UK Government acts to discourage settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Good news reported in the Jerusalem Post, meeting (unless I’m reading it wrong) with only the political minimum of protest from the Israeli government.

“The advisory comes quickly on the heels of a letter British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote two weeks ago to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam, Fayad saying he shared Fayad’s “frustration” at settlement activity, which Brown said has “continued and has accelerated since the Annapolis process was launched. “The UK is now looking at what effective action we can take to discourage settlement expansion,” he wrote.

“Given our clear position on settlements, it follows that we would not want any British national to purchase property inside an illegal settlement,” Brown continued. “We are now looking at whether there are effective ways in which we can discourage them from so doing.

“I have already asked officials to update our official travel advice to include a specific warning that potential purchasers of property in a settlement should consider that a future peace agreement could have consequences for that property.”

Israeli officials said the issue was raised during meetings with visiting British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell, who arrived Sunday and is leaving on Tuesday.”

The point can be made that Jews are the only group of people currently prevented by exceptional Palestinian law from buying land in the Palestinian territories. It could be said that it’s as if The Netherlands were to outlaw German nationals from buying land, while allowing Belgians to buy freely. However, Palestine is not The Netherlands – Palestine is a homeland for Palestinians which has been trying to get off the ground for 60 years. It is also a place that a small minority of Jews would like to control, for reasons to do with religion and/or security. I’m not sure about the wording of the advisory – if it refers only to the settlements, or to the territories in general, or to land bought through Israeli vendors. These things do matter – if homes and land are available to be bought and sold in the general scheme of things (another thing I disagree with) then it’s important for third party interventionists not to be discriminatory. But of course I support measures against purchasing from Israeli vendors whose presence in the Palestinian territories depends on a corrosive, blighting occupation.

But a conflict is a conflict, and extraordinary measures should be entertained. And every conflict needs peacebrokers. Much as I would rather that everybody got to live where they wanted and much as I sympathise with (though don’t really respect) the deep love that religious people hold for different bits of land, as a pragmatic supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict it’s good policy to discourage settlement activity which, it is widely agreed, runs counter to the peace process – and more to the point, cause an understandable sense of injustice, disaffection and fury among Palestinians.

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