Labour Party foreign policy in the Middle East

This paper analyses the Labour Party’s foreign policy for the Middle East and the potential implications of a Labour Government for Britain’s close allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Key points:

  • The Labour leadership’s approach to international affairs, as with other policy areas, is in flux as the radical left agenda that has defined Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters meshes with the possibility of facing the real world challenges that come with holding office.
  • Labour’s positions taken in the 2017 manifesto, and in Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches and interviews since becoming leader, were more moderate than those to which he subscribed previously, though would still signal a major realignment, threatening to drive a wedge between Britain and its traditional allies – both Israel and Western-aligned Arab states.
  • Labour has clearly committed to supporting a two-state solution, but a manifesto pledge to recognise Palestine would likely be swiftly fulfilled by a Labour government, boosting the Palestinians’ campaign for recognition outside the context of an agreement with Israel, whilst having a chilling effect on UK-Israel relations. This could be compounded if the Labour leader’s calls for increasing international pressure on Israel were expressed by a shift in its voting patterns in the United Nations, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council to move closer to Palestinian positions.
  • During a recent visit to Israel Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stressed Labour’s commitment to UK-Israel relations and her opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions, but also said she would personally avoid buying goods from settlements. Moreover, whereas the Conservatives have worked against local government boycotts, Labour has said local councils should set their own policies, raising concerns that pro-boycott positions – which have support on the Labour left – may gain ground under a Labour government.
  • The way in which a Labour government might react to major events in the region, such as wars between Israel and Hamas or Hezbollah, will be just as consequential as any preordained policy shift.

The full briefing is available as a PDF below.

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