Britain has turned its back on the Palestinian people after giving them so much hope

Just over a year since UK Parliament voted to recognise Palestinian statehood it is now welcoming a man who lives on an illegal Israeli settlement built on Palestinian land

When the British Parliament voted to recognise the state of Palestine in 2014 it felt like an historic moment. As Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, I thought that Britain was at last going to start putting right the wrongs that it did to my people.

More than a year later and it would seem that the opposite is true.

This is exemplified by the invitation of the British Inter-Parliamentary Union to the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Yuli Edelstein to address both Houses on 2 March. Edelstein lives on an illegal Israeli settlement built on Palestinian land and he publically opposes Palestinian statehood.

He even supports initiatives such as Lobby for Greater Israel, whose members want to colonise what is left of Palestinian land. I am quite incredulous that Edelstein, in view of what he represents, is being given a platform in Parliament itself, the bastion of British democracy and the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and a state of their own.

Israel is building more and more illegal settlements and expropriating vast amounts of Palestinian territory. There are now 237 settlements and approximately 570,000 settlers in what constitutes a creeping annexation.

Yuli Edelstein lives in the settlement of Neve Daniel near Bethlehem. He personifies Israeli intransigence and all that is wrong with the current extreme right-wing Israeli government of Netanyahu. Is welcoming such a man to the beating heart of British democracy indicative of something more worrying?

I am referring to the way in which the current British government is reneging on its long-held policy positions on illegal Israeli settlements and on the two-state solution. Only recently, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond condemned illegal settlements as an impediment to peace, a view held by his international partners.

The two-state solution has been a baseline for the Middle East peace process since the Oslo Accords – but what has Britain done in practical terms to hold Israel to account in relation to its illegal settlements? And what about the many other breaches of international law, such as home demolitions, detention of Palestinians without trial, and its war crimes in Gaza? What pressure has it put on Israel? What has it done to help protect the Palestinians under an oppressive occupation?

In fact, the current British government has done everything to protect and enhance its ties with Israel. This has amounted to record levels of technological and scientific cooperation, investment and trade levels at some $7 billion a year. In a recent interview, the British Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey said that "the relationship between Britain and Israel…is probably stronger and deeper than it has ever been".

He is right there. The British government is even trying to squash all dissent at home, and is undermining British democracy by restricting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli products and institutions complicit with the occupation. Of course, the UK is free to conduct trade and cooperate with any partner it wishes, but all I ask is that it is even-handed in its relations with the Palestinians.

The British Government's failure to hold Israel to account has led to popular action by the British public to make ethical choices and support a boycotts. But now the Government says public bodies are banned from such actions, crucial parts of the BDS movement have effectively been criminalised.

Instead of finally trying to redress historic injustice, Britain’s inaction is helping to perpetuate it. In his speech to the Knesset during a state visit in 2014, David Cameron said he was proud that Britain played a major part in creating Israel. Is he also proud of Britain’s policies towards the Palestinians?

As Israel grabs more and more Palestinian land for its illegal settlements, everyone knows the prospect for a two-state solution, for a Palestinian state, becomes more remote. Britain has condemned illegal settlements and argued for a two-state solution. So are we to assume that these long-held policy positions were just empty words?

And does Britain think that security in the region can be restored without a just peace for the Palestinians? Britain can no longer ignore its deep moral obligations to the Palestinians. It is unfortunate and sad to see such a great power now turn its back on them.

Manuel Hassassian is Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom

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