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Why has Boris Johnson turned on Israel?


LAST year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including extending sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea. This promise has materialised in President Donald Trump’s peace plan for Israelis and the Palestinians. 

As with anything to do with Israel and the West Bank, hysteria, misinformation and anger dominate the discourse on this rather than the facts. Words such as ‘annexation’, ‘illegal occupation’ and ‘violation of international law’ are continually employed by Israel’s critics.

But this aspect of the plan, called ‘Peace to Prosperity’, is not about not annexation but the extension of sovereignty, summed up coherently and calmly in this Jerusalem Post article. 

The deadline for this part of the plan has now passed, delayed by Netanyahu. Trump had asked for Likud and the Blue and White Party to be united on it before giving his complete approval. Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Benny Ganz, has criticised the plan, wanting international backing first and saying that Israel’s present priority should be the Covid-19 crisis. 

Netanyahu is facing opposition from Right-wing politicians and some settlement leaders as well. They believe that the plan doesn’t go far enough and want sovereignty to be applied to all the Israeli settlements. Others have accused him of using this extension of sovereignty as a distraction from his corruption trial, while the more Left-wing parties in the Knesset adamantly oppose the plan. Meretz and the Arab Joint List organised a street protest last month, accusing Netanyahu of ‘occupation’. 

Netanyahu has few allies when it comes to implementing this plan. Moderate Arab states, like Jordan, are also against it. Jordan is worried about mass protests by its own Palestinian citizens, already angered by decades of ill-treatment by the Hashemite Kingdom.

Despite Israel’s burgeoning friendship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE – one that has sprung out of mutual fear and loathing of Iran – these countries are against this proposed plan too; leaving Netanyahu to weigh up whether sovereignty is worth antagonising this fragile friendship. 

Under the terms of the plan Israel would have security control over the entire West Bank but no Palestinian would fall under Israeli rule. The plan also allows for Israel to extend sovereignty to up to 30 per cent of the West Bank, where Israeli settlements are located. This is an application of civilian law and not military law. Only 3 per cent of the Palestinian population who live around those settlements would be affected. These tiny Palestinian enclaves will fall under the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) civil jurisdiction while the neighbouring Jewish settlements surrounding them will be granted Israeli sovereignty. 

The PA’s vehement objection to the entire peace plan shows how out of touch they are with their own subjects, most who seem more concerned about economic hardships arising from years of PA corrupt rule and the spectre of Covid-19 than a plan that makes no change to the civil jurisdiction they come under. 

The underlying factor of Israel’s size, something that its critics neglect to mention, deserves mention. They too easily forget how tiny the Jewish state is – only 290 miles long and about 85 miles wide, the size of Wales. Its 9.2million population includes half the world’s Jews (6.8million) which is a lot of people to fit into such a small space. The Israeli settlements on the West Bank are much less to do with ‘colonialism’ and much more with the sheer lack of space and economic advantages. Should Israel cede anything more than twelve miles of its territory it will end up in the sea. 

The ‘illegally occupied’ West Bank motif is to ignore the salient fact that this is disputed territory. The EU, ICC and UN have waged this linguistic and ideological war on Israel for decades, intensified by its systemic inconsistency. The UN for example has passed multiple resolutions against Israel yet it has systematically ignored the world’s worst human rights abusers. Now dominated by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it’s hardly surprising that the cards never fall in Israel’s favour there. 

But while Israelis expect such negativity from these sources they must have been shocked to read Johnson’s criticism of the peace plan at the beginning of the month. 

It was one that he praised six months ago, the very same one that allowed for Israel to extend sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank. 

Yet in a seemingly complete turnaround he’s now admonishing the Israelis for planning to implement this particular part of the peace plan, calling it a ‘violation of international law’. In an exclusive opinion piece for Yedioth Ahronot on the Ist July, Johnson said that the West Bank annexation threatens budding ties between Israel and the Arab world, and warned that the UK views this move as a ‘violation of international law’ which will not be accepted by London

It was also reported here.

His not-so-veiled threat to the Israelis sounds sinister too: ‘I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead. If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.’

This is both stupid and historically illiterate. As attested by history, the Palestinian leadership negotiate in bad faith since their goal is not peace but the annihilation of Israel. There will never be a mutual agreement because of this fact. 

Why Johnson is undoing his good work and contradicting himself in such a blatant manner? Although the FCO has been dominated at times by Arabists I doubt if this is their doing. Last year the Tories with Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary were moving in the right direction, admonishing the UN for its anti-Israel bias.The year before, Johnson himself had condemned anti-Israel bias at the UN. 

Has Johnson now surrounded himself with suspect advisers who are giving him the wrong information and advice? There are many conflicts that he could choose to get engaged with internationally, so why did he pick on Israel? This criticism of Israel is even more peculiar when considering that he has barely rebuked China for its tyrannical practices, and breaking of agreements, in Hong Kong. Will he be writing an op-ed criticising China in any newspaper there?

Last week I warned that Johnson is at risk of becoming ‘woke’. Given that anti-Israel bias is one of the defining characteristics of the woke set, he is well on his way. The Tories under Johnson have already been accused of being the most socially liberal Conservative government ever. In fact they are fast turning into Labour-lite.    

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Karen Harradine
Karen Harradine
Karen is an anthropologist and freelance journalist. She writes on anti-Semitism, Israel and spirituality. She is @KarenH777on Twitter.

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