Boris Johnson has said the UK will not recognise Israeli sovereignty of settlements or the Jordan Valley unless it is part of an agreement with the Palestinians.
The British prime minister was in forthright mood this week when he clarified that the UK would not follow the likely line of Donald Trump’s White House, which is expected to recognise Israeli sovereignty shortly after it is declared.
“I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed published in Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. “If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.”
Johnson said he was “a passionate defender of Israel” but that annexation would be “a violation of international law” and would “jeopardise” Israel’s improving relations with the Arab world.
He said: “The UK has always stood by Israel. Our commitment to Israel’s security will be unshakable while I am prime minister. So it is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory.
“As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.
“Annexation would put in jeopardy the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world. I have never been more convinced that Israel’s interests overlap with those of our closest partners in the Arab world, including potential security cooperation against shared threats.”
Johnson said the only viable solution to the half-century conflict was still a negotiated two-state solution, saying: “I refuse to believe that this is impossible.”
The EU’s top foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said annexation “would mean the end” of the two-state solution. “Annexation would violate international law, and we are using every opportunity with the Israeli government to explain this.”
Across Europe there are moves to boycott settlement products and sanction the Israeli government, the Dutch parliament this week becoming the latest state legislature to pass a motion calling on its government to do so.
In the UK, the Labour Party said London should follow suit, with Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy urging the boycott of West Bank products if Israel pushes on with annexation, which she described as “a shameful proposition to which the UK cannot be a silent witness”.
Last week Middle East Minister James Cleverly hinted heavily that the UK would take punitive action against Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu’s government presses ahead, saying it “would not go unanswered” by the UK.
On Tuesday Netanyahu met members of the Israel-US mapping team including Trump’s special representative Avi Berkowitz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Both men favour annexation but are thought to be urging it in stages.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Jerusalem wanted to push forward with annexation but “without undermining security stability and the existing peace agreements,” including the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
Benny Gantz, who is due to become Israel’s prime minister next year, said annexation came second in priorities to tackling the pandemic, but Netanyahu disagreed, saying it “can’t wait until after the coronavirus”.
However, several left-wing Israeli politicians wrote to Labour leader Keir Starmer, pledging support for the proposal to ban settlement products if annexation is announced, saying it helps mark a “crucial distinction” between Israeli products made in occupied territory.
You can view the letter here.