By Stuart Littlewood
Earlier this week, in a sham show of ‘get tough’ diplomacy, UK foreign minister Alistair Burt announced that the Israeli ambassador had been formally summoned to the Foreign Office following Israel’s decisions to build 3,000 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority.
“I set out the depth of the UK’s concern about these decisions and I called on the Israeli government to reverse them. The settlements plan in particular has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two state solution.”
He said the British response “stems from our disappointment that the Israeli Government has not heeded the calls that we and others had made for Israel to avoid reacting to the UN General Assembly resolution in a way that undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks.”
A spokesperson said afterwards: “Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union.” This referred to persistent reports that Britain and France had threatened to withdraw their ambassadors from Israel.
Area E1 is to the north-east of Jerusalem. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert recalls how Bush and Condoleeza Rice asked him: “Please don’t build in E1, because if you do, it will be beyond the capacity of the Palestinian leadership to sit with you.” Building there, he says, is “the one thing” which is certain to offend the government of the United States.
Netanyahu’s move, therefore, seems deliberately intended to scupper any chance of peace talks. Once again the situation makes a nonsense of Hague’s clapped-out mantra that issues can only be resolved by a return to negotiations.
The previous day Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “extremely concerned” about the 3.000 new housing units. “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties.” Poor Willie Hague is a bit slow on the uptake because Israel’s illegal house-building on Palestinian land has been going on for decades.
He continued: “If implemented, these plans would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve. They would undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians.”
If he’d been paying attention he would know that this point was reached some time ago.
“The UK strongly advises the Israeli Government to reverse this decision. The window for a two-state solution is closing, and we need urgent efforts by the parties and by the international community to achieve a return to negotiations, not actions which will make that harder.”
There has also been media speculation that France and Britain might consider trade sanctions if the settlement decision was not reversed. But Hague says he didn’t think there’s any enthusiasm around the European Union for that. As The Times of Israel puts it, “EU won’t punish Israel for settlement expansion plan, says Britain’s foreign minister”.
And just to put the whole matter quietly to bed, Israel’s propaganda chief Mark Regev defended Israel’s latest criminal activity, saying that “from our perspective, Israel is responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations.”
Pressure is Building for Sanctions
However, Hague is coming under increasing pressure in Parliament as MPs queue up to ask difficult questions. For example, Sir Gerald Kaufman (who is proudly Jewish) asked point-blank: “Is not the building of additional illegal settlements, in addition to settlements that already house 500,000 people, a blatant breach of international law, together with the theft by the Israeli Government of huge sums of tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians? When will we take action such as economic sanctions or an arms embargo against this rogue state that is committing criminal acts?”
Mr Hague: “The settlements are illegal and on occupied land and the latest announcement undermines Israel’s international reputation and creates doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians. The Government have, of course, strongly advised Israel to reverse that decision…. Only successful negotiation will resolve this issue, and that will require the willing participation of Israel as well as the Palestinians.
Duncan Hames observed: “We have been here before, and he must grow weary of repeating to the Israeli Government his condemnation of illegal settlement activity. Given the importance of Europe as a market for Israeli goods and services, which European Ministers shy away from putting economic muscle behind our protestations, and can he assure the House that he is not one of them?
Mr. Hague: “I do not think there is enthusiasm around the European Union for that. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) talked earlier about economic sanctions in Europe against Israel, but I do not believe there would be anywhere near a consensus on that, nor is it our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back into negotiations.”
Ben Bradshaw told Hague: “The Netanyahu government are completely impervious to condemnation or summoning of ambassadors; it’s time for action. Uncharacteristically, you dodged earlier questions about trade with the illegal settlements. Will you now take the lead in Europe by implementing a ban on all trade with them?”
Hague replied: “My reaction to calls for economic sanctions of various kinds has not changed, but I also want to stress another point I made earlier: we will be discussing with other EU nations what our next steps will be, because the Israeli Government have not yet responded favorably to the representations we and other countries have made. We will be discussing that with other European Governments, therefore, but I would not want to raise the right hon. Gentleman’s hopes that there would be enthusiasm around the EU for such economic measures.”
Like all his Zionist friends Hague has an aversion to international law and economic sanctions – unless they happen to be targeted on Iran, of course. It was not enough that he shamed the British people by trying to blackmail the Palestinian leadership last week, requiring them not to use their upgraded UN membership to pursue Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity and instead to bog themselves down once more in dead-end ‘negotiations’.
Now he shames us again by shirking firm action against the racist regime’s endless land thieving and general lawlessness.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.