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UK criticised over 'lacklustre' response to Israel's annexation plans

Rights groups and charities call on Downing Street to take 'concrete' action if Israel goes ahead with West Bank annexation
Palestinians and Israeli activists protest against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank near Jericho on 27 June (AFP)

A coalition of 14 rights groups and charities have called on the UK to issue "clear and concrete warnings" to Israel over its planned annexation of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley, not just "lacklustre" verbal condemnation.

The group of organisations, including Christian Aid and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, said in a statement on Monday that the UK "holds legal, moral and historic duties towards the Palestinian people...  however, its opposition to Israel's violations has been largely rhetorical".

Last month, the UK said it would not support Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley, saying "any such unilateral moves would be damaging to renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations, and contrary to international law".

The coalition slammed the UK's response as "lacklustre," adding it "has consistently failed to outline how it will meaningfully oppose it."

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"Only clear and concrete warnings will be an effective deterrent."

While the coalition did not issue a specific policy proposal because of their charitable status, they called on Downing Street to recommit to the cause of Palestinian self-determination and issue actual consequences if Israel goes ahead with plans to annex Palestinian territories.

"Hope is not yet lost, so long as there are those – individuals and states – that are willing to stand up for international law, not just through words but through tangible action".

Lisa Nandy, the British Labour party's shadow foreign secretary, has called for the government to take action and impose a ban on Israeli goods that are made in illegal settlements.

"It is a shameful proposition to which the UK cannot be a silent witness. Across the world, concern is growing … So far the UK government has been conspicuously absent from this global response," she said.

"This is now urgent. The government must be clear with the Israeli coalition government that concrete action will follow, including a ban on goods entering Britain from the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

"This is a major step, but such a blatant breach of international law must have consequences. It will take a level of courage that so far ministers have not been willing to show."

'Annexation is illegal. Period'

International condemnation of Israel's planned annexation has mounted ahead of 1 July, when Israel could take its first steps towards implementing parts of US President Donald Trump's so-called "deal of the century".

Trump's proposals, which have been rejected outright by the Palestinians, pave the way for annexing key parts of the occupied West Bank, including settlements long considered illegal by the majority of the international community.

On Monday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, added her voice to a chorus of officials urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop the plan.

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"Annexation is illegal. Period," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

Bachelet urged Israel to shift course, warning that "the shock waves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians".

"The precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted," she said.

"But they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region."

Israel's defence minister and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday that any annexation of West Bank territory must be placed on hold until the country's coronavirus crisis was contained.

"Anything unrelated to the battle against the coronavirus will wait until after the virus," he told a televised meeting with members of his Blue and White party.

In response, Netanyahu told legislators from his right-wing Likud party that annexation steps due to be debated by the cabinet as early as Wednesday did not depend on Gantz's support.