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In welcoming Netanyahu to Downing Street, May showed contempt for international law

British Prime minister Theresa May (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet in London on February 6 2017 [Kate Green/Anadolu]
British Prime minister Theresa May (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet in London on February 6 2017 [Kate Green/Anadolu]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his British counterpart Theresa May in London on Monday, despite rumours of tension between the two countries over Britain's role in drafting and backing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to illegal settlement-building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Netanyahu showed his keenness to meet with May by turning up early; he was left waiting awkwardly outside the door of Number 10.

The visit took place amidst an escalation in Israel's annexation of Palestinian land, illegal settlement building and the passing of the controversial "Legalisation Bill". The bill seeks,retroactively, to "legalise" Jewish outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land. It has now passed its final committee stage and requires just one more round of votes for it to become law. Netanyahu actually flew straight back to Israel in order to vote in favour of the bill. Furthermore, as he spoke to Theresa May about the Iranian threat to peace, his army and air force were attacking the Gaza Strip; three Palestinians were injured in the air strikes, reported Al-Jazeera.

Israeli settlements and the annexation of Palestinian land are not only illegal under international law, but also condemned by the British government. "The announcement of further settlement units in the West Bank is a part of a growing trend which we condemn," said Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood on behalf of the British Foreign Office last week. "We have consistently been clear that settlements are illegal under international law, and not conducive to peace. This spike in settlement activity undermines trust and makes a two state solution – with an Israel that is safe from terrorism and a Palestinian state that is viable and sovereign – much harder to achieve."

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This view was echoed by UN envoy for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, who also expressed his concern about the bill. "It will enable the continued use of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements," explained the Bulgarian diplomat. "If adopted into law, it will have far-reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace."

The bill has also been denounced by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, she said that announcements about new "housing units" are "a very worrying trend."

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, has called on the Security Council and General Assembly to take effective diplomatic and political measures to ensure that Israel complies with Security Council Resolution 2334, which affirms that all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory constitute a flagrant violation of international law. "If Israel understands that the international community will take no meaningful steps to enforce the Council's resolution," he warned,"it will continue to intensify its settlement project undeterred."

Netanyahu's visit to Downing Street faced crowds of pro-Palestine protesters against Britain's staunch support for the Zionist state. The protest was organised by a number of British organisations, including Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Muslim Association of Britain, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, Stop the War Coalition and War on Want.

According to Dr Hafez Al-Karmi, the Chairman of the Palestinian Forum of Britain, the British government should not welcome a war criminal like Netanyahu, it should arrest him. "The visit flew in the face of public opinion. More than 100,000 British citizens signed a petition urging the government to hold him to account for his crimes." By welcoming the Israeli prime minister, Al-Karmi argued, Theresa May's government implies that it approves of its criminal policies against the Palestinians. "This encourages him in his continued expansion of settlements; the Judaisation of Jerusalem; the displacement of Palestinians; and the siege on Gaza."

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Netanyahu's visit to Britain sent a disturbing message to the Palestinian community in Britain, added the forum's chair, as well as British Arabs and Muslims who see their government taking a clearly biased position in favour of the state responsible for a brutal military occupation.

On a domestic level, the meeting between May and Netanyahu went ahead despite the recent scandal involving an Israeli diplomat who was caught on camera suggesting that he "take down" Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan MP. The expose by Al-Jazeera's series "The Lobby" looked at how Israeli embassy officials and the pro-Israel lobby in Britain has been undermining and influencing British democracy and working to drum up support for the occupying power.

"Theresa May should not be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu until he acts upon his responsibilities in accordance with human rights and international law," said Zaher Birawi, the Chair of EuroPal Forum. "It is shameful that the British government's policy towards the Palestinian issue is influenced by the wishes of the pro-Israel lobby. History will judge this as a blemish on Britain's record; one of the oldest democracies in the world should not be protecting war criminals by amending laws to make sure that they are not brought to justice."

Israel has been occupying Palestine for almost 70 years, driving Palestinians from their homes in what has been called an ongoing act of ethnic cleansing. Millions of Palestinians live in refugee camps around the Middle East and the wider diaspora as Israel expands through annexation and settlement building.

The Zionist state has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2006, controlling the flow of goods and people and essentially keeping Palestinians in an open prison. Israel stands accused of numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity in its serial military offensives against civilians in Gaza. Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed, wounded and rendered homeless by the Israeli army and air force, while its navy attacks defenceless fishermen as it imposes an illegal and impractical limit on where they can cast their nets. The infrastructure and economy of the enclave have been shattered during the siege.

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One campaigner for Palestinian rights insisted that Britain is siding with the oppressor and aligning itself with Israel's human rights violations by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu. "Britain should not pander to the pro-Israel lobby," said Shabbir Lakha at Monday's protest in London. "Instead, it should do everything in its power to pressure Israel into acting in accordance with international law so that the rights of the Palestinian people are met."

Lakha was just one of many people who demonstrated their opposition to Britain's unequivocal support for Israel's rogue regime and demanded meaningful action to hold it accountable for its violations of international laws and conventions. In welcoming the Israeli prime minister to Downing Street, Theresa May has shown us clearly that she holds such laws in contempt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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