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UK’s largest Jewish body refuses to condemn Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian territory

24th Jul 2020

Harun Nasrullah

The UK’s largest Jewish organisation is refusing to align itself with the national policy of opposing the Israeli Government’s plans to annex Palestinian land.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, a majority of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

members back President Marie van der Zyl’s decision not to condemn the new Israeli coalition government which has pledged to annex around a third of the West Bank, commencing this month.

But van der Zyl, who was elected on a platform of defending Israel, has continued to declare her support for a two-state solution to the conflict.

At a recent Board meeting, she said, “There isn’t going to be a consensus that is going to be reached, and I am very concerned that the Jewish community stays together as a community at what is clearly a divisive time…

Almost all serious peace proposals had included the incorporation of the major settlement blocks in Israel to safeguard security in the Jordan Valley as part of the final agreement.”

Van der Zyl added that the UK Jewish community was “in the main Zionist” and “our interests with the Israeli Government overlap.”

500 British Jewish students and youth movement members put their names to a ‘Communal Youth Letter’ dated April 30, calling on the Board of Deputies to ‘speak up against the unilateral annexation of the West Bank, which will have far-reaching ramifications not only for the region and its inhabitants but also for us as Jews in the diaspora.

“We recall the Board of Deputies’ historical support for a negotiated two-state solution,” the letter continues, “which means that when Israel takes decisive unilateral action that will render a two-state solution impossible to achieve, the Board of Deputies has a responsibility to speak out against it.”

The appeal also states that “being a true friend to Israel means speaking out,” and noted that any possible annexation would impact the safety of the Jewish diaspora and render an Israel that was both “Jewish and democratic” impossible.

A second letter by prominent Jews emerged on May 11 signed by 560 people, which warned that any failure to “defend the two-state solution against threats made to it by all parties to the conflict” would undermine the Board of Deputies and its “credibility and integrity.”

The Board’s silence on the issue comes amid UK Government warnings to Israel not to proceed with the plans.

Conservative Minister James Cleverly told Parliament on May 11 that the Government would not support annexation of the West Bank.

The Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa said the UK was “deeply concerned” about the new Israeli coalition government’s plans which he said were “contradictory to international law,” and that the UK had” made clear our concern” over possible annexation to the UN at a meeting held on April 23.

Asked if the UK considers such a move by Israel “illegal under international law” Cleverly said, “Our longstanding position is such a move would be contrary to international law.”

And he accepted that failure to oppose annexation “could make a sustainable two-state solution harder.”

149 British MPs from all parties wrote to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary urging them to make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation of Occupied Palestinian territory “will have severe consequences including sanctions.”

The politicians, including former cabinet members, ministers and senior diplomats, demanded actions, not words in opposing any Israeli annexation. They said this would be “a mortal blow to chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on any viable two-state solution.”

Van der Zyl has also urged Labour leader Keir Starmer to reject a proposal from his shadow foreign secretary calling for the UK to ban the import of goods from illegal settlements in the West Bank if the Israeli government presses ahead with the annexation.

Labour’s Lisa Nandy had announced the plan, which is being backed the Labour leader, on July 5 arguing Britain cannot be “a silent witness” to Israel’s planned extension of sovereignty to some 30 percent of the West Bank. But in a statement responding to the proposal van der Zyl said she would “urge Sir Keir and the Labour Party not to go down this route.’’

The West Bank is currently home to about 2.8 million Palestinians and 400,000 illegal Jewish settlers.

Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, numerous UN resolutions, including 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476 affirm unambiguously that Israel’s occupation is illegal, and, since Resolution 446 adopted on 22 March 1979, have confirmed that its settlements there have no legal validity and pose a serious obstacle to peace.

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