Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, as outgoing chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Palestine, delivered the following opening speech in a parliamentary debate he secured on the settlements and annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
As the outgoing chair of the APPG on Palestine, I pay particular tribute to colleagues who have been such powerful advocates for peace, justice and security in this troubled land, not least the Honourable Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliot), who will taking over as chair of the APPG. I wish her well.
I’d like to start by setting out three core principles, which I hope and believe are shared by all who are taking part in this debate.
First, this is not about religion or ethnicity – it’s not a question of Arab, Muslim or Jewish identity. It’s about upholding the universal norms and values that we hold dear, and it is about working to constrain and reverse the actions of those who seek to undermine those norms and values. Neither is this about being “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine”. This is about striving for peace, justice and security for all, on the basis of the rule of law.
Second, we condemn violence in all its forms. Whether it is Hamas launching rockets, or the IDF bombarding Gaza or bulldozing Bedouin villages to make way for illegal settlements, we oppose any and all actions that lead to the death and destruction that have so tragically come to define this conflict.
And third, we believe passionately in the rule of law. Indeed, our point of departure is that the rule of law is not up for negotiation. It is not some bargaining chip that can be tossed onto the table in exchange for concessions or compromises. It is the very cornerstone of the rules-based order, and the bedrock of the norms, rights and values that we cherish and seek to defend.
And I believe that our defence of the rule of law matters more now than it has done at any time since 1945. Because we stand today at a moment in history where the rule of law is under threat across the world. The Chinese Communist Party has breached the Sino-British Declaration on Hong Kong. The Russian government annexed Crimea in 2014. And even our own government is willing to renege on its commitment to a legally-binding treaty.
But Israel’s consistent flouting of UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention has undermined the rules-based order for decades, and the international community can no longer look the other way.
Both sides in this have witnessed horrific bloodshed, and both sides deserve an end to the fear and suffering they have had to experience. This is why it is so vital and urgent that the rule of law be brought to bear, as the foundation upon which a viable and sustainable Palestine can be negotiated and built. A Palestine which protects the rights of its citizens, and lives in peace with its neighbours.
Mr Speaker, the illegal Israeli settlements undermine all three of the principles that I have outlined: they drive and amplify the vicious identity politics that poisons this conflict, they cause violence on a daily basis, and they are a flagrant breach of international law.
Yet still they expand. 2018 marked 25 years since the signing of the Oslo accords. That moment in 1993 was meant to herald a new and lasting era of peace and co-existence—the beginning of a genuine two-state solution. But since 1993 the number of illegal settlers has increased from 258,000 to more than 610,000.
50,000 homes and properties have been demolished, and an illegal separation barrier has been built, which carves up the West Bank and brutally disconnects towns, cities, families and communities from each other.
And what have the Israeli people experienced in that time? Insecurity, fear of attacks through suicide bombing, rockets and mortars, knife attacks, car rammings – none of which will end whilst there is no proper peace and no end of occupation. It has been a disaster for all sides.
Proposal – Trump plan
It is against this backdrop that Trump and Netanyahu have come forward with their so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. This is not a deal. It is not a plan. It is not even a starting point for talks. This is a proposal that is fundamentally flawed, because it has no basis in law.
It is a land and power grab, which would mean Israel seizing around 40% of the West Bank – with full military and security control over Palestinians and their resources. Which government in its right mind would ever agree with such terms?
Why would the Palestinian Authority ever enter into talks on the basis of a document that effectively legitimises attempts to destroy any chance of an independent sovereign Palestine?
The Foreign Secretary and his ministers continue to present the Trump/Netanyahu plan as a basis for talks and ask the Palestinian to compromise. Yet, Mr Speaker, the Palestinians have already ceded 78% of their land to Israel. How much more can they be asked to compromise?
And they say that the Palestinian side should make a counter-offer. Well they have. A two-state solution as already set out in countless UN resolutions, and based on the 1967 lines.
Annexation by stealth
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition had agreed that Israel would begin de jure annexation from 1 July. Thankfully, the Israeli government has rowed back from this for now – but what we are instead witnessing is more annexation by stealth.
Netanyahu has announced approval of preliminary plans for 3,500 new housing units in a new settlement in the E1 area, between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, thus severing East Jerusalem’s contiguity with the rest of the West Bank.
Building on E1 is more of a danger to the two-state outcome than the formal annexation of parts of the West Bank. It has long been seen by U.K., France and Germany as a red line. Another huge settlement plan of 7,000 units has been approved at Efrat, to the south of Bethlehem, often labelled E2. In both of these cases, the reality is that the Israeli government holds all the cards, whilst the Palestinian Authority has limited power and relies only on international support.
Israel – UAE deal
Those who take a more sympathetic view of the actions of the Israeli government will no doubt point to the so-called Abraham Accords, which were signed by the UAE and Bahrain at the White House on 13 August this year, and which commit those states to the normalisation of relations with Israel.
Yet the reality is that the Abraham Accords are simply the formalisation of pre-existing and well-established relations between the signatories. These states have been working together for years on joint military operations, coups and counter-revolutions.
For the Palestinian people nothing has changed – the reality is that the creeping annexation of their land continues, and is accelerating.
How can Britain and the international community respond?
What is clear is that actions speak louder than words. The question that we must therefore address today is how the British government can use its position as a leading member of the international community to press the Israeli government to pull back from creeping annexation, and to re-engage in talks on the basis of a viable two-state solution.
The problem we face is that the deadlock will continue so long as Israel rejects any deal that includes Jerusalem, that does not mean Israel keeps the Jordan valley, that rejects a sovereign viable Palestinian state, and will negotiate only on the basis of a plan that annexes occupied territory and includes total security control on any Palestinian entity, including control of all borders. Israel must drop all of these pre-conditions.
There have already been some attempts by European states to assert influence. For instance, 11 states – including the UK, Germany and France – joined in a démarche to the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 1 May opposing Mr Netanyahu’s annexation plans. But together the international community must go further.
We should explore the potential for the International Criminal Court to play a role. The Israeli Attorney-General’s office has already warned the Israeli Prime Minister that annexation could trigger an investigation of “senior army officers, civil service officials and heads of regional councils of West Bank settlements.”
It is essential that the UK condemns any further creeping annexation – but condemnation alone will never be enough. To this end, the UK government must take the following steps, with urgency.
First, it must immediately recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of its 1967 lines. The UK government argues that recognition should follow successful negotiations, but the logic of this argument is deeply flawed and partisan to one side. It suggests we are happy to see a 53-year old occupation persist, legitimising the illegal actions of the Israeli government, and contributing to the brutality and violence that shames us all.
Second, the government must ban all products that originate from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Profiting from these products is tantamount to profiting from the proceeds of crime, and it must stop.
When we trade with these settlements, we are essentially telling the world that international law does not matter – and such trade legitimises and facilitates the existence and expansion of the settlements.
In 2014 it was right that the UK – as part of the European Union – prohibited trade with Crimea, following its illegal annexation by Russia. It is crucial that we are consistent in our application of international law.
Third, the government must act to end the involvement of UK-based companies within the illegal settlements. In March the UN published a list of companies that are involved in the settlements, which included JCB, Opodo and Greenkote.
Charities actively involved in illegal settlement projects should not be eligible for the privileges of charitable status, including and tax exemption. What steps will our government be taking to hold these companies and charities to account?
I look forward to hearing the minister’s views on these points. These measures must be put in place immediately. No more excuses or obfuscation from this government.
Standing here in this chamber today, it is easy to forget the human cost of this conflict. Visiting the West Bank and East Jerusalem with Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and the Council for Arab-British Understanding in 2014, I saw how the settlements touch the lives of those in the occupied territories like little else.
I think of the father from Gaza I met in Makassad hospital, nursing his four-year-old double-amputee son, worrying about his wife, in another hospital 20 miles away, who’d also had both her legs amputated. I think of the bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar – residents living in perpetual fear of military demolitions and harassment.
I think of the quarter of a million children across the Palestinian Territories who the UN identify as in need of psychosocial support and child protection interventions. What future can these children look forward to? What hope can we offer them? A 10-year-old child in Gaza will already have witnessed three wars, and nothing but the siege.
I therefore rise today to convey this simple message to the minister: act now. Act now, to show that Britain is still a country that will give voice to the voiceless, and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.
Act now, to show that Britain is still a beacon of hope, a country that stands tall in the world and strives relentlessly for peace and justice. Act now, to help us to believe that yours is a government that still believes in the rule of law.
Thank you very much.