Last week saw the passing of Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-imposed target date for the annexation of large swathes of the occupied West Bank. The plan, which would have seen the areas surrounding Israeli settlements in the territory annexed, gained widespread derision from countries and organisations around the world.
France warned of consequences, China was said to be “deeply concerned” prior to last week, and the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wrote an article in Yedioth Ahronoth, a popular Israeli newspaper, urging readers to reconsider supporting an annexation.
Al Bawaba News spoke with Baroness Jenny Tonge, a member of the Houe of Lord’s and longtime critic of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians.
Speaking on the day that Israel was due to begin the annexation, Tonge said that she thought Netanyahu was “a bit stuck. He hasn’t got Benny Gantz behind him who seems worried because of Covid-19. The settlers want him to annex the entirety of the West Bank, so he’s stuck,” Baroness Tonge said. She said that it looked like Trump is “back-peddling” a bit. “Public opinion in America is changing. All of the various pro-Palestinian groups are getting very active.” The Jewish community in America is largely against annexation,” Tonge points out.
The Jewish community in America is largely against annexation,” Tonge points out.
Netanyahu’s annexation plans were seen to be in line with Trump’s policy on an Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan.” A recent poll in the US has revealed that, of the participants who described themselves as “somewhat familiar” or “very familiar” with Trump’s Israel-Palestine peace plan, most were not favourable towards the plan.
Opinion is certainly not unanimous in Israel itself, with a recent poll finding that around 50% of those asked would support the annexation of the West Bank, though only half of those would do so without the support of the US.
Inside the British parliament, which is made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, opinion is divided, Tonge says. “There are people who feel as I do and will speak out about it, particularly in the Scottish National Party. There are some Tories in the Commons and the Lords who support it. But they won’t go public about it as they are worried about being accused of anti-Semitism,” Tonge told Al Bawaba.
they won’t go public about it as they are worried about being accused of anti-Semitism,” Tonge told Al Bawaba.
Baroness Tonge has herself been accused of making anti-Semitic statements, resigning from the Liberal Democratic party a few years ago and apologising over the language used in her criticism of Israel and their lobby in the US.
The UK’s policy is that annexation is against international law. But Tonge is displeased with the pressure the government is putting on the Israeli authorities. “Our government is firmly against annexation, but they don’t say that they’ll do anything,” says Tonge. “We’ve challenged the government at times and asked them to impose sanctions. We did it with Russia when they annexed Crimea, so why won’t they do it with Israel?”
Labour, the UK’s opposition party, has asked that if an annexation does take place, “concrete action will follow, including a ban on goods entering Britain from the illegal settlements in the West Bank”. This is the first time the Labour Party has officially asked that the government makes bans on settler goods should the Israeli government act against international law.
“We’ve challenged the government at times and asked them to impose sanctions. We did it with Russia when they annexed Crimea, so why won’t they do it with Israel?”
After this year the UK will no longer be part of the EU-Israel Trade Agreement due to the country’s break from the EU after the Brexit referendum in 2016. In response to questions from Al Bawaba, the UK’s Department for International Trade reiterated that the UK does not see the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of Israel, and therefore any goods originating from those territories would not benefit from preferential tariff access to UK markets.
Nevertheless, goods are still able to enter the UK from settlements, although under current EU law they are labelled as such. This leaves the decision down to the company or individual.
“My view is that it’s not going to happen in the near future,” says Tonge. Almost a week has passed the date Netanyahu set for an annexation of the West Bank. Reports have said that there is a split in the Cabinet over whether to move ahead with the plans, and international pressure, coupled with a potential lack of support from the US, could have stopped the annexation for now.