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Why Theresa May Needs to Speak Out Against New Settlement Building in the West Bank

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK this week comes just a few days after he announced the construction of 5,500 new settlements in the West Bank in direct opposition to UN Security Resolution 2334.

His visit was a perfect opportunity for Theresa May to raise the UK public’s increasing concerns over the stalling of the peace process. Yet once again she struggled to tell hard truths to our closest allies, instead choosing the easy path. As Prime Minister she is once again putting trade over the promotion of human rights and the right to self-determination and freedoms that we all believe in.

The continued building of settlements is not simply a question of housing but is rather a sinister way for the Israeli Government to undermine any hopes of a future Palestinian State. For each new settlement built cuts the size of a future Palestinian State, until there will be little land for Palestinians to call their own.

I am fervently committed to a two state solution which will recognise a Palestinian State and an Israeli State along the 1967 lines. The British Government along with the outgoing Obama Administration in December supported the adoption of UN Security Resolution 2334, which called for a freeze on all settlement building and condemned all measures ‘aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem’.

It’s clear as day that the new announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister is in direct defiance of UN Resolution 2334 and in breach of international humanitarian law as well. The Prime Minister should stand by Britain’s vote at the UN Security Council and condemn the announcement of new settlements and press the Israeli Prime Minister to reconsider and restart the peace process. For the alternative is continued instability in the region and renewed violence and bloodshed on both sides.

Yet we cannot pretend that we live in normal times and that the announcement of new settlement in the face of the UN is not related to the election of Donald Trump as President of the US. For the first time we have a US President who, along with key advisors, has donated to the building of settlements in the occupied territories. The Bet El settlement comprised of 1,300 families in the Binyamin Region of the West Bank received $10,000 from the Trump Foundation in 2003 and $38,000 from the foundation of his key advisor and son-in law Jared Kushner in 2013. I find it difficult to believe that these prior donations will not influence US policy on Israel, and in turn allow the Israeli Prime Minister to believe he can continue to undermine the peace process and build settlements with impunity.

That is why I am deeply disturbed to also hear that the Israeli Parliament yesterday passed legislation that would retroactively legalise 3,800 settlements built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. This legislation is not only in violation of international law but it will lead to an escalation that will no doubt lead to further instability and chaos. While the legislation will be challenged in the courts, it is unmistakable that Israeli politicians are emboldened by what they see as a US Government that is more sympathetic to settlement building.

It is increasingly clear that a Trump Administration will abdicate America’s long commitment to a two state solution and a resolution to one of the oldest territorial disputes in modern times. That is why it is vital that the British Government take up the mantle and use our diplomatic clout to get the two sides talking once more. We have a historic responsibility to both parties to ensure that the two sovereign states have a viable future. Both the Palestinian and Israeli people’s fates are inextricably intertwined, neither can succeed without the other. They rely on each other not only economically but also for security. Israel will never be stable and Israeli citizens will never be safe until the issue is fully resolved.

Since coming to office Theresa May’s Government has managed to offend and alienate our allies across Europe. The only friends she has made are President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, both of whom have increasingly isolated their respective countries on the world.  Is that the company we as a country want to keep?  

The Labour Party has always been committed to the promotion of human rights and to speaking out against injustice wherever we see it. In that spirit I will continue to speak out against the grave injustices many Palestinians face on a daily basis, as well as the need for this Government to take seriously human rights across the world. We cannot stand idly by while our allies float international law and seek to undermine international institutions. Nor can we stand by while another generation of Palestinians are marginalised and forced off their land.

While I accept that it will ultimately be down to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach an agreement, I do not think we should stand idly by while any hopes for talks are slowly dismantled. If this Government is truly committed to a two state solution then we must speak out, for if we wait it will slip away.

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