Lisa Nandy’s call for sanctions against Israel’s proposed annexation is a welcome first step

By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

Labour & Palestine welcomes Lisa Nandy’s statement that, if Israel’s proposed annexation takes place, “concrete action will follow, including a ban on goods entering Britain from the illegal settlements in the West Bank”. This is the first time Labour has officially called for there to be Government sanctions in response to an Israeli breach of international law and is a welcome first step.

As a response to the call from Palestine for ‘effective measures’ it is unlikely to be sufficient. As it has always been, Israel will undoubtedly be intransigent on its flouting of international law. Therefore Labour’s first challenge will be to get the UK government, other countries in the EU and globally to accept the notion that “a blatant breach of international law must have consequences”. It will be a measure of Labour’s seriousness; how much energy is put into making this policy a reality in the spheres where Labour has influence.

There is much care being used about terminology – from sanctions, concrete action, restrictive or effective measures to consequences. It matters little what they are called, the critical test will be do they work – do they have the effect of stopping annexation?

The objective must be to take action to genuinely stop annexation taking place – not just delaying or reducing it a bit, or just a verbal statement, but blocking it. Then Labour needs to be equally clear, that if annexation goes ahead, action will be taken quickly. This will require international cooperation but should not be delayed until there is a global or European consensus – as this is unlikely to be achieved within a reasonable timescale. Countries will need to take unilateral action.

The forms of action that can be taken – as was shown with the response to the annexation of Crimea – are many and various. It is likely that low-level sanctions would need to be accompanied by further measures anyway.

There will be much discussion about what form any action should take, but there should only be one criteria – effectiveness. If whatever action has been taken doesn’t result in bringing an end to the annexation, then it has to be recognised that the actions will have to be strengthened. It cannot be a ‘one-off’ – we tried and it didn’t work.

Labour’s statement will have the positive effect of bringing discussion about sanctions into the mainstream, rather than being ostracised as Israel was hoping to achieve through its campaign against BDS. A campaign further undermined by two legal setbacks it has suffered – first in the UK’s Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Government regulations aimed at blocking local authority pension schemes from choosing not to invest in Israel.

Secondly the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which will still cover the UK after Brexit unless we opt out of the Convention, to rule illegal French Court’s decision s to convict BDS activists. It ruled, with usual caveats, that boycott actions aimed at a state’s actions were covered by the freedom of expression.

In the fight against apartheid in South Africa it was the long campaign for ‘Sanctions Now’ coming to fruition that eventually had the effect – it is clear that governments need to act. Many view Israel to effectively be an apartheid regime now. Annexation will take Israel inevitably along the path that make it a state where the discrimination is built into and supported by its legal system. The definition of an apartheid state.

With annexation, Israel is changing the terms of debate – something which it might be prevented from doing if supporters of Palestine speak up loudly and the world calls Israel to account for its actions. Israel is effectively declaring itself above the framework of international law and any form of peace process that could lead to an independent Palestine.