The UK won’t back sanctions against Israel if it carries out its planned annexation of the West Bank – despite believing the actions are a breach of international law.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has said the government is attempting to “dissuade” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from pushing ahead with the move, which would see areas of the disputed territory become part of the Middle Eastern country.
However, the UK will not “stamp our feet and bang the table”, Cleverly said, as he insisted the government would use “diplomatic means” as opposed to economic sanctions in a bid to dissuade the Israeli government.
Wheels could be set in motion on the controversial annexation plan this week, and while it has the support of US President Donald Trump, many other world leaders are opposed to the action.
The West Bank is seen as the basis of a future Palestinian state, but Israel has been building settlements on the land for decades, claiming it is part of the ancestral land of Jewish people.
Asked about the plan in the Commons on Tuesday, Cleverly said: “The UK’s position is clear: we oppose any unilateral annexation.
“It would be a breach of international law and risk undermining peace efforts.”
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said it was “shameful” that the UK was not doing more to stop the annexation.
Addressing Cleverly, she added: “Will he commit to a ban on settlement imports and recognise Palestine, as this House voted to do?
“Forgive me, I may have missed it. If he will not do those things, can he tell us what exactly he is proposing to do?”
Cleverly replied: “The UK remains a friend and ally to the state of Israel and a good friend to the Palestinian people.
“It is tempting—and I am sure it will placate certain voices on the left of the political spectrum—to stamp our feet and bang the table, but we will continue to dissuade a friend and ally in the state of Israel from taking a course of action that we believe will be against its own interests, and we will do so through the most effective means available.”
SNP MP Alyn Smith urged Cleverly to “put action on the table” and ban the import of goods produced in the annexed lands.
He added: “When Russia illegally occupied Crimea, the UK Government, with our support, implemented sanctions with the international community.
“We need that sort of action now, and I would urge the Minister to greater efforts than we have heard today.”
Cleverly responded that Israel’s actions would not go “unanswered”, but also said: “There will always be voices in British politics that would jump at any opportunity to bring in sanctions and disinvestment.
“We do not agree with those voices, and we will continue to work towards a negotiated two-state solution, using the diplomatic means we have at our disposal.”