Saturday, December 20, 2008

Israel angered by UK settlements move.

The British government are being accused of Antisemitism by a hard line Israeli MP for daring to warn British people on the Foreign Office website that purchases of property in the West Bank and Gaza could be affected by any possible peace deal struck between the parties.

Yuval Steinitz, a hopeful for the post of foreign minister if Benjamin Netanyahu leads the right-wing Likud party to victory in February, advised Britain to abandon the campaign. Foreign Office officials said that it would include possible steps against newspapers advertising property in the occupied territories.

"This is none of Britain's business," said Mr Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee. "When Israel is boycotted one should wonder if there is no implicit anti-Semitism. Let us see the British government boycott products from China because there is no democracy there before they turn to Israel."

The first thing to note is how quickly the charge of Antisemitism is invoked as a way of threatening anyone who disagrees with the hardline Likud position, but the second thing to note is that the British Foreign Office even feels the need to offer this advice at all.

Are they, as I am, hopeful that Barack Obama is serious about bringing about a deal between the two sides?

And Steinitz's claim that Israel is being boycotted is simply ludicrous. The Foreign Office often advise which country's are safe to travel to etc, and there is nothing unusual about them issuing a warning that certain places where British subjects might wish to purchase property are currently under dispute. The British government are not preventing anyone from purchasing in these areas, but they are covering their own back from criticism from anyone who does make a purchase and then finds themselves out of pocket. And they are considering asking newspapers not to advertise such purchases as if they are just another property abroad as these purchases would carry particular risk.

And this advice wouldn't need to be given at all had Israel complied with her commitments under the Annapolis agreement.

Settlements are considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from moving its nationals into the occupied territory. Last month, an EU campaign was launched for clear labelling to distinguish between goods produced inside Israel, which are exempt from EU tariffs, and those made on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are not.

Britain says it acting in response to Israel's failure to uphold a commitment under the Annapolis peace process to freeze settlement building. "We hear a lot said about settlements being a major obstacle to peace. We haven't seen action. Now we are seeing how we can take action on the basis of that political position," said a Foreign Office spokesman.

Israel has long flouted international law when it comes to building settlements on occupied land and they have done so recently with George Bush's scandalous claim that there were "facts on the ground" ringing in their ears.

This might all be about to change under an Obama presidency and it is only right that the British government warn any citizens thinking of making a purchase in the occupied territories about that possible risk.

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