Boris out, Hunt in - same empty words on Palestine

Boris out, Hunt in - same empty words on Palestine
6 min read
10 Jul, 2018
Comment: What will Britain's new foreign secretary mean for Palestinians? CJ Werleman explores.
Jeremy Hunt is a close ally of PM Theresa May, unlike Boris Johnson [Getty]

Jeremy Hunt has been serving as the United Kingdom's Health Secretary since 2012, but will replace Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, Britain's top diplomat, after Johnson tendered his resignation in protest against Prime Minister Theresa May's approach to negotiating Britain's divorce from the European Union.

So what does Hunt's appointment mean for the Palestinian liberation cause?

In short, it means more of the same, business as usual.

Hunt, like his predecessor, tends to talk out both sides of his mouth when addressing Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights and international law - one moment condemning Israel's settlement project and its use of deadly force against Palestinian civilians, the next, refusing to support any measure that pressures Israel to comply with its legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions or United Nation resolutions.

In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Before we examine who and what values are represented by 51-year-old, let's first acknowledge the manner in which Johnson handled Israel with metaphorical kid gloves. In 2017, Johnson rightfully stated that Israel had set itself on a path that would force the self-proclaimed Jewish state into a choice between accepting the "Two State Solution", or permanently codifying an unsustainable "system of apartheid".

Hunt's tenure as Britain's health chief was marked by
ideological 'austerity' cuts in spending amid the
privatisation of public health services [AFP] 

In refusing to halt settlement construction, however, Israel has clearly made its choice: to further its colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territories, and to place four million Palestinians under the rule of separate and unequal laws.

"What we are saying is that you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system," Johnson said in an interview published by the Jerusalem Post.

But that was it. Nothing but empty and hollow words, the kind Palestinians have heard more times from Western political leaders than they've heard Friday prayers. On the one hand, Johnson condemned Israel's settlement construction in the occupied territories, while on the other offering no meaningful measures or proposals to pressure Israel into blazing a more righteous trail.

Sadly for the Palestinian people, as Britain's foreign secretary, Hunt promises to offer only a reiteration of Johnson's double-speak when it comes to Israel's stubborn refusal to comply with international and humanitarian law.

Hunt, who as Health Secretary did not exactly acquire a reputation for compassion, does however speak boldly and loudly about Israeli war crimes and efforts to ethnically cleanse the occupied Palestinian territories of its indigenous occupants, even expressing concerns regarding Israel's illegal destruction of Palestinian villages.

"I am gravely concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by the Israeli authorities," reads a statement on Hunt's website. "Demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution; and, in all but the most exceptional cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law."

Hunt has also recently expressed "concern" over Israel's plan to demolish Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank, including the Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar.

The detention of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons is extremely worrying and the government share these concerns

Hunt also has spoken out about Israel's detention of Palestinian children. According to Israeli human rights group B'tselem, 291 Palestinian minors were being held in Israeli prisons as of May 2018, alongside a number of others being held in Israeli military facilities.

"The detention of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons is extremely worrying and the government share these concerns," reads a statement from Hunt.

"Israel has made some progress on this issue. It has reduced the number of detainees aged between 12 and 14, increased the age of maturity from 16 to 18, established separate juvenile courts and enacted a special statute of limitations for minors. However, the UK assessment is that Israel is still falling short and needs to do more to safeguard vulnerable people in its care."

Hunt has also expressed his opposition to US President Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, stating that not only was he "very disappointed" by the United States decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv, but also that it was "unhelpful" towards bringing peace in the region. He reaffirmed the UK's commitment to keeping the British Embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv.

I mean, so far, what's not to like, right? Hunt opposes Israel's illegal occupation and violation of Palestinian human rights; opposes the detention of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, and opposes the illegal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Unfortunately, however, Hunt gives life to the phrase "talk is cheap, actions speak".

Hunt not only fails to give his words meaning, failing to attach meaningful measures, proposals, or actions to his rhetoric, but also he strongly opposes any effort to pressure Israel into rectifying the very abuses he has rightfully condemned.

Even more troubling, Hunt has promised to "combat" the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which represents one of the only constructive and effective non-violent forms of resistance to Israel's occupation, colonisation, and blockade of the Palestinian territories.

"I am clear that the UK government is deeply committed to promoting our trade and business ties with Israel and accordingly is strongly opposed to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement," states Hunt on his website. "I do not believe that imposing sanctions on Israel would be a constructive step. The UK enjoys a productive relationship with Israel, which enables us to express our views at senior levels very frankly."

At least he doesn't want the movement banned: "The government also believes that the best way to combat the BDS movement is through discussion rather than proscription."

Without the economic and political cost that the boycott movement exacts on Israel, the Palestinian people have only empty words to depend on and violence to turn towards. The Palestinian people have heard nothing but false promises from European and American leaders for a full half-century now.

Moreover, the BDS movement is estimated to have caused nearly a 50 percent fall in foreign direct investment in Israel, according to a UN report. And if you need further proof of the effectiveness of the boycott movement, look no further than Israel's frantic effort to pressure its Western allies into criminalising BDS, and banning its supporters.

It's also likely Hunt will do nothing to halt the flow of British manufactured weapons to Israel, with a record £350 million ($465m) in military hardware shipped from the UK to Israel during the past five years alone.

All in all, Hunt promises to continue the long-standing practice of all Western political leaders: provide Palestinians with promises, while providing Israel with bombs and guns.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.