British Jewish leaders express ‘concern’ over Israel’s annexation plan (

Forty-two leaders in the British Jewish community signed an open letter to the Israeli government noting their “concern” surrounding Israel’s decision to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank within the context of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, as indicated in the coalition agreement for the 23rd Knesset.The plan would allow Israel to apply sovereignty to 30% percent of the West Bank, within Area C. All West Bank settlements would be included in that sovereignty plan.The letter, published in Haaretz on Thursday, was addressed personally to the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom Mark Regev, who will be leaving his position at the end of August. Among the signatories included current and former Jewish diplomats, MPs, senior rabbis, journalists, artists and historians.”Despite the decades we have invested in strengthening the relationships between Israel, the UK and British Jews and despite the leadership roles many of us have held or still hold, we are writing in a personal capacity,” the letter stated. “Our concerns are, however, shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them. As such, we would ask you to convey frankly our unprecedented level of concern to the Government of Israel.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from the Israeli Right to apply sovereignty over portions of the West Bank in Area C immediately or certainly by his announced July 1 date. Under the new coalition agreement, newly appointed Defense Minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz will also be backing the annexation move.Whether they do so within the context of the Trump peace plan or not, it’s presumed that such an annexation plan would include all the West Bank settlements located in Area C of the West Bank, which are currently under Israeli military rule.“The time has come to apply Israeli law over [West Bank settlements] and to write a new, glorious chapter in the annals of Zionism,” Netanyahu said just before the swearing in of his government.However, the British leaders dismissed that notion, saying that annexation “would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it.””We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step,” the signatories said. “Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”Netanyahu argued before the swearing in that annexation “will not make peace more distant; it will bring it closer. Peace can only be based on truth, and everyone knows it.”Netanyahu spoke out against the International Criminal Court’s case against Israel, calling it “outrageous… to accuse IDF soldiers of war crimes and Israel of the quote-unquote terrible crime of building preschools in Gilo and our return to Shiloh, Beit El and Hebron.“What hypocrisy! What a distortion of the truth!” he exclaimed. “This is the truth: These areas are the districts in which the Jewish nation sprouted.”The British signatories believe that this viewpoint lacks empathy for the Palestinians who live in Area C, and that the negative political implications that will ensue following annexation will far outweigh the benefits on the grounds “it will be perceived as evidence of Israel’s rejection of negotiated peace and a two-state solution.””It would have grave consequences for the Palestinian people most obviously. Israel’s international standing would also suffer and it is incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state,” they wrote, adding that “this threatens to inflame tensions among the Palestinians – whose president has already announced the suspension of agreements with Israel and the US – undermine the Palestinian Authority perhaps fatally, destabilize Israel’s strategically important peace with Jordan and Egypt and undermine the growing cooperation between Israel and the Sunni Arab states while emboldening Iran and its proxies.””On many occasions we have been asked to make Israel’s case in the UK. We have always endeavoured to use whatever tools we have at our disposal to nurture a more sympathetic environment for Israel in this country. If asked to make the case for West Bank annexations, however, we will not be able to do so.”

Tovah Lazaroff, Lahav Harkov and Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.

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