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Johnson's diplomatic advice to Netanyahu and the UK's stance on Hong Kong and Palestine  

July 4, 2020 at 11:52 am

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing St to make a statement titled ‘Global Britain’ at the Houses of Parliament in London, United Kingdom on June 16, 2020 [Ray Tang / Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank – a territory already occupied since 1967 – did not take place, just as Johnson and others hoped.

As a “passionate defender of Israel” the British prime minister’s plea to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu not to implement the illegal annexation, seems to have borne fruit. The self-imposed target day of 1 July did not take place due to global opposition; a situation that has embarrassed Netanyahu and put him in deep trouble with the settler movements and blocs in Israel and the US.

I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead. If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties. There is another way,” Johnson stated in his lengthy op-ed piece, which he chose to publish in Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest circulated Israeli newspaper. Johnson’s choice to convey his diplomatic advice on the first page of Ynet was aimed at reaching out to the Israeli public, including the extreme right-wing blocs to which Netanyahu belongs. This was a move first used last month by the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al-Otaiba, to also warn against the repercussions of annexation, namely normalisation ties between Israel and some Arab countries, especially the Gulf States. The UK prime minister also made reference to Al-Otaiba’s concerns by stating: “Annexation would put in jeopardy the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world.”

The leader of the British Conservative party warned that “annexation would represent a violation of international law,” as if the 1967 occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is not also considered a violation of international law.

Johnson expressed his country’s pride in creating Israel — at the expense of the suffering of the indigenous people of Palestine: “I’m immensely proud of the UK’s contribution to the birth of Israel with the 1917 Balfour Declaration. But it will remain unfinished business until there is a solution which provides justice and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The diplomatic advice of Johnson comes from the UK, a former colonialist power to Israel, a nascent state, which has been practising a colonialist military occupation rule over the past seven decades against Palestinians, who have been struggling for self-determination and freedom.

Palestinians have long been calling upon Britain to correct its historical injustice, which started in 1917, by what is infamously known as the Balfour Declaration.

Comparisons can be drawn of the UK’s reactions with regards to human rights violations and freedoms in both Hong Kong, a former British colony, and Palestine, a territory which was under British military rule.

International law and political hypocrisy

International law and respect for human rights must be considered as one package and applied to every regime and nation. Applying international norms, laws and rules without impartiality, could be considered a blatant hypocrisy.

The legacy of colonialism still persists, and has been well-documented in history books. Former colonialist powers like Great Britain have never hidden their pride of their rule. “Historic Palestine” was one of the places administered by British generals and rulers following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, a few years after the end of World War I.

The nascent state of Israel was born as a result of colonialism and was established at the expense of the Palestinians — the indigenous people of the land — after Britain decided to end its mandate in Palestine on 15 May, 1948. This means that Britain ruled Palestine for 27 years. Britain also handed over the territory of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, after a colonial rule that lasted 152 years.  The region was occupied during the First Opium War in 1841 until 1997, with the exception of a brief period under Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945.

Regardless of the technicalities and details drawn in this comparison, Palestinians insist that it was Britain who was responsible for their ongoing suffering in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration.

If the UK views China as an oppressive regime, then it should also look to Israel in the same way and offer Palestinians the right to settle in the UK, and to ultimately apply for citizenship, just as Johnson recently offered to almost three million residents of Hong Kong. Johnson made his offer in response to Beijing’s sweeping new security law for Hong Kong residents – a law which attracts penalties including life imprisonment.

Upon learning of Johnson’s offer to Hong Kong residents, Palestinians questioned why they, too, cannot have this right, in addition, of course, to retaining their Palestinian identity, right of return and to live in their ancestral homeland, with an apology and compensation from Britain to Palestinians, both inside the occupied Palestinian territories and in exile.

Johnson’s plea to Netanyahu could be one of the reasons explaining the halt of annexation. Britain will always be viewed by Palestinians as the main culprit in their suffering and responsible for the instability in the Holy Land. More than just words are needed to help end the occupation, and to pressure Tel Aviv to grant Palestinians their freedom and equal rights. The UK must finish its unfinished business and correct the historical injustice that it has inflicted on the Palestinian people.

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