The Board of Deputies of British Jews is refusing to condemn the new Israeli government’s plans to annex Palestinian land.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, a majority of the Board’s members back President Marie van der Zyl’s decision not to speak out about the new Israeli coalition government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, which has pledged to annex around a third of the West Bank, starting in July.
But Mrs van der Zyl, who was elected on a platform of defending Israel, has continued to stress her support for a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
At a recent Board meeting she said: “There isn’t going to be a consensus that is going to be reached and I am very concerned that the Jewish community stays together as a community at what is clearly a divisive time…. Almost all serious peace proposals had included the incorporation of the major settlement blocks in Israel to safeguard security in the Jordan Valley as part of the final agreement.”
Mrs van der Zyl added that the UK Jewish community was “in the main Zionist” and “our interests with the Israeli government overlap.”
Last week 500 British Jewish students and youth movement members put their names to a letter warning that the Board’s historical support for a negotiated two-state solution will be “impossible to achieve’’ if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with the proposed annexation of a portion of the West Bank.
The letter also suggested that the Board’s “relevance’’ to the younger generation would be questioned if it did not speak out.
A second letter by prominent Jews emerged on Monday signed by 560 people which warned that any failure to “defend the two-state solution against threats made to it by all parties to the conflict” would undermine the Board of Deputies and its “credibility and integrity.”
The Board’s silence on the issue comes amid UK government warnings to Israel not to proceed with the plans.
Conservative Minister James Cleverly told the House of Commons on Monday that the government would not support any planned annexation of the West Bank.
The Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa said: “The UK government has expressed both publicly and indeed to the government of Israel its concerns about reports of annexation which we have consistently said we oppose – and which could be detrimental to a two state solution.”
He added that the UK was “deeply concerned” about the new Israeli coalition government’s plans which he said were ” contradictory to international law,” and that the UK had ”made clear our concern” over possible annexation to the United Nations at a meeting held on April 23.
Asked if the UK would consider such a move by the Israeli government “illegal under international law,” Mr Cleverly said: “Our longstanding position is such a move would be contrary to international law.”
And he accepted that failure to oppose annexation ”could make a sustainable two-state solution harder.”
Last week, over 150 British MPs from all parties wrote to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary urging them to make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation of Occupied Palestinian territory “will have severe consequences including sanctions.”
The politicians, including former cabinet members, ministers and senior diplomats, demanded actions not words in opposing any Israeli annexation. They said this would be “a mortal blow to chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on any viable two-state solution.”
The West Bank is currently home to about 2.8 million Palestinians and 400,000 illegal Jewish settlers.
The United Nations considers all of the West Bank as occupied Palestinian land and all settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank to be illegal.