture series and answering them here in podcast form so that you can share and listen at your own pace. Today we are very glad to have Vincent Fean, who is the chair of the Balfour Project.

Vincent Fean:

It’s a pleasure to be with you Diana. I think it’s important for us to address questions raised by participants at the 2 April talk. We will try and make a habit of that.

Diana Safieh:

Today we are going to be answering questions on annexation, recognition, we’re going to touch on the topic of lobbying and peace, how to help the region of Palestine during the coronavirus, and several other issues.

Two questions on the theme of annexation. One from Ron Mendel. Do you think the two state solution is effectively dead given Israel’s de facto annexation of more and more Palestinian territory? If so, is the way forward a single democratic state where the political, civic and cultural rights of both Israelis and Palestinians are constitutionally recognised? And one from Duncan MacPherson. Given the colonisation of so much of the West Bank, is the two state solution still viable? Would it not be better to press for civil rights for Palestinians in a unitary state?

Vincent Fean:

The Balfour Project believes in equal rights. It believes in equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians. It believes in equal rights for all who live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The issue of recognition, which we’ll come on to later, touches upon that because I believe that British Government recognition of the state of Palestine on ‘67 lines would be progress. Progress in terms of the attitude of Britain.

Coming back to the question about annexation. Since the 2 April talk, there is now the makings of a new Israeli government and in their platform is the prediction that Prime Minister Netanyahu will bring forward proposals on annexation as of 1 July.

This is a major challenge to the policies of the international community. Of the European Union, of the United Kingdom, of all those who have subscribed to a large number of UN Security Council Resolutions going back to 242 in 1967, soon after the Six Day War, which called upon Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 and which leave space for the creation of two states.

So the annexation threat is real. I think it’s true that de facto annexation of much of the Palestinian territory is already underway on the ground. We know that it is not possible for Palestinians to travel freely in the West Bank. We know that settlements and the land around the settlements are no-go areas for Palestinians. We know that firing ranges and national environment parks have been named by the Israeli authorities and that they too are no go areas for the Palestinians.

So what’s the deal about annexation? The issue of annexation is an opportunity for the international community to come together. To come together to condemn it. It was condemned as a unilateral act in September last year by five states: UK, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. We need to focus our attention now on what British civil society and the British Government will do in response to this latest announcement from the Israeli government. It matters. It matters because shifting from de facto annexation today, to de jure annexation goes directly against all those Security Council resolutions I’ve mentioned. It goes against international law –  in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and we’ll come on to international law later. The fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits the transfer of civilians from the occupying power state to the occupied land – and that’s what settlements are.

More than that, the annexation proposal will, if it is implemented, take Palestinian land, which is not under any dispute. Not under any legal challenge. It will take private Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley and switch it to Israeli control, illegal control. Since the next step will come on or after 1 July, it’s very important for us now to focus our efforts on asking the British Government what the response is to that step which has been described by the British Government as a substantial breach of international law. What will the response be?

As to the question of two states or one, as I think I said in my talk, it isn’t for me and I don’t think it’s for us British to state, to predict, to advocate for a solution. It’s for the Palestinian people and the people of Israel to reach an accord by negotiation at some point, because I don’t think that the occupation is going to end other than by a negotiated outcome. But the important thing is that the right of self determination of the Palestinian people needs to be upheld.

It was confirmed by the European Union in 1999, towards the end of the Oslo period, at the Berlin European Council when the states of the European Union, including the UK at that time, said that the right of self determination with the potential to lead to statehood for the Palestinian people is not something that could be contradicted, not something that could be vetoed. I argue that it’s important for us to maintain and uphold the right of the Palestinian people to self determination. I believe personally that the best way for that to be exercised is through sovereign statehood alongside Israel and recognised by the United Kingdom Government. I’m not willing to resile from that position. I think it’s for the Palestinian people themselves to say what self-determination means, what shape it takes.

Diana Safieh:

It’d be remiss of us not to talk about what’s going on at the moment with the global pandemic. What would you tell someone who’s asking how they can help Palestine during this lockdown period?

Vincent Fean:

You’re right, this is a huge worldwide threat, but it’s a particular threat to vulnerable communities in Gaza, in the West Bank, and indeed in East Jerusalem. How can people help? A lot is happening already. I’d like to mention three organisations that I personally value and who are doing good work.

The first is Medical Aid for Palestinians. Many of our listeners will be familiar with MAP. The website of MAP is They’re doing great work in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in the camps in Lebanon. The second one is a British charity called IMET 2000, website Run by Colin Green with a great team of workers in Palestine and focused on medical training and healthcare –  but currently focused on helping against the virus. And the third is a Christian ecumenical charity called Friends of the Holy Land,, which is helping in Gaza, in Bethlehem and around the West Bank and has launched an appeal currently for assistance where any funds that are donated will be matched pound for pound by three generous anonymous donors. Friends of the Holy Land focuses on the wellbeing of Christians in the region, in Gaza and in the West Bank. But we know Christians and Muslims are inseparable under occupation and helping Christians means helping Muslims. So for example, the hospital in Gaza City, al Ahli al ‘Arabi Hospital, which serves Gaza, is an Anglican – founded hospital supported by the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani. Those are my three suggestions.

They are not the only players. They are important at a time when countries are going to be focusing on their own people, on their own needs. Every country has needs. It remains very important that two things happen: that donations to charities such as those three are maintained and indeed increased. But it’s also very important that our own Department for International Development should maintain and increase its development and emergency assistance to Palestine.

Diana Safieh:

Those are some phenomenal charities that you mentioned and I’ll make sure the links are in the show notes as well so you can find their websites there as well. The next questions address the issues of recognition and lobbying your MPs.

So Steve Mendel, don’t know if he’s related to the previous Mendel. “I’d like the Balfour Project to provide those who’d like to campaign for the UK to recognise the Palestinian state, to provide us with a template to use in having meetings to gain support for recognition.”

And then one from Patricia Cockrell:  “I have bombarded my MP with info about demolitions, land grabs, and other violations of international human rights. She just gives me Government policy each time, repeating ‘ We have expressed concerns about this. We are promoting a two state solution’. Isn’t it time to change the record and save life in Gaza and the West Bank?”

And then Gillian Mosely. “How aware of the true nature of Britain’s role in the early days of the conflict do you find most current day British politicians?”

Vincent Fean:

I’ll start  with Gillian’s point about history. One of the aims of the Balfour Project charity is educational, to raise awareness of the role of the United Kingdom before Balfour, during World War I, and in the Mandate period up until 1948, and to go from there to say that gives Britain a unique responsibility to address the situation in Israel/ Palestine today.

That history and that message are not taught in our schools to any great extent. It’s taught a bit in our universities, But the information, the knowledge needs to be more widespread if the people are to know more about what was done in their name in the first half of the last century. And the point is that the impact of what was done in our name then is still being felt today by unequal rights in Israel/Palestine. MPs matter because we’re a democracy, they are our elected representatives, the 650. They matter because they can and do influence our Government. Today we have a majority Conservative government, which means that the Conservative MPs matter, but all MPs matter.

As a result of the 2 April talk, we put together a template letter to be used selectively by our participants, our supporters to lobby MPs. That went out in an email on the 14th of April and is now on the Balfour Project website, I commend it to you as a way of expressing your views if you agree with what’s in the template. And even if Patricia Cockrell’s MP Maria Caulfield responds with the standard Foreign and Commonwealth Office line, it still matters to write, it still matters to lobby, it still matters to go to the surgery when we have surgeries again and talk face to face with your MP.

Why? Because even if the response that you get is the standard Government line –  and most Conservative MPs will give you that – the act of lobbying, the act of intervening, the act of raising your voice will make a difference. MPs react to local pressure as well. That’s good, they should react to local expressions of opinion. So the more you can come together with friends and like minded people in the constituency to express yourselves, the more impact you will have. And changing the record is quite hard. We need to calculate: what is our Government able to do? Many things. What it will do? Fewer. What can we get it to do by lobbying?  And I think that that includes recognition. Recognition which is designed in my mind to change the attitude of the recognising  state. It will not change the occupation on the ground. 130 or more States have recognised Palestine on ‘67 lines and the occupation has not gone away.

But instead of treating two peoples differently, recognition of both States, and Britain recognised Israel in 1950, recognition of both States indicates to both parity of esteem by our people and by our government for both peoples. I spoke earlier about the right of self determination. That right has been exercised by Israel since 1948. The right needs to be exercised by the people of Palestine and recognition even if it doesn’t change the facts on the ground, recognition does demonstrate on the part of the state which does the recognising that it believes that two States should be there, which is UK policy, UK Government policy. No doubt it will come out in a letter to Patricia Cockrell from Maria Caulfield MP. But more than that it gives the recognising  state the responsibility to treat both peoples equally. To treat both governments, both States equally.

Diana Safieh:

I will include the link to that MP template which is on our website, in the show notes so people can find that easily. The next question is regarding international law and we’ve got a couple of questions from Stevie Docherty. There were a lot of interesting questions from this person. This one is on international law. How can international law actually be imposed on Israel regarding UN resolutions, 4th protocol of Geneva Convention, ICJ decision on the illegal wall, Hague Conventions and illegal settlements?

Vincent Fean:

I look forward to a talk by my fellow trustee of the Balfour Project, the lawyer, historian and writer John McHugo. He will be talking in a Zoom gathering organised  by the Balfour Project on 30 June about international law, but in particular about the role of the United Kingdom in the Mandate period. Please tune into John McHugo on 30 June.

International law, in my experience, is as effective as the political will that goes with it. International law is important. The Geneva Convention that Stevie mentioned is important. Not just that. The need to give international law enforcement capacity to uphold it and to ensure that others uphold it too, is a fact. It’s a fact that our Government and our country are going to need more and more in the coming years, whether we’re talking about World Trade Organisation rules or the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. These institutions set the framework for international relations. Britain will need, more and more, not only to respect those rules ourselves, but to have the means of ensuring that other states do the same. There’s no point in us respecting international law if few others are. That situation would undermine the way in which states relate to each other.

I come back to political will. The present situation is that there are a raft of UN Security Council resolutions calling upon Israel to withdraw, starting with 242, and they have not been respected. How do we change that? I come back to political will. There is a need not only to pass resolutions, but to ensure that they are implemented.

Another one comes to mind: Resolution 2334, which calls upon all member states of the UN to distinguish in their dealings between the state of Israel on the 1967 lines and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the land in which the settlements, the illegal settlements, have been built. I come back to political will because it’s where the buck stops. The buck stops with governments. The Government that we need to address is our own, because our lobbying and our democratic rights to ask our Government to act begin at home. It seems to me that the argument to make is that in general, Britain upholds, claims it upholds, international law. Let’s see that in action and let’s see it in action not just with those states with whom we have a problem.

So for instance, Russia and the annexation by Russia of Crimea in 2014, which led to sanctions against Russia which are ongoing. The occupation has been around since 1967, 53 years – and the settlements since soon after that. The settlements are illegal under international law. That was repeated by those five states that I mentioned earlier, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain in September in relation to annexation and that is also highly relevant. What will the British government do if and when the Israeli authorities proceed with annexation via the Israeli Knesset?

Diana Safieh:

Vincent, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions that we didn’t get a chance to do on the live talk, which you can see on our website

If our listeners would consider giving us a donation, that would be fantastic.

Vincent Fean:

That’s important. I mentioned the three charities earlier. They matter in relation to the coronavirus and they matter, come what may. As far as the Balfour Project is concerned, we need help to organise ourselves, to undertake this kind of exchange that we’re doing today. To keep that going, to respond to the questions and suggestions of our supporters and the participants in the talks.

We plan two things which need money. One is to increase and extend the pilot project that we have on Fellowships, our Peace Advocacy Fellows, of whom there are now four attached to the Balfour Project. You can see their CVs and their ideas on the Balfour Project website. We hope to extend the project in the next academic year in the U? For that we need some money: we need to give a stipend to the Fellows and we need to cover the organisational costs of that activity, which is intended to raise awareness and share experiences around university campuses in the UK – and to argue for equal rights for all.

The second big expense of the Balfour Project this year will be a one day conference on Jerusalem at Church House Conference Centre on 27 October. We will be inviting four speakers, two from Palestine, two from Israel, plus British specialists in international law, members of the faith communities, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Members of our Parliament, to think through Jerusalem today. The international law aspects, the British role in the past, the Trump proposal and its attempt to talk about sharing Jerusalem when in fact the offer, the derisory offer, is Abu Dis – beyond the separation wall. And we know the separation wall should go. What should British policy be on Jerusalem today, and tomorrow?

27 October is a date for the diary. To make that event happen properly and to good effect, with some impact on British policy makers, we need to spend  £20,000. Any contribution from our listeners, large or small, will be very welcome. We’ll keep going. But the more support we get, the better we can do the job.

Diana Safieh:

Thanks again, Vincent. All those links that we discussed and all the different documents that you discussed will be in the show notes. Just to remind, our website is See you for the next episode. Bye.

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