The British government released new guidelines last week warning its citizens not to engage in business activities with Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria and even with individuals, according to updates on the United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) website.
Under a section labelled "settlements," the edict states that "the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights are territories which have been occupied by Israel since 1967."
"Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. We will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties," it continues.
The section also labels "clear risks" in engaging in business related to Judea and Samaria companies, stating that the UK government does not "encourage or offer support" to transactions conducted there. Risk factors allegedly include "facts" like "Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognized as a legitimate part of Israel's territory," the ambiguity of "disputed titles," and "reputational implications" from "possible abuses of the rights of individuals."
Allegations that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are "illegal" under international law have been disputed by numerous legal experts, including Israel's former ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, who last month sent a strongly-worded letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry condemning the latter's condemnation of Jewish communities there are "illegitimate".
The government offers support, however, declaring that it "understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," and explaining its support of "voluntarily guidelines" labeling Judea and Samaria goods in the UK.
Ironically, the statement also includes reassurances to the public that despite the warnings, "the UK Government is deeply committed to promoting our trade and business ties with Israel and strongly opposes boycotts."
According to Ha'aretz, the Spokesman at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv said the advice online is "to raise awareness of the key security and political risks which U.K. businesses may face when operating abroad, including in Israel and the Palestinian territories," including in Judea and Samaria.
He stressed the guidelines are "voluntarily" and that it is ultimately the responsibility of individuals or companies themselves to make an informed decision. According to embassy officials, the guidelines are not discriminatory per se', but rather a reflection of the British government's stance on the region in general.
Ha'aretz also quoted a senior Foreign Ministry official, who revealed that Jerusalem is not pleased with the developments.
“We told them that we are currently holding talks with the Palestinians and thus issuing such a recommendation at this time will only do harm,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official. “There’s also something strange about the fact that no similar recommendations were issued regarding other regions in dispute, like the western Sahara, which is under Moroccan occupation, or Tibet.”
The guidelines are the latest in a string of anti-Israel boycott-related actions emanating from the UK. Last month, Israeli Professor Moti Cristal filed a suit against one of the UK's largest trade unions after being turned away from giving a lecture at the last minute - which he alleges is the result of his Israeli origins and Jewish heritage. A similar move has been made by Shurat HaDin, on behalf of an Israeli academic in Australia.
A 2010 study by the Reut Institute found that "London stands out as a hub of delegitimization" of Israel and Zionism.