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UK urged to include Israel in its new sanctions system

Palestinians attend the national products exhibition calling people to boycott Israeli goods in Gaza city on 3 December 2018. [Ashraf Amra/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians attend the national products exhibition calling people to boycott Israeli goods in Gaza city on 3 December 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Middle East Monitor]

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was accused of turning a blind eye to Israeli human rights abuse during a House of Commons discussion over the new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime announced earlier this week.

Since leaving the European Union, Britain has been free to develop its own sanctions regime, details of which were outlined by Raab. During his statement explaining the new powers that will be granted to UK officials to punish human rights violators, Raab suggested a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, China and Russia were likely targets.

Raab's failure to include Israel in the new sanction regime did not go un-noticed. Labour MP Afzal Khan asked the foreign secretary to explain why the Zionist state was not on his list given its "contempt for international law".

"Israeli annexations are a violation of international law and jeopardise any chance of a two-state solution," said Khan. "A two-state solution is not a lost cause, but that is only possible if we speak up."

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"I urge the Government to take action and condemn violations such as the recent bulldozing of a historic Muslim cemetery in Jaffa," added Khan before asking Raab  if he agreed "that such contempt for international law warrants sanctions? If not, could he please explain his reasoning?"

"We certainly oppose not just the settlement building but other violations of international humanitarian law," responded Rabb, while refusing to explain why he left Israel out of sanctions regime. He affirmed the UK's position on the matter pointing to the letter Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently published in the Israeli press. Raab insisted that the letter had "made it clear that [we] are not giving up on a two-state solution. We oppose annexation and we want both parties to come to the table and negotiate a lasting settlement."

Later in the debate, Scottish National Party representative Brendan O'Hara, pressed Raab further on his decision not to include Israel. "Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the application of the sanctions regime will be transparently even-handed and will not be blind to human rights abuses carried out by or in the name of our so-called allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel or India, or indeed countries with which we are seeking to secure a post-Brexit trade deal?" said O'Hara.

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Though Britain has been critical of Israel's planned annexation of the West Bank – which critics say is little more than a symbolic gesture given that annexation is a daily reality for Palestinians – Number 10 has consistently refused to adopt the kind of strong position one normally sees being adopted against countries that are not traditional allies.

UK Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy was one of the first senior members of parliament to even suggest punitive measures against Israel. Pro-Netanyahu UK Jewish groups were outraged even by the suggestion Israel should be penalised for what many say are war crimes and denounced her as "divisive."

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