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Israel's West Bank annexation plans condemned by leading British Jewish figures

Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Simon Schama among signatories to letter to Israeli ambassador to the UK raising alarm over plans
The signatories included the former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind (AFP)

Some of Britain's leading Jewish figures have raised alarm over the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, saying such a move would threaten the existence of Israel.

Among more than 40 signatories to a letter to the Israeli ambassador to the UK are the historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag-Montefiore, the former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the scientist Lord Robert Winston and the ex-MP Luciana Berger.

In the letter to Mark Regev, the signatories say their fears are “shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them”.

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At a meeting of legislators of his right-wing Likud party last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his intention to annex some illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as 1 July, describing it as an "historic opportunity".

Netanyahu has cited US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, released in January, as underpinning his de facto annexation. 

The letter says: “We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step. 

"Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.

“It would have grave consequences for the Palestinian people most obviously. Israel’s international standing would also suffer and it is incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”

'We don't take sides'

Last month, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the UK's Jewish community's umbrella organisation, rejected calls that it condemn the proposed annexation, saying: “We don’t take sides in Israeli politics.”

More than 500 Jewish students and youth movement members had called on the Board to speak out against the annexation. 

Their letter was followed by another signed by hundreds of “British Jews who support Israel’s right to thrive as a Jewish and democratic state,” including 10 rabbis.

It said: “The board’s statements of support for a two-state solution are worth nothing if the board fails to speak up against a unilateral move of annexation.”

Thirty-eight members of the Board of Deputies also called on the Board to condemn the plan.

Jordan threat

The proposed annexations have been slammed by the Palestinians, and opposed by much of the international community, including the United Nations.

Last month, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Israel's annexation would "choke off any hope of peace".

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Speaking to Jewish-American supporters at a virtual fundraiser, Biden vowed to reverse Trump's "undercutting of peace" and resume aid to Palestinians.

"Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace," he said.

Jordan has also threatened to review its relationship with Israel if the annexation plans went ahead.

Other countries have also condemned the annexation plans, including much of the European Union, which has warned it could affect Israel’s ties with the bloc.

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