The Policy paper signed by the Foreign Secretaries of the UK and Israel setting out a Roadmap for future relations between the two states marks a new low point in the failure of successive UK Governments to address Israel’s systematic violations of international law. Astonishingly not a single reference is made in the paper to Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory and planned formal annexation of the West Bank, both of which the UK Government ostensibly opposes and recognises as breaches of international law. Reference to Palestinians is limited to one sentence in which the UK promises to cooperate with Israel “ in improving Palestinian livelihoods and Palestinian economic development”. Not a single mention is made of addressing Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinians right of self-determination and right of return.
The glowing description of Israel as a freedom loving and thriving democracy would have been grotesquely inaccurate at any point in the state’s 75 years of existence. However, it is all the more extraordinary coming at a moment when Israeli citizens are protesting at unprecedented levels against the Israeli Government’s attacks on their democratic rights, including the ending of the independence of Israel’s judiciary.
The UK Government appears to be entirely deaf to the mountain of criticism being aimed at Israel following the election of an extreme far-right Government, widely described as the most ultra nationalist, racist, misogynistic and homophobic in Israel’s history. The global reaction to these developments has included 250 Jewish American business leaders threatening the government with serious financial and political consequences if it goes ahead with its judicial “reforms.” To choose such a moment to vow to deepen the UK’s financial, cultural and military ties with Israel, delivers a very clear message of support to Netanyahu to continue on his current path.
Of deep concern is the fact that the roadmap includes a further strengthening of cyber-security relations. The cybersecurity sector in Israel is interwoven with the military – with Israel being central to the development and export of military grade spyware. This poses a danger to human rights across the world.
But of deepest concern is the complete erasure of Palestinians from the picture. For Palestinians, this new Government represents a continuation of a process of colonisation, ethnic cleansing and dispossession that has been enacted since the foundation of the state, and which has led to the imposition of a system of oppression now accepted across international civil society as a system of apartheid. Not only does the UK Government continue to refuse to accept this reality, in this new paper it gives credence to the Israeli Government’s narrative that to accurately describe this system of oppression and call for action to address it, is a form of antisemitism. This grotesque conflation of antisemitism with legitimate critique of Israeli oppression, degrades political discourse and undermines a coherent antiracist position. This is not new, but in the context of a government that does not seek to even disguise the raw racism and violence of its project with a mask of democracy, it gives a greenlight to continue on that path. The UK Government’s intentions to reward Netanyahu with deeper financial, security and cultural ties is not disrupted by the fact that his Government has been killing Palestinians at the rate of more than one a day since the beginning of 2023. That Netanyahu has accelerated plans for settlement expansion, and confirmed plans to move forward with the annexation of the West Bank doesn’t seem to phase them. Neither does the UK Government feel the need to alter its path when dealing with an Israeli administration that contains Ministers like Bezalel Smotrich. Last month Smotrich openly called for a Palestinian village to be wiped out. Only this week, he made a speech in France denying the existence of the Palestinian people, from a podium depicting a map of Israel covering not just the illegally occupied West Bank but the state of Jordan.
This is an appalling position paper which can only serve to further undermine any role for the UK, as a state committed to upholding rights and international law. It will be condemned by all of those who adhere to these principles and who realise there is no way to bringing peace to the Middle East that does not address the root cause of conflict, the ongoing denial of rights to the Palestinian people.