Israel-Palestine: in search of the rule of law

Summary: the time is long past due for the UK to challenge Israel for its repeated violations of international law and to recognise a Palestinian state on pre-1967 lines.

We thank Sir Vincent Fean for today’s article. Sir Vincent served as Britain’s Consul General to Jerusalem from 2010-2014 following ambassadorial appointments to Malta and Libya. He is chair of the Balfour Project.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse – it does. Déjà vu, only worse.  It is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as I used to describe it in my time as Consul-General, Jerusalem. Today, the word ‘conflict’ hardly fits, because the Occupation is so lop-sided. Israel controls just about everything that moves on the ground in the territory it has occupied militarily since 1967 – Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. It controls Gaza by force, and the West Bank by coercion and force:  Gaza under blockade for the last 14 years; illegal settlements spreading systematically across East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank – de facto annexation, just as damaging as de jure. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.K. says the land is Israel’s, and at the same time that Israel wants peace. Here is a question for Israel’s leaders: is your vision peace with equality, or is ‘peace’ for you the absence of Palestinian resistance to permanent Israeli control, amounting to oppression?

On Monday the Palestinian health ministry said the death toll from Israeli attacks on Gaza rose to 220, and 6,039 wounded. Israeli authorities said 10 people have been killed in Israel.

I regret the recent Palestinian decision to postpone elections. The leadership is weak and divided. So are the Arab brothers. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arabs pose a strategic threat to Israel’s security. The rockets coming out of Gaza are criminally wrong, futile and harm the Palestinian cause – they will not change Israeli policy, merely entrench it. There is no such thing as a surgical air strike. Innocents die. Something needs to change.

What of international law, which Israel breaches daily? The Gaza blockade is collective punishment of two million people. The settlement project is illegal annexation by another name. Israel’s security is not the reason for settlements. The aim is more land, fewer (or no) Palestinians on the land, and control. But international law matters, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what we say. Do we mean it? It is to measure the distance between what we say and what is done that the Balfour Project is organising a major virtual conference pm on 25 and 26 May: Israel – Palestine: in search of the rule of law. The conference programme is here. You are welcome to register to attend – no charge! It will all be recorded and accessible afterwards on our website.

The Balfour Project charity works for peace, justice and equal rights in Israel/Palestine. Here is our Balfour Centenary Declaration, signed by over 100 British Parliamentarians.  Here is our Jerusalem conference statement: Equal rights for lasting peace.  Britain governed Mandate Palestine for over 30 years, and did not get it right. What was done then in our name is still felt today. Aware of those historic responsibilities, we seek to advance equal rights for both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. The British Government should now recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, acknowledging the right to self-determination of both Palestinians and Israelis. For the last ten years our Government has been saying it will recognise Palestine – it’s when, not if – but only when it feels like it, and when it will advance peace. That time is now, if we are to pay more than lip-service to the fast-receding prospect of two states. The argument deployed against recognition – that it will not end the Occupation – is nonsensical. Nobody thinks that it will do so. Only Israel will end its Occupation. British recognition of Palestine on pre-June 1967 lines, more than 70 years after recognising Israel, will affirm – belatedly – a commitment to equality, while taking nothing away from Israel that belongs to Israel. Britain can choose to promote the cause of peace with justice, for the good of all, upholding the laws which Britain helped to draft. That’s better than what we are doing now.

Current policy towards Israel/Palestine is not working. It is nowhere near achieving the declared goal of two sovereign states coexisting in peace. That aim is being undermined systematically, daily. The Occupation has taken root. We owe the two peoples parity of esteem, but we have not treated them equally. Policy therefore needs re-shaping to be effective, rights-based, and respectful of the law in deed as well as in word. It can be done, with our US and European partners, if our leaders have the presence of mind to do it – for the good of Israelis, Palestinians and ourselves. The accelerating trend of separation, discrimination and inequality – what B’Tselem  and Human Rights Watch already say is apartheid – is harmful to all. It will not come to good.

The conference compares the rule of law with “the law in these parts” – in the Palestinian territory occupied militarily by Israel since 1967.  UN Security Council Resolution 242 affirms that acquiring territory by war is inadmissible. Britain helped to draft that Resolution as well as the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the transfer by an occupying power of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. Israel’s state-sponsored settlement project breaches UNSCR 242, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the statute of the International Criminal Court. There need to be consequences. It is for governments to decide what those penalties should be – but how else to affect the cost/benefit calculation of those with the power to do right or wrong? Impunity and the rule of law don’t mix.

On 25 May Baroness Hale of Richmond will outline why international law matters. Subsequent speakers including Philippe Sands QC, Zaha Hassan, Michael Sfard and Dominic Grieve QC will survey the distance between international law and harshly deteriorating reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, analyse the dual legal system imposed in the OPT and discuss developments at the ICC. On 26 May Prof Michael Lynk (UN rapporteur on human rights in the OPT) will speak and listen to a number of concerned Palestinian and Israeli voices on the ground. Lord John Alderdice will ask British Parliamentarians – Jack Straw, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Wayne David MP, Joanna Cherry QC MP and Layla Moran MP – how to set about bringing positive policy change, starting here.

Lasting peace will come only when the Occupation ends, and when justice and security are mutual – not one-sided.

Click here to register for the Balfour Project’s free online conference, Israel/Palestine: in search of the rule of law, on 25 & 26 May.

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