Any steps by the Israeli government to annex Palestinian land would be illegal, a Foreign Office minister has said.
The UK’s Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison welcomed the publication of US president Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, and encouraged Palestinian leaders to “get back around the negotiating table”.
However, he insisted “these are not our plans”, and while he conceded it was “not perfect” he said they should be seen as “baby steps” towards a negotiated settlement between the Israeli government and Palestinian authorities.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the plans outlined at the White House on Tuesday amounted to “a betrayal”.
Following the publication of the plan on Tuesday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government would start the process of annexing land in the Jordan Valley on Sunday, after the after “American recognition of Israeli sovereignty” over parts of the West Bank.
Tory former minister Crispin Blunt challenged the Government over any endorsement of such action.
Mr Blunt said: “He (Mr Murrison) might want to remember what our manifesto said. That ‘Britain will be a champion of the rule of law, human rights, free trade, anti-corruption efforts and a rule-based international system’.
“And yesterday, we welcomed the release of a proposal and in describing it as ‘serious’ we ignored the Palestinian’s right to self-determination, the 1967 borders, international humanitarian law, ignored repeated UN security council resolutions, the last of which the United Kingdom signed up to in December 2016.
“I have to say to my right honourable friend, this is an annexation plan and that annexation is going to start on February 2.”
Mr Murrison said while the Government welcomes the release of the plan, “it does not mean we endorse its contents”.
Earlier, Ms Thornberry said: “Trump and Netanyahu, two corrupt, racist, power-crazed leaders coming together not in the interest of peace, not to promote a two-state solution, not to end violence in the Middle East but simply to further their chances of re-election by doing the opposite.”
SNP foreign affairs spokesman Stewart Malcolm McDonald said the Government was right to condemn the annexation of Crimea by Russia, but was wrong not to condemn President Trump’s plan for Palestine on similar grounds.
He said: “Annexations are unlawful because they fuel conflict. If the Government can get that right on Crimea, why on earth can’t it get it right in this instance?”
Responding, Mr Murrison said that some of the language around the proposals from the US and Israel had been “overblown”.
He said: “Annexation would be illegal under international law and some of the rhetoric we saw in the aftermath of the release of this document ‘Peace to Prosperity’ I think perhaps was overdone and overblown and has been reined back on overnight by a number of those who have made those claims.”
The recently re-elected chairman of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat asked whether the Government has spoken to UN representatives about the plans.
Mr Murrison said: “The UN secretary-general (Antonio Guterres), actually in keeping with most of the comments that have been made internationally yesterday overnight, I think welcomes this as a point of dialogue.
“And the insistence he has, which we’ve discussed with him and others, that we need to get back around the negotiating table.
“Nobody, I think, is really accepting, certainly not as part of the UK Government, that this is a perfect plan by any means. It could be baby steps towards a negotiation.”
Tory MP David Jones (Clwyd West) said the phrase “Global Britain” means nothing if it ignores the international rules-based order.
He said: “All of us on these benches welcome the Government’s committment to the vision of a Global Britain post-Brexit.
“But if Global Britain is to be anything more than a strapline it surely means committing to an international order that is founded upon the rule of law.
“My right honourable friend has already said that the British Government would not acquiesce in the illegal annexation of land that is already illegally held, can he confirm that he has communicated that position to the American Government?”
Mr Murrison said the UK Government had done just that.