Boris Johnson has implored Israel to abandon its controversial plan to annex parts of the West Bank, warning that the move would embolden the Jewish state’s enemies and risk destabilising the Middle East.
In an op-ed for Yediot Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper, Mr Johnson said he was a “passionate defender of Israel” but was deeply concerned about the annexation process, which is due to begin in the coming weeks.
“It is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory,” the Prime Minister wrote. “As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”
Mr Johnson went on to say that if Israel does push ahead with annexation then Britain would not recognise the changes to Israel's borders, unless they were also agreed on by the Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, initially vowed to begin extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank on July 1, but the plan has been paused amid strong resistance from the international community and a surge in coronavirus cases in Israel.
There are also reports of hesitation in Washington, which earlier this year gave Israel the green light to annex up to 30 per cent of the West Bank as part of Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, which the US president hailed as the “deal of the century.”
In his article, Mr Johnson wrote that annexation would “put in jeopardy the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world,” and breach international law, a view shared by the United Nations and EU leaders.
The Prime Minister also warned that "Israel’s enemies would seize upon [annexation] and use it against those in the Middle East who want to see progress."
It comes after Mr Netanyahu hinted that he would not begin annexation on July 1, citing “diplomatic and security considerations" and stressing that annexation would begin "after" July 1.
Palestinian leaders, along with the wider Arab world, have strongly rejected both annexation and the overarching Trump plan, which was designed to bring them back to the table for negotiations on creating a Palestinian state.
According to Israeli media reports, Washington has asked Israel to make renewed efforts at persuading the Palestinian Authority (PA) to come around to the plan, which may be the reason behind this week's delay.
One option suggested by the US is adjusting the borders of Area C, which is currently under full Israeli control, to give the PA more control over territory in the West Bank that it claims at its own.
However, Palestinian leaders have said that they will not accept any plan which involves even “an inch” of the West Bank being annexed.
Mr Netanyahu is also under growing pressure from his own ministers, including former leadership rival Benny Gantz, to postpone annexation and focus efforts on the coronavirus crisis.
On Wednesday, Israel recorded 859 new infections of coronavirus, the largest tally since the outbreak began, which has renewed speculation that the country may have to go back into lockdown.