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Human rights of Palestinians

UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry

Since 2021, the UN Human Rights Council has had a Commission of Inquiry into the “Grave Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

In October 2022, Commission members said future reports would consider “apartheid” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel

Both the United States and UK Governments oppose the work of the UN Commission. They argue its remit is “open ended and vaguely defined.” The UK argues advancing human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is “not served by the disproportionate focus on Israel,” while the US argues the commission is a “one-sided” approach.

Accusations of “apartheid” against Israel

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, have accused Israel of practicing “apartheid” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Amnesty’s February 2022 report, for example, argues Israel imposes a “system of oppression and domination against Palestinians” though confiscation of land and property, fragmentation of Palestinian populations through land control, and the economic and social disadvantage Palestinians experience.

Israeli Governments have consistently rejected these allegations and the use of such terminology. Then Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, said Amnesty’s report “echoes propaganda with no serious examination” and that the country is a “democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny, with a free press and strong Supreme Court.”

The UK Government has said it does not agree with the use of the terminology and any judgement on serious crimes under international law are matters for the judiciary, rather than governments or non-judicial bodies.

New Israeli Government

In his submission to the Backbench Business Committee proposing the debate, Chris Law MP also raised the new Government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has experienced substantial internal instability in recent years, with five general elections being held from April 2019 to November 2022. Following the November 2022 elections, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, took office at the head of a new coalition of the political right in late December 2022.

Outlook for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In terms of Israeli policy, analysts describe a large degree of continuity in policy towards the conflict between the Bennet-Lapid coalition that governed Israel from June 2021 to the end of 2022 with previous administrations.

Analysis by the International Crisis Group, US Institute for Peace and International Institute for Strategic Studies (paywall) judges that Israeli-Palestinian tensions are likely to continue under the new government, due to factors such as tensions over Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the potential for Hamas to be strengthening its position in the West Bank.

The new governing coalition agreement pledges to expand settlements across the historic area of Israel: it states that it will “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel,” including in Judea and Samaria (The West Bank).

March 2023 saw the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) amend the 2005 Disengagement Law that outlawed settlements in certain parts of the northern West Bank. However, Netanyahu has said his government has “no intention of establishing new communities in these areas.”

New Security Minister Ben Gvir has also advocated for Jews to be allowed to pray at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif—a change in the status quo. He visited the site in January 2023. The visit was criticised by the United States, China and many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Netanyahu has pledged to maintain the historic status quo that allows only Muslims to worship at the site.

Under the US-led Abraham Accords, both the UAE and Bahrain signed agreements to normalise relations with Israel in 2020. This has the potential to advance security cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states, who share a common concern over Iran and its nuclear programme. The 2020 agreements were predicated on suspending formal annexation of parts of the Occupied West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Proposed reforms to Israel’s supreme court and recent protests

The new coalition has faced substantial criticism for its proposals to increase the control of the Israeli Knesset over judicial appointments and allow a majority vote in the Knesset to overturn supreme court decisions.

The new government argues the court has become too interventionist and the supremacy of the elected legislature must be reasserted. Others within Israel have argued the changes will weaken the country’s separation of powers and undermine the rule of law.

In late March, Netanyahu said he would delay implementation of the plans and begin a dialogue on reform with the opposition. This followed extensive mass-protests across Israel and engagement from the country’s president.

The Biden Administration has welcomed the proposed pause and stressed the importance of checks and balances. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Netanyahu in March 2023. In addition to calling for de-escalation in the region, the UK Prime Minister also raised the issue of judicial reforms and the “importance of upholding democratic values.”

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