Q&A Session with Sir Vincent Fean, Chair of the Balfour Project
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.
What is the response so far from the international community to the prospect of Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory, and how is the British Parliament dealing with this prospect?
Recently the United Kingdom led a delegation of European States to talk to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The members of the European Union were Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. They formed up to talk to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and said three things:
- Annexation would be a clear violation of international law;
- It would have serious repercussions for regional stability, and
- It would harm Israel’s international standing.
That is the formal position of the countries that made the approach to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. What’s missing from that line to take is consequences for Israel if annexation proceeds.
The British Parliament will hold a debate on the Trump proposal, which contains the issue of annexation. No date has yet been set for the debate.
That doesn’t mean that Parliament is silent. There are Parliamentary questions posed about the issue. We will make sure that they are on the website of the Balfour Project, with the Government’s replies.
I would also like to draw attention to a letter of 1 May to our Prime Minister from over 120 Parliamentarians of all parties from the Lords and Commons. They express their fundamental opposition, their outrage at the new Israeli Government’s declared plan to annex areas of Palestinian territories occupied in June1967. It is vital that the UK should do everything in its power to prevent this step.
Annexation violates a raft of UN Security Council Resolutions including 242 and 2334. It strikes a mortal blow to chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on any viable two-state solution.
The letter recalls the joint statement by the UK Government with France, Germany, Italy and Spain last September, which said that unilateral Israeli annexation of any part of the West Bank would be a serious breach of international law.
The law is very clear. There is a read-across to what happened with the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, when those Governments who opposed that step introduced sanctions against Russia.
The letter says that if Britain genuinely upholds the international rules-based system, as Prime Minister Johnson has repeatedly said, we need to prevent other states with territorial ambitions from copying Israeli illegal behaviour. The UK needs to take a lead in standing up to this aggression. It adds that the international community is duty-bound to protect Palestinians under occupation.
Our Prime Minister is urged to make a reality of the British Government statement that any Israeli annexation “cannot go unchallenged”. Our Government should now make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation will have severe consequences – including sanctions.
The letter rightly concludes that words are not enough. Prime Minister Netanyahu has ignored those words of warning from September last year by the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain. We need to prevent the Government of Israel from setting this alarmingly dangerous precedent in international relations.
We await the response of the British Government. It is very clear that a large proportion of our Parliamentarians are deeply concerned about this issue and wish to prevent this Israeli step.
I find that heartening. It’s not enough, but it’s encouraging that there is this message from Members of the British Parliament to our Government calling for action and leadership by the United Kingdom.
My last remark on the international community is that the United States is not performing a leadership role on this issue. Quite the contrary. Israel’s Prime Minister says he is confident that President Trump will support Israeli Annexation. Mr Netanyahu speaks as if this decision is an internal Israeli matter. It is emphatically not a matter of internal Israeli politics. It’s an international issue which is for the UN Security Council to address.
The next question is from Kate Young. Many experts believe that the only way forward is one in which the Palestinians agree on a thought-out way forward. Can you include this idea and proposals for the united way forward in one of your forthcoming talks, please?
It’s not for Britain and not for the Balfour Project to advise the Palestinians on what to do. That said, I listen to Palestinians as best I can, as does the Project. And what I hear is the need expressed for a united voice, united on the way forward, as Kate asks.
Throughout my time in Jerusalem between 2010 and 2014, there were efforts by Fatah and Hamas to reconcile, to bring Gaza and the West Bank together politically. They didn’t work. And there remains a divide between Fatah and Hamas, which objectively weakens the Palestinian voice. It’s better to have one voice.
I hope that Hamas and Fatah can find a way to reconcile their differences in the face of this prospect of annexation. I repeat, it’s not for me, and it’s not for British people to offer advice to the Palestinians on their way ahead.
But it is clear to me that one of the principles stated by the Balfour Project remains valid. It is that Palestinians have the right to self-determination. They have that right. How they choose to exercise it is up to them. But the fact that they have that right is beyond question, beyond debate. So somehow in the future, the Palestinian people should, and I trust will, exercise that right to self-determination and sovereign statehood.
In the opinion of the Balfour Project, recognition by the British Government of the State of Palestine now, alongside Israel, would represent progress. We continue to lobby and advocate for that recognition.
In the end, the united Palestinian voice will be a matter for Palestinians. We will keep listening hard.
The next question is from Professor Kamel Hawwash: at a minimum, what are the UK’s obligations under international law and international humanitarian law towards Israel’s violations of both.? How do we pressure our Government to meet its obligations? And his follow-up question is: What would convince the UK that Israel has killed the two-state solution?
Let me take the second part first: the question about has Israel killed the two-state solution and what would convince the UK that this is so. I go back to my earlier point. I don’t think it’s for the British, who have already done much in this region, not all of it good, to declare any solution dead. The two-state solution for me personally is alive. It’s a question for the people of Palestine and for the Israeli people to determine how they will coexist. The truth being that they need to co-exist and their futures are intertwined forever in the same region. They will always be neighbours.
The two-state solution and whether it’s alive or dead are ultimately a matter for decision by the Palestinian people and the PLO.
In terms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, the requirements of international law are clear. They are stipulated in UN Security Council Resolutions, in the Geneva Conventions, in many, many international accords and treaties. The question is implementation, and that requires political will, which is a factor of democratic pressure on governments to manifest that will.
The United Kingdom has drafted many of those UN Security Council Resolutions, going back to 242, and had a positive hand in Resolution 2334 in December 2016, the last time that the UN Security Council said something meaningful about this issue.
So political will is needed. Political will depends on political choices by governments. People and Parliamentarians can influence those decisions. That’s why lobbying matters. That’s why at our own level, the Balfour Project has put forward a template of a letter which constituents can adapt and send to their MPs about this subject, because we believe in the democratic process. The way forward is to inform and persuade our Parliamentary representatives that the status quo in Israel and Palestine is unacceptable, that equal rights are needed and deserved, naturally, by all the peoples living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, that unilateral annexation is wrong, and that the two peoples need to be enabled and encouraged to find a way forward to peaceful coexistence together.
Lobbying and informing and advocating all matter. A lot of the people who listen to this podcast and who scan our website are already doing that. But it matters. It may take time, but it matters. We should keep going. We will.
Can you say a word on how the Balfour Project is run and, and the need for donations?
Yes, we run on a shoestring. We need some money to ensure that we can grow and that our voice can get louder, particularly in this time of quiet and lockdown. It’s very important that international issues, like Israel/Palestine, don’t get submerged by the news coverage of the coronavirus. And we all know that’s 24/7, almost to the exclusion of everything else.
But life and the world are going on and political decisions are being taken, which have an impact on the equal rights of Israelis and Palestinians. So, I believe that the charity has a useful function now and in the future in order to carry out our tasks of education, awareness-raising, advocacy. We need some money, that can come from several sources. It won’t come from government. It will, I hope, come from some of the people listening to this podcast because we need money to enable us to hold public events when that’s possible again, for us to run these events virtually, between now and then and there I will just mention the event on the 7th of May, we will be showing our Balfour Project film on the British role in Palestine, 1917 to ‘48 and then a Q&A session. Our subsequent events on the 4th of June and on the 30th of June.
More of that in future emails to our subscribers, but to conclude, in order to help us if you wish, you can find a tab on the Balfour Project website, where you can donate. And if you are a taxpayer, you can add Gift Aid to the donation and we need your support. Click here to donate.