The below is Labour Friends of Israel’s 2023 National Policy Forum submission, to the ‘Britain in the world’ commission.
Labour Friends of Israel: NFP Consultation Submission
Established in 1957, Labour Friends of Israel campaigns for a negotiated two-state solution for two peoples; with Israel safe, secure and recognised within its borders; living alongside a viable, democratic and independent Palestinian state.
Through delegations to Israel and Palestine, parliamentary scrutiny and debates, and grassroots events and campaigning activities, LFI works to:
- Strengthen support for the Jewish state and a two-state solution across the Labour Party;
- Promote constructive and informed discussion about Israel and the Middle East within the Labour movement;
- And foster closer links between Labour parliamentarians, our sister party Israeli Labor, and other progressive Israeli and Palestinian politicians, trade unions, civic society groups and individuals.
LFI believes that the next Labour government’s priorities in the Middle East should be to promote a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians; support peacemakers throughout the region, especially the expansion and deepening of the Abraham Accords; oppose those states in the region which bankroll and encourage terrorism, violence and hatred; and help foster progressive forces by supporting democracy, human rights and stronger civic societies. We oppose unilateral actions which might damage the prospects of a two-state solution and support the establishment of a framework for a renewed peace process, underpinned by mutual trust and confidence and the encouragement and assistance of the international community.
- Support international action to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is an urgent priority. A Labour government should recognise that the Abraham Accords provides an opportunity for Britain, the US and our European allies to work with Israel and the Palestinians to assemble a consortium of Arab states willing to provide funding for infrastructure and development projects in Gaza. This requires the establishment of a robust, round-the-clock and credible monitoring system to ensure that reconstruction materials are not diverted by Hamas into illicit military purposes. At the heart of initial reconstruction efforts should be an emergency infrastructure plan that would see major investment by international donors in desalination and energy initiatives.
- Support the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and re-establish UK investment in peace-building work.
Established during the darkest days of the Troubles, the International Fund for Ireland invested in cross-community work, laid the civic society foundations for peace and helped sustain public support for the Good Friday Agreement. An International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which has been designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace and endorsed by Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, would leverage and invest up to £200m (global figure) in similar peacebuilding work. Academic evaluations have found that such projects foster values of peace, reconciliation and coexistence. Small-scale funding for people-to-people work was cut by the Conservatives in 2020 at just the moment the US Congress allocated $250m for these vital initiatives. A Labour government should re-establish UK investment in peace-building while working to support the creation of an International Fund.
- Endorse a freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank.
Settlement-building – especially that which occurs beyond the security barrier – represents an obstacle to a two-state solution by threatening the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state and undermining trust. A Labour government should urge Israel to freeze settlement-building and recognise that, at the conclusion of final status negotiations, “land swaps” can allow the major settlement blocs closest to the 1967 lines to become part of Israel.
- Support steps towards the establishment of a viable, democratic and independent Palestinian state through renewed investment in the Palestinian Authority (PA) linked to measures to end incitement and improve Palestinian governance and human rights. Alongside a permanent Gaza ceasefire, promote the reunification of the Palestinian territories under PA authority with free elections.
In order to further our goal of establishing a Palestinian state, a Labour government should support international moves to ensure the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza under the authority of the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, it should re-establish UK financial assistance to the PA. This state-building support should include measures to promote free elections, replace the policy of paying salaries to those convicted of terrorism offences with a needs-based system, and end antisemitic incitement to violence and the glorification of terrorism, especially in the PA school curriculum and on state TV. This investment should also seek to bolster the confidence of the Palestinian people in the PA through anti-corruption measures and institutional reform to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and protect a free press and human rights.
- Enhance the bilateral relationship between Britain and Israel to ensure both countries reap the benefits of greater economic, tech and innovation, and security cooperation. Oppose the BDS movement.
Israel is Britain’s closest ally in the Middle East and a key partner in the fight against terrorism and safeguarding the UK’s national security. The two countries also have an important and growing economic relationship. Our trade relationship is worth nearly £5bn annually, with Israeli investment in the UK worth over £200m and the UK is Israel’s second largest partner in goods and services. Nearly 10,000 UK businesses export and import goods to and from Israel and trade between the two countries supports nearly 40,000 jobs in Britain. Israel’s cutting-edge tech and pharma sectors also provide further concrete benefits in the UK. Israeli firms provide 1 in 7 of the NHS’ drugs and are estimated to save the health service £2.9bn annually. Israel’s strong social and workforce protections – bolstered and guarded by our friends in the Israeli trade union movement – make the country a natural trading partner. Labour should work to expand and enhance this relationship, prioritising the negotiation and conclusion of the proposed UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement. At the same time, we should vigorously oppose the BDS movement which seeks to single out Israel alone in the world. BDS is morally wrong, against the UK national interest, and does nothing to advance the cause of peace, reconciliation and a two-state solution.
- Encourage Arab states to normalise relations with Israel and deepen the Abraham Accords.
A Labour government should work with our allies in the region and beyond to encourage Arab states to follow the example of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and normalise relations with Israel. Strengthened and expanded, the Abraham Accords have the potential to further a two-state solution, promote prosperity and security in the region, and ensure cooperation to tackle the challenges of climate change, energy insecurity and water scarcity.
- Support international action to curb Iran’s expansionist activities in the region, assist those campaigning for democracy and freedom domestically, and ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
The Iranian government’s support for terrorism, proxy armies and Shia militias, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as its nuclear and ballistic missile programme represent a threat to the security of the region, Europe and the United Kingdom. They also rob the Iranian people of economic opportunities and resources desperately needed at home. A Labour government should support international action to curb Iran’s malign regional activities; ensure the Islamic Republic does not obtain nuclear weapons (which would spark regional nuclear proliferation); and support the Iranian people in their desire to replace the current theocratic regime with a government which respects democracy, freedom and human rights.
- Invest in the promotion of democracy, stronger civic societies and a free press, and independent trade unions throughout the region.
A Labour government should pursue a consistent, ethical foreign policy which actively supports progressive forces and democracy in the region. Working alongside our allies and partners, UK aid should be directed towards those seeking to strengthen civil society, promote the rights of women, the LGBT+ community and minorities, and build a free media. The BBC’s decision to close its Arabic and Persian radio services is short-sighted and not in the UK’s national interest and a Labour government should work with the corporation to review future provision. Trade unions are an important non-sectarian force in the region. Labour should investigate with the TUC and its affiliates the establishment of a fund dedicated to supporting the growth of independent trade unions in the region.
- Increase Britain’s diplomatic representation and “soft power” in the region and re-establish a dedicated post of Middle East minister in the FCDO.
Cuts to the international aid budget, the British Council and Britain’s diplomatic service have compounded the impact of Brexit in reducing Britain’s global influence. The current government’s lack of interest in the region was crystallised by the failure of its 2021 Integrated Review to even mention the Abraham Accords. If a Labour government is to realise its ambitions in the region, it must begin to restore cuts to the FCDO budget and re-establish a dedicated portfolio of Minister for the Middle East.
- Support even-handed, balanced and fair-minded international institutions in their dealings with the region.
International institutions such as the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have disproportionately, and obsessively targeted Israel for condemnation. This is a clear breach of the principle of equality enshrined in the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also does nothing to promote the cause of peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. And it has allowed countries such as Iran to escape the scrutiny and condemnation they richly deserve. A Labour government should join fellow centre-left governments such as the USA, Canada and Australia in opposing the demonisation and delegitimisation of the world’s sole Jewish state in international forums while promoting and adopting a principled and consistent approach towards international law and human rights. A Labour government should support peace-builders and progressives in both Israel and Palestine, recognising that a two-state solution will only come about through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.