July 1st is the date on which Netanyahu will be able to present his plans to annex a large part of the West Bank to his Cabinet and the Israeli Knesset and he now commands a substantial majority since his new coalition government was sworn in last Sunday.
If he follows the Trump plan, he will be annexing the Jordan Valley and all the land surrounding all the Israeli settlements – about 30 per cent of the land. In terms of area it’s the size of Oxfordshire, but it includes not only all the most fertile land in the Jordan valley but also all the countryside between towns and villages, leaving the Palestine Authority in charge small islands in an Israeli sea.
There are also fears of an alternative strategy, whereby a small piece of land – entirely occupied by an Israeli settlement – is annexed, as an attempt to reduce the international uproar. The Israel Government could then follow this with further land grabs.
There is little chance of stopping this annexation unless concerted action is taken by the UK and other European states to put economic pressure on Israel.
Until recently the Israeli government and its supporters in this country had succeeded in making “sanctions” an almost unmentionable word. MPs had been reluctant to advocate or even talk about sanctions. Government ministers, who vied with one another to denounce the settlements as “illegal” in ever stronger language, were silent when they were asked what they proposed to do about it.
Yet it should be clear to anyone that if you condemn something as “illegal” but you refuse to take any action to stop it, you are in effect condoning it. The former Conservative minister Sir Desmond Swayne put it most succinctly when he told MPs during a House of Commons debate: “By our refusal to act we make ourselves complicit, don’t we?”
All this has started to change in the last few weeks. Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding CAABU, coordinated a letter from Parliamentarians to the Prime Minister recalling that the UK had supported “robust sanctions” against Russia when it annexed Crimea and urging him to do the same if and when Israel annexed the West Bank. So far 149 MPs and peers have signed it. And 66 MPs have signed Early Day Motion 464 tabled by Andy Slaughter MP calling for “robust sanctions” as in Crimea.
Only a few years ago it was considered necessary to “avoid the s-word” when talking to MPs, but now the imminent threat of annexation has brought what Chris Doyle calls a “watershed moment” when politicians are rushing to sign a letter calling for “severe consequences including sanctions”.
But even with 149 MPs and peers we are still need more support to persuade a Conservative government that it needs to act.
There is an application in the Speaker’s in-box from Labour MP Stephen Kinnock asking for a full day’s debate on annexation and this will be an opportunity for more MPs to nail their colours to the mast. It’s also an opportunity for you to make sure your MP is on the right side of history.
Even if your MP appears to be committed one way or the other, write to them, phone them and persuade or encourage them. This is an existential moment for the Palestinians and Israelis and a moment of truth for human rights and for international law.