MPs call for UK action against illegal Israeli annexation and settlements

A debate, secured by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock MP as outgoing Co-Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, was held in Parliament on illegal Israeli settlements and the illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian territory on 24 September 2020. The debate can be watched in full here from 15:14, and a transcript of it can be read here.

Some individual speeches are available to watch below. Others are also available on Caabu's YouTube channel. 

In his introduction to the debate, Stephen Kinnock MP said that "Israel’s consistent flouting of UN resolutions and the fourth Geneva convention has undermined the rules-based order for decades, and the international community can no longer just look the other way."

He continued: 

"The reality is that the constant feature of everything that has happened since 1993 has been the expansion of ​the settlements, which are a flagrant breach of international law. Once we start to erode the foundations of international law on which all the negotiations are based, they are rendered effectively meaningless. We need to bear that in mind as we look back on what has happened since 1993, but it is also vital that we look to the future with hope and optimism.

It is against that backdrop that President Trump and the Prime Minister Netanyahu have come forward with their so-called deal of the century. This is not a deal. It is not a plan. It is not even a starting point for talks. It is a proposal that is fundamentally flawed because it has no basis in law. It is a land and power grab that would mean Israel seizing around 40% of the west bank, with full military and security control over the Palestinian people and their resources. Which Government, in their right mind, would ever agree to such terms? Why would the Palestinian Authority ever enter into talks on the basis of a document that effectively legitimises attempts to destroy any chance of an independent sovereign Palestine?"

He concluded his initial remarks by saying:

"It is essential that the UK condemns any further creeping annexation, but condemnation alone will never be enough. To this end, the UK Government must take the following steps with urgency. First, they must immediately recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 lines. The UK Government argue that recognition should follow successful negotiations, but the logic of this argument is deeply flawed and partisan. It suggests that we are happy to see a 53-year-old occupation persist, legitimising the illegal actions of the Israeli Government and contributing to the brutality and violence that shame us all.

Secondly, the Government must ban all products that originate from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Profiting from such products is tantamount to profiting from the proceeds of crime, and it must stop. When we trade with these settlements, we are essentially telling the world that international law does not matter, and such trade legitimises and facilitates the existence and expansion of the settlements. In 2014, it was right that the UK, as part of the European Union, prohibited trade with Crimea following its illegal annexation by Russia. It is crucial that we are consistent in our application of international law.

Thirdly, the Government must act to end the involvement of UK-based companies within the illegal settlements. In March, the UN published a list of companies that are involved in the settlements, which included JCB, Opodo and Greenkote PLC. Charities actively involved in illegal settlement projects should not be eligible for the privileges of charitable status, including tax exemption. What steps will our Government now take to hold these companies and charities to account? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views on these points. These measures must be put in place immediately: no more excuses, and no more obfuscation from this Government.

Standing here in the Chamber today, it is easy to forget the human cost of this conflict. Visiting the west bank and East Jerusalem with Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and the Council for Arab-British Understanding in 2014, I saw how the settlements touched the lives of those in the occupied territories. I think of the father from Gaza I met in Makassed hospital who was nursing his four-year-old double-amputee son and worrying about his wife in another hospital 20 miles away, who had also had both her legs amputated. ​I think of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, whose residents live in perpetual fear of military demolitions and harassment. I think of the quarter of a million children across the Palestinian territories who the UN identifies as in need of psychosocial support and child protection interventions. What future can these children look forward to? What hope can we offer them? A 10-year-old child in Gaza will already have witnessed three wars and nothing but the siege.

I therefore rise today to convey this simple message to the Minister: act now. Act now to show that Britain is still a country that will give voice to the voiceless and stand up for the rights of the oppressed. Act now to show that Britain is still a beacon of hope and a country that stands tall in the world and strives relentlessly for peace and justice. Act now to help us to believe that yours is a Government who still believe in the rule of law."

Labour MP Julie Elliott, the new Co-Chair of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group also spoke in the debate and said:

"The Trump plan to me was an annexation plan. I said that in this House in January and I believe it now. It was not a peace plan. It was not anything that negotiations or a peaceful solution could be born out of."

She continued:


"The suspension of the annexation plan does not mean that annexation is not happening by the backdoor. The status quo means that de facto annexation continues—the process of taking land and resources in occupied territories for settlements. Today, around 600,000 people are settlers living in settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories. They are living in about 150 settlements and more than 100 outposts.

Since the Trump plan was released, Netanyahu has announced approval of preliminary plans for some 3,500 new housing units in the E1 area. Israel also announced another 1,000-plus housing units in Givat Hamatos and advanced plans for more than 2,000 units in the existing settlement at Har Homa, to mention just a few, and that is just a few. The list goes on and on. Today, I learned of the developments in firing zone 918 in the south Hebron hills, which, again, has already been mentioned. This will mean displacing around 700 villages, where up to 1,000 people live. As of April 2020, there are 455 demolition orders in place—they cover the vast majority of structures in that area, including schools and clinics funded by European countries, and toilets and water cisterns funded by our own now defunct Department for International Development.

As we see, the creep of land being taken by Israel is ongoing. It continues every single day. This makes nonsense of the statement about the “suspension” of annexation. What can the British Government do? Many times I have heard in this House the Government say that they will recognise Palestine when the time is right. We are in a unique position because of our history and our strong record in this area. The time is now to recognise Palestine. It is the time that the British Government recognised the state of Palestine. I firmly believe that the British Government should also bring in a ban on products from the illegally occupied territories.  It is not acceptable that we can bring in bans in respect of Crimea in a matter of days, as we heard, and not do so for the occupied territories."

The first British-Palestinian MP, Liberal Democrat Layla Moran spoke from her own personal experiences and that of her family. 

"In that plan there was mention of Jericho. My family is a Greek Orthodox family, and we had a long history of living in Jerusalem within the city walls, but after 1967, the family moved away because it was no longer safe to raise my mother there. She and her five siblings went to live in Jericho, which is where she grew up. The plan that Trump was putting forward would essentially have meant a suffocation of Jericho. A farmer in Jericho would, under this plan, have had to seek a permit to go and tend to their land. When Members say—I noted the words of the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb)—in the old ways of thinking, “Why don’t people just engage?” it is the equivalent of someone going to where they have grown up and saying to them, “We are going to suffocate the very village where you grew up or where your mother grew up, and you should be grateful that we have come up with this great plan for your family.” In response, Members would turn around and go, “No!”, yet that is what is going on in this case.

It is very obvious that this plan was never going to work. It is very obvious that the peace plan between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel—good for them; all peace is good, and the more peace, the better—is not going to help Palestine. Let us not fool ourselves. What we can do in this House and what this Government can do is recognise my other country, the one I love equally with this one. What that would do is give hope, because ultimately that is what keeps being eroded with every annexation, with every so-called peace plan and with every intervention by Trump. Frankly, he does not believe in peace; he just wants to be re-elected. What we need now is hope, and that is what is in the gift of this Government."

Caabu Chair and Conservative MP Rt Hon David Jones MP, called for recognition of a Palestinian state and that Trump's 'plan' was not the way forward. 

"There will, sadly, never be peace for Israel or Palestine unless a sensible two-state solution is pursued and achieved. The US plan is not the way forward. It would amount to the shakiest possible foundation for a real and enduring peace. As for the United Kingdom, our position has always been clear: we support a negotiated settlement, providing for Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty based upon the 1967 lines, with agreed land swaps and Jerusalem as a shared capital. I believe that that provides the best prospect of peace.

There is, however, one further action that the United Kingdom can, and should, take—that is, the recognition of the state of Palestine. This House already voted in 2014 to recognise Palestine’s statehood, and I suggest that now is the time for the British Government to confirm that recognition. With Israel receiving its own recognition across the Arab world, the two-state talks would enjoy a fairer wind if the parties negotiating were sovereign entities recognised by leading nations, such as the United Kingdom, with global influence. The position of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has consistently been that British recognition of Palestine’s statehood will come when it best serves the objective of peace. That time is now."

In his response to the debate, the Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly reiterated the UK's position on Israel's illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian territory. He said: 

"I have been asked very explicitly in a number of speeches about the UK’s position on annexation, so let me explain it to the House in clear and unambiguous terms. The UK’s position on annexation is that it would be a violation of international law. It would be counterproductive to securing peace, and it would be a significant blow to a viable two-state solution."

However, when asked about a ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements, he misleadingly conflated such a ban with the BDS movement. 

Stephen Kinnock MP concluded the debate by highlight the UK Government's false conflation between banning a trade from products from illegal Israeli settlements which are not in Israel and a boycott of Israel. He said: 

"I thank all right hon. and hon. Members present for what has been a rich and multifaceted debate. If I had to distil it, I think there are five really important points that we need to take away from it.

First, the UAE deal has not stopped annexation. The settlements continue. Planning has been approved for 3,500 new units in E1 and 7,000 in E2. It is blatantly not the case that annexation and settlements have stopped, so we should shoot that fox.

Secondly, the Trump plan has to be taken off the table. It is not a viable basis for negotiations. It represents the breaking of international law.

Thirdly, the British Government must recognise Palestine immediately, on the basis of 1967 lines; otherwise, we are simply not having a realistic or constructive engagement in this process.

Fourthly, on banning trade in products, the Minister kept saying that this is about banning trade in products from Israel, but it is not Israel that we are talking about. The illegal settlements are not Israel. They are illegally occupied territory that should belong to the Palestinians, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) correctly pointed out.

Finally, we need to act against those British companies that are involved in the illegal settlements. It is all very well having guidelines and encouragement, but that is clearly not working. It is time for the British Government to step up to the plate. It is time for tangible action. Hand wringing and expressions of outrage will no longer cut it. We need to see action, and we need to see it now."