CJ Werleman explores the implications of the Government’s stance on an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories by the International Criminal Court

The Prime Minister last week sent a letter to pro-Israel lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) stating that his Government opposes an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, calling it a “partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK”.

Boris Johnson also mentioned his “respect [for] the independence” of the ICC – but not, it seems, when it comes to investigating Israel.

The letter can be interpreted in no other way than the UK Prime Minister’s belief that Israel is above the law and that its documented criminality in the occupied Palestinian Territories has reached a level of impunity.

“It marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage,” said a statement from the Palestinian Consulate in London in response. “The letter is a contradiction of international law. It is a contradiction of British policy. It subverts the rules-based global order. And it sets back efforts to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine.”

It appears that the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the CFI, has once again steered the UK Government away from international and human rights law and towards the sanctification of war crimes in the Middle East. A 2009 Channel 4 documentary – Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby by Byline Times columnist Peter Oborne revealed that around 80% of Conservative Party MPs in the UK are members of the CFI.

In a new memoir, former Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan speaks of the way in which pro-Israel lobby groups have had “the most disgusting influence” over the country’s foreign policy in the Middle East, while also singling out the CFI for going “ballistic” in its efforts to block him from taking a new post covering Middle East affairs because he supports the rights of Palestinians.

In a recent interview, Sir Alan said that CFI has injected a “Netanyahu-type view of Israeli politics into our foreign policy”, which has placed the UK outside of the rule of international law and somewhat akin to a rogue state. He said that the pro-Israel lobby group has created a culture of fear among the political class, while describing its influence and interference in British politics as “buried scandal that has to stop”.

In his memoir, he writes that he is “ashamed” of the way in which his Government peddled “pro-settlement propaganda” at the expense of human rights, international law and global democracy, and described Johnson as a “clown,” an “embarrassing buffoon”, and “international stain on our reputation”, and an “ill-disciplined, shambolic, shameless clot… (an) egotistical showman”.

Duncan also narrates how he was made the target of an Israeli effort to “take down” himself and the former Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, as revealed by an Al Jazeera investigation in 2017, which revealed the meddling role the Israeli Embassy in London plays in British politics.

Former CIA station chief Robert Greiner wrote at the time that this is the “stuff of classic hostile espionage” and that the “shame” here lies less with Israel but more with British political leaders who “allow their democratic institutions to be suborned to the benefit of a foreign power”.

Johnson’s expression of the Government’s opposition against an ICC investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories comes at the same time as a court case involving Labour Activists for Justice has claimed that pro-Israel groups intentionally weaponised discourse tying anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel’s policies on occupation in the Palestinian Territories to hurt the Labour Party’s chances in the 2019 General Election.

Johnson’s move has negative implications for the Palestinian people, who have not only endured seven decades of Israeli military occupation but also a system of apartheid, as revealed in a recent report by internationally-respected Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

Notably, the ICC has promised to investigate all allegations of war crimes, including those alleged to have been carried out by Hamas. The Israeli Government has cajoled and coerced its allies to block and sanction ICC officials.

UN human rights experts have warned that violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, including assaults and property destruction, has increased in recent months. Human Rights Watch has documented five categories of major violations that characterise Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, including “unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions of movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians”. 

That ties between pro-Israel lobbying groups and the Johnson Government stand in the way of justice and democracy for the Palestinian people leaves an stain on the reputation of the UK and further emphasises the need for an urgent overhaul of the political lobbying system – a scandal which is currently engulfing the country.

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