We must acknowledge that Israel’s policies against Palestinians amount to the crime of apartheid, say [five] former European foreign ministers

A participant holds up a sign reading 'Stop Israeli Apartheid' during a protest in solidarity with the Palestinians (Wojtek Radwanski - AFP)

Council for Arab-British Understanding  /  October 27, 2022 

Five former European foreign ministers, including Caabu Patron Baroness Sayeeda Warsi have written calling for the acknowledgment that Israeli policies against Palestinians, amount to the crime of apartheid. In their piece (originally in French in Le Monde), Mogens Lykketoft, former Foreign Minister and UN General Assembly President, (Denmark), Erkki Tuomioja, former Foreign Minister (Finland), Ivo Vajgl, former Foreign Minister (Slovenia), Hubert Védrine, former Foreign Minister (France) and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former Cabinet Minister and Foreign Office Minister for the United Nations, Human Rights and the ICC (United Kingdom), denounce human rights violations against Palestinians and call on the international community to hold the Israeli government to account. 

As the world is watching in horror events unfolding in Ukraine, conversation around the urgency of protecting a rules-based global order is dominating political and public discourse. The international community has rallied behind multilateralism and the need to adhere to international law and protect human rights. Indeed, it is the only way forward in an increasingly polarized global landscape.

At the same time, we are reminded how the international community has too often remained silent and failed to act in the face of grave violations of international law and impunity for serious abuses in other contexts. Safeguarding the international legal order means applying principles uniformly and consistently.

The same standards and commitment to protecting Ukrainian civilian population and demanding accountability for Russia’s international law violations should be applied globally, including to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

It is crucial that the international community’s consensus regarding the illegality and immorality of over five decades of occupation forms the backbone of European policy that governs our relationship with Israel. The EU and its member states continue to advocate for a two-state solution based on sovereignty and equality for both Israelis and Palestinians as the cornerstone of their Middle East policy. Yet the reality on the ground in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory is moving in the complete opposite direction. And our inaction could have wide-reaching implications in the region as well as for the validity and efficacy of European diplomacy globally.

Successive Israeli governments, including the current one, have repeatedly made clear that they have no plan to take steps towards ending the prolonged occupation. In direct contradiction to international law, Israel has transferred hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens into the occupied territories. Today, well over 650,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These settlements are established in areas that intentionally fragment the Palestinian population into disconnected enclaves, eroding the viability of a future Palestinian state. A two-tier legal system is entrenched, with unequal rights between Palestinians living under military rule and Israelis living under Israeli civilian law. Palestinians face structural repression daily, as well as restrictions of movement, land takeover, demolitions of homes, surveillance and violations of basic civil rights, including the freedom of expression and assembly.

Despite the initial hope of change with the coalition government elected last year, these trends continue. We witness a significant increase in severity and frequency of settler violence towards Palestinian communities happening with impunity. In addition, Israel’s Ministry of Defence has undertaken an unprecedented crackdown on Palestinian civil society, outlawing six of the most prominent NGOs. During 2021, Israel demolished the highest number of Palestinian structures recorded by the UN for years, while a record high number of humanitarian aid structures provided by the EU and its member states were demolished or confiscated. This was accompanied by significant advancement of settlements in the East Jerusalem periphery that threaten to fragment the West Bank in incontiguous territories.

Most recently, on May 5 this year, the Israeli High Court gave a green light for the forcible transfer of more than 1000 Palestinian residents of communities in Massafar Yatta in the South Hebron Hills. If implemented, this will constitute the largest act of forcible transfer in the occupied territories since the 1970s.

The killing of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, while performing her duty as a journalist, underscores an increasing and deeply alarming disregard for the basic rights and freedoms of the Palestinians. 

Over the last years, a growing number of Israeli and international human rights organizations joined Palestinian civil society in concluding that the Israeli system of repression against of the Palestinians, in particular in the occupied territories, amounts to apartheid. This includes substantial legal analysis presented by B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, a UN Special Rapporteur and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

We believe in the importance of the international community working to support two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in security, democracy and peace. It is high time Israel’s allies including the EU and its Member States, reaffirm their commitment to two states by holding Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights and freedoms.

We see no alternative but to acknowledge that Israel’s policies and practices against the Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza amount to the crime of apartheid, and we call upon our colleagues in the European political community to join us in demanding action to end these unjust policies and bring in sight prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Mogens Lykketoft, Former Foreign Minister and UN General Assembly President, Denmark

Erkki Tuomioja, Former Foreign Minister, Finland

Ivo Vajgl, Former Foreign Minister, Slovenia

Hubert Védrine, Former Foreign Minister, France

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Former Cabinet Minister and Foreign Office Minister for the United Nations, Human Rights and the ICC, United Kingdom

Coverage can also be found in Le Monde in French and in English, and in Delo in Slovenian.