UK-Israel pact condemned as 'appalling' but 'not surprising'
The British government’s new strategic partnership with Israel has been condemned as "hypocritical" and "disappointing but not surprising" by Palestinian and international human rights groups.
In a pact signed on Tuesday, the UK government agreed to oppose the use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and pledged to confront “anti-Israel bias” in international institutions, including the United Nations.
The 2030 Roadmap for UK-Israeli Bilateral Relations is primarily aimed at deepening “economic, security, and technology ties” between the two countries and tackling the “scourge of antisemitism” and geopolitical issues facing the region, including Iranian influence.
Legal experts and human rights organisations hit back at British opposition to the use of "apartheid" as a descriptor.
'The UK is once again on the wrong side of history, revealing its lack of credibility with respect to human rights'
- Nimer Sultany, reader in public law
“The Israeli authorities are enforcing a system of apartheid against all Palestinians living under their effective control - whether they live in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, or in other countries as refugees,” Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK's crisis response manager, told Middle East Eye.
“The UK and Israel rejecting this reality will not change the truth or illegality of the current situation. All it does is help entrench Israel's racist system of apartheid against Palestinian children, women, and men.”
Benedict said it was “disappointing but not surprising” to see the British government “prioritising short-term trade deals over the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians”.
A British foreign office official, speaking anonymously, previously told MEE that such trade deals are usually considered on economic grounds, with any moral or political concerns deemed to be secondary.
The British government's policy paper for the 2030 roadmap states that as "freedom-loving, innovative and thriving democracies, Israel and the UK are proud of our deep and historic partnership. We are firm friends and natural allies."
The paper details a number of areas of collaboration between the UK and Israel, including antisemitism, delegitimisation, and anti-Israel bias; defence and security; trade and investment; cyber; science, innovation, and technology; climate; health; culture; education and higher education; development; and gender.
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said the agreement represented “an abdication of the UK’s responsibilities under international law and the UK’s unique historic responsibility for the Palestinian issue”.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 - and subsequent British support for Zionist groups - paved the way for the Nakba, or catastrophe, when more than two-thirds of the Palestinian population was forcibly displaced from their homes in order to create the state of Israel in 1948.
“The UK is once again on the wrong side of history, revealing its lack of credibility with respect to human rights,” Nimer Sultany, a reader in public law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, told MEE.
“Britain is complicit in the long-term denial of self-determination because it facilitated the armed robbery of the Palestinians’ homeland, delivering it to a settler colonial movement,” Sultany said.
“This deal indicates that no matter how grave are Israel’s violations of basic rules of international law and human decency, such as the prohibition on apartheid, it will continue to enjoy British backing to enable impunity.”
In his statement, Husam Zomlot drew attention to the pace at which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is proceeding with settlement construction, “while overseeing a spike in settler terrorism against the Palestinian people”.
There are now avowed supremacists in the Israeli government, and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds significant powers over the occupied West Bank, said on Sunday that “there is no such thing” as the Palestinian people.
As such, “to reward Israel with expanded trade, technology, and security ties - as the 2030 document does - sends precisely the wrong message at precisely the wrong time,” Zomlot said.
British-based activist organisation The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned the "appalling" deal.
"In this moment, to promise to deepen relations with Israel rather than holding it accountable, gives Netanyahu the green light to continue entrenching Israeli apartheid policies," said Kamel Hawwash, the group's chair.
Putin but not Netanyahu
Sara Husseini, director of the British Palestinian Committee, pointed out the inconsistency in British policy when it came to dealing with the Israeli government and dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has had an arrest warrant for him issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Last week, the UK government was welcoming an ICC arrest warrant against Putin for the war crime of population transfer and deportation,” Husseini told MEE. “This week it is welcoming Netanyahu, the head of a regime that for decades has carried out population transfer through the illegal settlement, colonisation, and annexation of Palestinian land.”
“The message here is loud and clear: Palestinians are not deemed worthy of universal basic human rights or recourse to international mechanisms of justice in the eyes of the British government. And Israel will effectively be rewarded for its crimes,” Husseini said.
The ICC launched an investigation in 2021 for alleged Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories since 2014, news to which Netanyahu reacted by declaring: “The state of Israel is under attack this evening."
The London-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians has written to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak "seeking immediate action by the United Kingdom government in response to the long-running and continuing international crimes committed by Israel against Palestine and Palestinians, emulating the action it has taken in respect of the situation in Ukraine".