Analysis

BICOM Analysis: UK General Election – Implications for Israel

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Key Points

  • The incoming British government can be expected to continue with the supportive stance towards Israel led by Prime Minister David Cameron in the last government.
  • Despite some high profile losses, there remain a significant number of supporters of Israel in the shadow cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party.
  • Several MPs with a particularly strong hostile record towards Israel have lost their seats.
  • The Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership has a clear record of aligning with pro-Palestinian positions.

What can we expect from government policy?

The Conservatives, having increased their seats in the House of Commons to 331, now have an absolute majority in the 650 seat chamber, and will establish a single-party majority government.

On Israel, the new government can be expected to continue with the supportive position established by Prime Minister David Cameron in the last government. Cameron is expected to serve most of a five year term before fulfilling a commitment to step down before the next election, and Philip Hammond has maintained the role of Foreign Secretary in his new cabinet.

During his visit to Israel last year Cameron said, “with me you have a British Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.” The government is expected to further strengthen bilateral cooperation in areas including trade, regional strategic challenges and cyber security. The UK government will also continue to oppose boycotts and the delegitimisation of Israel.

The Conservative-led government refused to support Palestinian attempts to secure recognition as a state at the UN in 2012, or to support a one-sided Palestinian attempt to impose terms of reference for resolving the conflict at the UN Security Council in 2014. That said, the UK’s UN ambassador said recently that the UK “sees merit” in a “resolution setting out the parameters for a peaceful and negotiated solution”, at the Security Council. Such an initiative is being enthusiastically promoted by France, and it remains to be seen what position the new UK government will take on the content of such a resolution, should it be advanced.

Furthermore, the Conservative Party manifesto “condemn[s] illegal settlement building, which undermines the prospects for peace,” and the UK is likely to remain critical of Israeli settlement policies. Hammond was among 16 EU foreign ministers who signed a letter to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in April urging her to complete work on issuing EU wide guidelines on labelling settlement produce.

Last summer’s Operation Protective Edge brought a moment of contention between the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, with the Conservatives standing firm on Israel’s right to self-defence and the Liberal Democrats taking a much more critical line. In his role as business secretary, Vince Cable threatened to suspend arms export licences to Israel, contrary to Cameron’s preferences. There will be no such potential for coalition rifts in a Conservative majority government.

On the question of Iran, there is likely to be little change in Britain’s approach. The UK remains an important player in enforcing sanctions against Iran but is committed to the current P5+1 negotiation process and supportive of the approach taken by the US.

What can we expect from the new House of Commons?

High-profile Conservative MPs with strong affiliations to Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), including Richard Harrington (Waford), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) and Matthew Offord (Hendon) all increased their majorities. James Clappison and Sir Richard Ottoway, both long-time supporters of Israel, did not stand for re-election.

Within the Labour Party, several officers and supporters of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lost their seats. In Scotland, Jim Murphy and Michael McCann were casualties of the SNP surge. Anne McGuire did not stand in this election and Ed Balls lost his marginal seat to the Conservatives. However, many LFI officers and supporters maintain their seats, including shadow cabinet members Rachel Reeves, Michael Dugher and Ivan Lewis, along with Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, John Woodcock and Jonathan Reynolds. Other Labour MPs with strong records of support for Israel who retained their seats include Ian Austin, Stephen Twigg and Tristram Hunt. Meanwhile Wes Streeting, who recently contributed an essay to an LFI publication on the ‘progressive case for Israel’ defeated Conservative incumbent and CFI officer Lee Scott in Ilford North. Incoming Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North Ruth Smeeth is a former BICOM staffer.

Three members of Parliament with a particularly strong record of hostility towards Israel lost their seats: George Galloway (Respect, Bradford West), David Ward (Liberal Democrat, Bradford East) and Sir Bob Russell (Lib Dem, Colchester). The Green Party, who call for a cultural boycott of Israel, failed to make any gains, but Caroline Lucas retained her seat in Brighton.

A new dimension to the incoming Parliament will be the 56 MPs of the Scottish National Party (SNP). SNP leaders have a strong record of aligning with pro-Palestinian positions, and were expected to try and drag Labour to the left on this issue had they entered a coalition. During Operation Protective Edge, former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who is returning to the House of Commons, called for an arms embargo on Israel, whilst party leader Nicola Sturgeon (who is not entering the House of Commons) agreed to headline a Stop the War coalition Women for Gaza rally in Glasgow. While the SNP will not be primarily concerned with the advancement of the Palestinian cause, they may well make their voices heard in parliamentary debates on the Israeli-Palestinian arena.