Thank you for contacting me about the UK’s relationship with Israel and issues concerning Israel and the Palestinians.
I am proud of the UK’s historic role in the birth of the state of Israel, and the decades of cooperation that has defined the relationship between our two nations since. To this day, Israel remains a close ally of the UK and we continue to work together on issues of shared interest, such as security and Covid-19.
I support the UK Government’s commitment to promoting bilateral trade and business ties with Israel and its strong opposition to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. The UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement entered into force on the 1 January this year, and I have every confidence that our trading relationship will continue to go from strength to strength in the years to come.
Israel's security remains a concern. The UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself and will work alongside anyone in the Middle East who seeks to establish better stability and security for their people. The destabilising effect of Iranian activity in the region, including its sponsoring of terrorist groups, also needs to be monitored and resisted.
The Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria remains the basis for assessing licence application of strategic exports, such as arms, to Israel. The Consolidated Criteria provides a thorough risk assessment framework and the Government will not grant an export licence where it is inconsistent with the Consolidated Criteria.
Our friendship with Israel does not prohibit our criticism of some Israeli policies, nor our recognition of Israel as a thriving democracy and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity. On the contrary, it is because of our close relationship that difficult issues can be discussed where they arise.
The UK's position is clear and longstanding. There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK consistently calls – bilaterally and via the UN – for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution.
In the Government's view, this includes the demolition of Palestinian homes and Israeli settlements in the Disputed Territories. Indeed, the UK Government states clearly that these actions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution, and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Law. They are also counterproductive in light of the recent normalisation agreements reached between Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Antisemitism: I would like to stress the importance of reiterating to our Jewish community that the UK is their home as much as anyone’s. There is no place for antisemitism in our society, and I hope you are encouraged by the Government’s efforts to make this abundantly clear. We should all be fighting against antisemitism wherever it occurs.
Palestinian Statehood: The UK's position is clear and longstanding. There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK consistently calls – bilaterally and via the UN – for an immediate end to all actions that, in the Government's view, undermine the viability of the two-state solution.
The UK has said that it will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. Bilateral recognition in itself cannot resolve the problems in the Disputed Territories; without a negotiated settlement the problems will continue.
In the interim, therefore, the UK, working with allies and the wider international community, will do all it can to facilitate renewed cooperation and substantive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It will also continue to call on both sides to desist, with immediate effect, from all activities – be it demolitions and settlements, violence or incitement – that it believes undermine progress towards a peaceful two-state solution.
Israel and the ICC: I welcome Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent statement about the International Criminal Court’s controversial investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel.
As the Prime Minister stated, the UK does “not accept the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance”. This position is based on the fact that Palestine is not a sovereign state and Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome. This is a position shared by some of our closest allies, including the United States, Germany, Australia and Canada.
The UK has rightly asserted that the investigation “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack” on Israel. There are a number of questionable aspects to the ICC’s investigation, including its regrettable decision for the time period under investigation to commence a day after the Hamas terror group kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers on 12 June 2014. There is no reasonable justification for this decision.
The ICC’s investigation was founded on a ruling that non-binding political resolutions made at the United Nations General Assembly conferred statehood upon the Palestinians – this is contrary to settled international legal principles. It also sought to determine the territory of a Palestinian state – this can only be determined through a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The ICC was established as “a court of last resort” to deal with grave crimes by international offenders in countries with a legal vacuum. Israel’s Supreme Court is internationally seen as a bulwark of civil and human rights, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stating in November 2019: “The Israeli Supreme Court has a strong record of independence and has held the Executive to account on many occasions”.
It is regrettable that politically-motivated attacks against Israel at international fora occur so frequently and the UK is rightly committed to standing against these disproportionate attacks.
I share your belief that the ICC is an important institution and the UK remains committed to bringing about positive change within the Court. To this end, the recent election of two leading UK jurists to the ICC shows that the UK is prioritising efforts to strengthen and reform the court and its international reputation.
UN and Israel: It is important that the UN acts in a proportionate manner on human rights and does not target vigorous democracies such as Israel for occasional failings while failing to criticise dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, such as the one in Tehran, which regularly and systematically commit massive human rights abuses. For example, many people around the world have expressed understandable astonishment that Iran has been elected to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women. It is interesting how many emails I receive about alleged human rights abuses by Israel, the world's only Jewish state, and how few about the the well-attested systemic misogyny of the Iranian regime.
That said, the UK has been a major contributor to the UN since its inception seventy-five years ago, and defends wholeheartedly its potential as a forum where issues of international concern can be discussed productively and respectfully. The Government will continue to support scrutiny of Israel and the Disputed Territories in the UNHRC, provided it is proportionate, justified by convincing evidence and not proposed under Item 7.
UNWRA has a unique mandate to support Palestinians still categorised as refugees until a lasting political settlement is reached.
On the UN's human rights body, the UNHRC, the UK has been clear that a dedicated UNHRC agenda item (‘Item 7’) does little to advance dialogue or mutual understanding, nor the prospect of a two-state solution. As such, since the 40th session in 2019, the UK has voted against all resolutions under Item 7 out of principle.
At the same time, the UK Government will not stop raising what it believes to be valid concerns about Israel’s actions. That’s why we engaged constructively with negotiations on the Item 2 resolution on the human rights situation in the OPTs. Ultimately, the UK abstained, I am informed, as it judged that the final resolution text needed to address more fully the conduct of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, particularly Hamas' treatment of the Palestinian population of Gaza.
Jerusalem: The UK Government regularly makes clear its concerns about the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to the Israeli authorities and the Municipality of Jerusalem, both bilaterally and in co-operation with like-minded diplomatic partners.
The UK Ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised this issue with the Israeli Authorities, as has the Minister of State, James Cleverly, with the Israeli Ambassador in London. The British Consul General to Jerusalem visited families at risk of eviction in Sheikh Jarrah on 8 April to reiterate the UK's opposition to the practice, and other officials from the Consulate have continued to make regular visits to the areas in question.
I deplore the recent violent unrest that we have seen in Sheikh Jarrah and beyond (including at Al-Aqsa Mosque), and join ministers in calling on Israel and Palestinian leaders to work with local communities to avert further violence and to facilitate a calm and speedy de-escalation.
Imports from Settlements in the Disputed Territories: The UK is committed to supporting Palestinian economic development and strongly supports the principle of free trade.
Although the UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields, the UK does not recognise the Disputed Territories and settlements there as part of Israel.
The UK’s position on Israeli settlements is clear. Settlements are illegal under international law and damaging to renewed efforts to launch peace negotiations. The UK Government neither encourages nor offers support to individuals or companies who operate in settlements in the OPTs. Goods from settlements are not covered by the UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement and do not receive preferential tariff treatment.
Palestinian Children: The UK Government feels it necessary to repeatedly call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and has a regular dialogue with Israel on legal issues relating to the occupation, including the treatment of Palestinian children. The UK Government considers it needs to continue to stress to the Israeli security forces the importance of providing appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population, children in particular, and of restraint in the use of live fire.
Reports of the heavy use of painful restraints and the high number of Palestinian children who are not informed of their legal rights, in contravention of Israel's own regulations, would be, if shown to be justified, particularly concerning, as would be, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the continued transfer of Palestinian child and adult detainees to prisons inside Israel.
I am assured that the UK remains committed to working with Israel to secure improvements to the practices surrounding children in detention and that our Embassy in Tel Aviv is in regular dialogue with Israel on this issue. The UK Government also funds projects providing legal aid to minors and capacity building to local lawyers.
It is for reasons such as the above that Israel and the Disputed Territories remain a human rights priority for the FCDO, as documented in the most recent Human Rights and Democracy Report last year. I am confident that the UK will continue to monitor these issues closely and raise them with the relevant authorities where effective.
In conclusion, I would reiterate that the only long term solution to all these problems is a comprehensive peace settlement which guarantees Israel's right to exist within secure borders and the acceptance by Palestinian leaders that the future of the Palestinians lies in recognising Israel, renouncing claims to Israeli territory and establishing their own secure and lasting political arrangements.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP