Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


5  Israel and British Government policy

New Israeli government

133. The approach of Israeli general elections and the prospect of a new government in early 2009 were among the factors which prompted us to look again at the Middle East. As we noted in paragraph 13, Israel was in the midst of its election campaign when it conducted its military action in Gaza. The elections had been triggered early, when Ehud Olmert resigned as Prime Minister in September 2008 owing to corruption allegations, and his successor as leader of the centrist Kadima party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, was unable to form a new majority coalition.

134. In the elections, held on 10 February, Kadima emerged as the largest party, with 28 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. The main right-wing opposition Likud party gained 27 seats. The Jewish nationalist party Yisrael Beytenu ("Israel is our Home") gained 15, Labor 13 and the Orthodox Jewish party Shas 11, among other results. President Shimon Peres asked Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government, on the grounds that he was more likely than Ms Livni to be able to assemble a Parliamentary majority. On 1 April, Mr Netanyahu took office at the head of a coalition including Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Shas. Mr Netanyahu was unable to bring in Ms Livni's Kadima, as he had wished, as he would not meet her condition of a commitment to a two-state solution.

135. Dr Bregman and Ms Bar-Yaacov both saw the Israeli election results as a significant shift to the right.[303] Given Mr Netanyahu's failure to endorse a two-state solution when he took office, his elevation to the premiership aroused concerns internationally among supporters of a two-state outcome. We asked Mr Rammell about prospects for the peace process and a two-state solution under the Netanyahu government. He told us that in his view "the majority of people who vote for—for want of a better phrase—the right in Israel are voting for negotiations from a position of strength, rather than necessarily being implacably opposed to compromise as a way forward."[304] Giving evidence in early March, while Mr Netanyahu was still negotiating to form his new government, Mr Rammell told us that "in the longer term" Prime Minister Netanyahu was "likely to be committed to a two-state solution".[305]

Administration of the West Bank and East Jerusalem

136. In our discussion in paragraphs 104-127 in the previous chapter of Quartet policy towards the West Bank, we referred to evidence that economic development there continued to be hampered by the administrative and security regime operated by Israel. In its response to our 2007 Report, the Government said that implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA), including on the West Bank, had been "extremely disappointing".[306] The AMA had provided that Israel would work with the US to reduce obstacles to movement on the West Bank "consistent with Israel's security needs, to facilitate movement of people and goods […] and to minimise disruption to Palestinian lives."[307] The FCO provided a more recent outline of the movement and access situation on the West Bank in its Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, published in March 2009. The FCO said that the Israeli movement and access regime "severely restricted the ability of Palestinians to move within the West Bank".[308] In its most recent "West Bank Movement and Access Update", for June 2009, OCHA reported that the Israeli authorities had eased access to four West Bank cities and that this had "significantly reduced the amount of time required for Palestinians to access" them, but that this had taken place alongside "a process of entrenchment" of other measures "used to control and restrict Palestinian movement".[309] As of June, OCHA reported the existence of 613 physical obstacles to Palestinian movement within the West Bank, not including 84 obstacles in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron, 63 crossing points along the Israeli-built security barrier and an average of 70 "flying" checkpoints deployed each week in the territory.[310] The figure of 613 obstacles appeared to be a fall from a figure of 634 reported by OCHA for the end of March 2009.[311]

137. We have on several occasions, while on visits to the West Bank, witnessed Israeli security personnel dealing with Palestinians at checkpoints in what appeared to us to be an unnecessarily disrespectful and humiliating manner. Mr Blair told us that "there probably are no circumstances in which you could have young men in this situation who have the sensitivity, experience and skill to manage it in a way that is easy for the local people".[312]

138. Considerable international attention has been drawn in recent months to Israel's administration of East Jerusalem, as a result of a number of planning disputes and evictions and demolitions of Palestinian houses there. Israel does not regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory, but has annexed it and passed legislation making the whole of the city the country's capital, something which is not recognised by the EU or the US. The Palestinian side wishes East Jerusalem to be the capital of the future Palestinian state. Under the 2003 Roadmap, the status of Jerusalem is one of the "final status" issues to be negotiated in any final settlement. Israel claims that it carries out demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem where the Palestinians concerned have not obtained the required permits, but Palestinians claim that the permits cannot be obtained.[313] The FCO criticised house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem in its Annual Report on Human Rights 2008,[314] and the EU has recently made a number of formal declarations on the issue.[315] In addition to recent developments in the city itself, there are concerns that Israel's continued construction of its security barrier around East Jerusalem threatens to separate the city from the West Bank; in July, OCHA said that "the barrier in Jerusalem weaves around and between East Jerusalem and nearby West Bank towns and villages, dividing communities and neighbourhoods from each other".[316] Overall, in a report leaked in March, local EU Heads of Mission said that, on the basis of its actions on the ground, Israel was "actively pursuing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem", that Israeli plans for the city were "undermining prospects for a […] sustainable two-state solution", and that Israel's actions in East Jerusalem constituted "one of the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peace making".[317]

139. We recommend that the Government should continue to do its utmost to prevent further changes with respect to East Jerusalem, such as its physical separation from the West Bank, and Palestinian housing evictions, that prejudice the prospects of it becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Settlement policy

140. The issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank has long been an area of difference between official Quartet policy and Israeli practice. The British Government regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal, under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbid an occupying power from transferring population into occupied territory. The 2003 Middle East Roadmap, in its first phase, required Israel to "freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)", and dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Israel withdrew four settlements in the West Bank in 2005, as part of the same process which saw it withdraw all its settlements from Gaza the same year.[318] Israel recommitted itself to implementing the Roadmap in the Annapolis Agreement of November 2007.[319] However, Mr Rammell told us that "despite commitments given at Annapolis to freeze settlement activity, there has been significant further expansion". He said that this was a matter for "significant regret".[320]

141. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, at the end of 2008 there were 121 settlements in the West Bank, and a further 12 on land which Israel has incorporated into Jerusalem. There were in addition around 100 settler outposts which are not officially recognised by Israel. The total settler population stood at 285,800 in the West Bank and an estimated 193,700 in East Jerusalem, compared to 276,462 and 181,823 at the end of 2007. The settler population is growing faster than Israel's general population.[321] According to Peace Now, another Israeli human rights organisation, construction starts for housing units in the settlements numbered 1,389 in 2007 and 1,647 in the first nine months of 2008.[322] In late June, Israel approved the construction of 50 new housing units in the settlement of Adam, in order to house settlers relocated from the outpost of Migron, which Israel recognises is illegal and which it says it plans to remove.[323]

142. Our witnesses all judged that continued settlement expansion was, in Dr Bregman's words, "the real danger to the two-state solution". He said that continued settlement expansion would "create a new reality, where you cannot disengage and create a two-state solution […] the building of settlements […] will make it impossible to have two separate entities".[324] Ms Bar-Yaacov concurred, saying that continued settlement expansion "may render a two-state solution impossible" and that "it will be too late if urgent action is not taken to stop [it]".[325] Mr Blair was also of the view that a two-state solution was "not viable if settlements continue to expand and new settlements continue to be developed". He told us that "for a two-state solution to work, there will have to be a major shift in that policy".[326] For his part, Bill Rammell told us that it found it "inconceivable" that progress could be made on the peace process without "movement on the issue of settlements".[327]

143. We suggested to Mr Blair that the Israeli government had shown a lack of either will or capacity to implement commitments which it had made regarding West Bank settlements. Mr Blair told us that "they could do it and they have to do it".[328] However, Mr Blair suggested that if credible negotiations for a two-state solution were underway, "other issues could be dealt with in that context that would help with the settlement issue".[329]

144. Settlements have emerged as the test issue in the relationship between the new Israeli and US governments. Under President Obama, the US is demanding a halt to all settlement expansion, including "natural growth" and expansion within land already demarcated by Israel.[330] In his major speech at Bar-Ilan University on 14 June, Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that his government would not embark on new settlements or demarcate new land for them, but that it would not halt "natural growth" of existing settlements.[331]

145. Bill Rammell appeared to welcome the new willingness of the US under President Obama to press Israel on issues related to the peace process such as settlements. He said: "We can all argue, urge and ask Israel to do things, but having an American Administration who are prepared candidly to push it […] from the perspective of a friend is encouraging".[332]

146. We conclude that expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank prejudices prospects for a two-state outcome, and that, as such, continued settlement activity must call Israel's commitment to such an outcome into doubt. We further conclude that a settlement freeze is a previous commitment of the kind that Israel calls on the Palestinian side to fulfil, and that there are fewer security-related obstacles to Israel's fulfilment of its commitment on settlements than there are to progress on some other issues. We therefore support the British Government in its call on Israel to freeze settlement activity. We welcome the new willingness of the US under President Obama to call on Israel publicly to cease activities which appear unhelpful to a negotiated two-state solution.

Quartet policy towards Israel

147. We have referred to a number of issues where Israel has not fulfilled commitments which it has entered into, or the demands of the UN Security Council, or its obligations under international law. We and others have been drawing attention to these obligations and others over a number of years. We note that in its reply to our 2007 Report, two years ago, the Government said that it was continuing simply to "urge" Israel to work towards: the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the removal of settlements and a halt to settlement expansion, and a reduction in restrictions on Palestinian movement.[333] Against this background, the conflict in Gaza—with the associated concerns about possible Israeli violations of international law which we outlined in paragraphs 61-73—has generated renewed discussion about Quartet policy towards Israel, and whether it should be changed in order to try to secure greater Israeli compliance. We have referred already to the shift in the US stance towards Israel under the new US Administration.

EU RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL AND THE EU-ISRAEL ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT

148. For the UK, the EU is an important channel for relations with Israel. The EU is currently engaged in a major debate about its relations with Israel. EU-Israeli relations are governed by an Association Agreement which came into force in 2000, which gives Israeli goods duty-free entry into the EU. In June 2008, the EU and Israel agreed on an "upgrade" in their relations, to involve more high-level political dialogue, Israeli participation in some EU agencies and programmes, and the possible further integration of Israel into the EU single market.[334] In December, the EU Council confirmed the upgrade plan, which it said "must be based on the shared values of both parties, and particularly on democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, good governance and international humanitarian law".[335] However, in January, in light of the conflict in Gaza, the European Commission froze its technical work on the upgrade.[336] In April, in presenting the Commission's latest review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner confirmed that the Commission would not proceed with the upgrade until the Israeli government made a commitment to negotiations with the Palestinians, and stopped settlement expansion.[337] Member states appeared to be split over the issue, with some supporting and some rejecting the Commission's position, amid claims that Ms Ferrero-Waldner had exceeded her authority.[338] Israel has rejected any linkage between the peace process and the upgrade in EU relations.[339] After EU Ministers' first official meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman on 15 June, the day after Prime Minister Netanyahu's major speech on Israeli-Palestinian issues, the upgrade appeared not to be definitively cancelled, but still on hold, pending further Israeli movement towards EU demands.[340]

149. Mr Rammell told us that the British Government "certainly did not lead the charge" for the upgrade in EU-Israeli relations in 2008.[341] He said that the Government agreed to the negotiations for an upgrade

on the understanding that first, the upgrade was in the context of the Middle East peace process; secondly, that we agreed to a similar upgrade for the Palestinians; and thirdly, that we could use the increased dialogue, including a human rights sub-committee, to address areas of concern.[342]

Mr Rammell said that he thought that the European Commission was right to have halted its work on the upgrade.[343]

150. We raised with Mr Rammell and Mr Blair the possibility that has been floated by some observers of the EU sanctioning Israel in some way. Although he supported halting the upgrade to EU-Israel relations, Mr Rammell argued that "many Israelis feel under siege and the idea that blandishment and sanctions will get them and their Government to do what we need, and what we think is in their interests, is not necessarily the case".[344] Mr Blair implied that it would be premature for the EU to raise the prospect of sanctioning Israel at this stage, given the current international focus on seeking to re-launch the peace process, under political conditions that have already changed.[345]

151. We conclude that efforts at diplomatic persuasion have to date been ineffective in securing Israeli compliance with a number of Quartet demands. We further conclude that the apparent shift in the US approach to Israel under President Obama constitutes an important and potentially effective change in the external pressures facing the country. We further conclude that it is appropriate and potentially effective for the EU to make the planned "upgrade" of its relations with Israel conditional on Israel halting practices which are prejudicial to the achievement of a two-state solution. This could be through a settlement freeze and an easing of Israeli restrictions on access into Gaza. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should specify the conditions that the EU is setting for Israel for securing the "upgrade" in relations.

UK-ISRAELI RELATIONS

152. The FCO told us that the UK and Israel were "close allies" and that the UK was a "friend of Israel".[346] In July 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown became the first British premier to address the Knesset.

153. We conclude that flourishing ties between the UK and Israel are welcome and are in the interests of the people of both states.

154. The Government has recently been taking a stronger stance against Israeli settlement activity. It appears to have been taking the lead within the EU on the issue of ensuring that produce from Israeli settlements cannot benefit from the preferential trade regime which is extended by the EU-Israel Association Agreement to products originating in Israel, understood as Israel within the borders defined by the 1949 Armistice. The FCO told us that the OPTs were not considered to be part of the territory of Israel and that goods produced there were therefore disqualified from the terms of the agreement.[347] Against a background of press reports that settlement produce was on sale in the UK labelled simply as being from the "West Bank",[348] the Government has been seeking to tackle the issue in the first instance by seeking changes in retailers' labelling practices, so as to "provide consumers with improved clarity about the origin of products from the OPTs".[349] The FCO told us that the Government had held a roundtable on the issue with retailers at the end of March 2009, and that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was considering the next phase of consultations before finalising voluntary guidance on labelling best practice.[350] The Government is reportedly pressing other EU member states on the issue in an effort to broaden the move towards tighter labelling practice.[351]

155. In December 2008, the FCO added a warning about purchasing property in territory occupied by Israel to the "travel advice" section of its website.[352] As of June 2009, the relevant text said that:

There are risks involved with purchasing property in Israeli settlements on land considered to be occupied under international law, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan. Potential purchasers should be aware that a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, or between Israel and Syria, could have consequences for property they purchase in these settlements.[353]

156. In February 2009, the FCO withdrew from negotiations on its possible leasing of space in the Hakirya Tower in Tel Aviv, which had been intended to allow it to relocate the Embassy there. The FCO pulled out because of what Mr Rammell said were "concerns" that the company which owns the Tower, Africa-Israel Investments, was involved in settlement activities.[354]

157. The Government's stronger stance against settlements has reportedly aggravated Israel.[355] UK-Israeli relations are also coloured by discussions in the British media, academia and other non-governmental forums of possible steps which they might take to curtail links with Israel. On 23 June, the Foreign Secretary issued a statement in which he said that the Government was "dismayed" that motions calling for boycotts of Israel were due to be discussed at trade union congresses and conferences in summer 2009. The Foreign Secretary said that "calls for boycotts of Israel cannot and do not contribute to peace."[356]

158. We conclude that the Government is to be commended for seeking ways of giving concrete expression to its position that Israeli settlements violate international law. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should update us on its work on the issue of the labelling of settlement produce and the enforcement of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and provide an assessment of the impact of this work on UK-Israeli relations.


303   Qq 47-48 Back

304   Q 155 Back

305   Q 147 Back

306   FCO, Eighth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, Global Security: The Middle East, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 7212, October 2007, para 47 Back

307   Agreement on Movement and Access, 15 November 2005, via the Israeli Foreign Ministry website, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/Agreed+documents+on+movement+and+access+from+and+to+Gaza+15-Nov-2005.htm Back

308   FCO, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 151 Back

309   OCHA-oPT, "West Bank Movement and Access Update", June 2009 Back

310   Ibid. Back

311   OCHA-oPT, "West Bank Movement and Access Update", May 2009 Back

312   Q 189 Back

313   OCHA-oPt, "The Planning Crisis in East Jerusalem: Understanding the phenomenon of 'illegal' construction", Special Focus report, April 2009; "Silwan residents protest slated home demolitions", Jerusalem Post, 8 March 2009 Back

314   FCO, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, Cm 7557, March 2009, p 150 Back

315   EU Council, "Declaration on possible house evictions in East Jerusalem", 11 March 2009; "Declaration on the threatened house evictions in East Jerusalem", 23 March 2009 Back

316   "Excerpts from Upcoming New OCHA Report on the Impact of the Barrier-Five Years since the International Court of Justice Advisory", 8 July 2009, via www.ochaopt.org Back

317   "EU heads of mission report on East Jerusalem", via www.euobserver.com, 9 March 2009 Back

318   "The roadmap: full text", 30 April 2003, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2989783.stm Back

319   "Joint Understanding on Negotiations", 27 November 2007, via the Israeli Foreign Ministry website at http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Reference+Documents/Joint+Understanding+on+Negotiations+27-Nov-2007.htm Back

320   Q 153 Back

321   http://www.btselem.org/english/Settlements/Statistics.asp Back

322   http://www.peacenow.org.il/data/SIP_STORAGE/files/5/3995.xls Back

323   "Master plan for 1,450 settlement homes to be debated, state tells court. 50 homes to be built for Migron families in Adam", Jerusalem Post, 30 June 2009 Back

324   Q 44 Back

325   Q 44 Back

326   Q 241 Back

327   Q 132 Back

328   Q 194 Back

329   Q 241 Back

330   "The Settlement Rift; President Obama has delivered a necessary shock to Israel's right-wing government. Will he now compromise?", Washington Post, 7 June 2009 Back

331   Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University, 14 June 2009, via www.pmo.gov.il Back

332   Q 142 Back

333   FCO, Eighth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, Global Security: The Middle East, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 7212, October 2007, paras 35, 47, 49 Back

334   "EU strengthens Israel ties despite Palestine objections", www.euobserver.com, 17 June 2008 Back

335   Conclusions of the EU External Relations Council, 8-9 December 2008 Back

336   "Brussels freezes talks on closer EU-Israel relations", www.euobserver.com, 14 January 2009 Back

337   "Israel takes bashing in EU foreign relations audit", www.euobserver.com, 23 April 2009 Back

338   "Czech EU presidency splits with Commission over Israel", www.euobserver.com, 27 April 2009; "Israel threatens to end EU diplomatic role", www.euobserver.com, 30 April 2009; "EU-Israel relations set to stay in limbo", www.euobserver.com, 26 May 2009; "EU sketches out conditions for upgrade with Israel", www.euobserver.com, 28 May 2009 Back

339   "Israel threatens to end EU diplomatic role", www.euobserver.com, 30 April 2009 Back

340   "EU-Israel relations set to stay in limbo", www.euobserver.com, 26 May 2009; "EU sketches out conditions for upgrade with Israel", www.euobserver.com, 28 May 2009; "EU-Israel meeting ends with no progress on 'upgrade'", www.euobserver.com, 16 June 2009 Back

341   Q 150 Back

342   Q 151 Back

343   Q 151 Back

344   Q 151 Back

345   Q 243 Back

346   Ev 52 Back

347   Ibid. Back

348   "'Illicit' settler food sold in UK stores: Supermarkets accused of duping customers with 'West Bank' produce grown in Israeli settlements", The Observer, 6 July 2008 Back

349   Ev 52-53 Back

350   Ibid. Back

351   "Britain to crack down on exports from Israeli settlements", The Independent, 3 November 2008  Back

352   "Britain warns against buying in Israeli settlements: FCO says properties may be lost in future peace deal", The Guardian, 19 December 2008 Back

353   http://www.fco.gov.uk/content/en/travel-advice/middle-east-north-africa/israel/fco_trv_ca_israel Back

354   HC Deb, 12 March 2009, col 630W; see also "Britain cancels embassy move over settlement concerns", Daily Telegraph, 5 March 2009. Back

355   "Israelis bristle at attempt to limit exports", The Independent, 17 November 2008; "Britain warns against buying in Israeli settlements: FCO says properties may be lost in future peace deal", The Guardian, 19 December 2008 Back

356   "Foreign Secretary statement on Israel boycotts (23/06/2009)", via www.fco.gov.uk Back


 
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