Next Monday the House of Commons will hold an unprecedented vote on a motion to recognise a Palestinian state. The vote is non-binding on the Government, and thus will have scant impact on the effectively defunct Middle East peace process, or on Britain’s stance at the United Nations.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain has long kept its head below the parapet on the issue, abstaining the last time the question arose at the UN, in November 2012 when the General Assembly voted by a resounding 138 to 9 to elevate the Palestinians to non-member observer status. This time though Parliament should go further and back recognition of statehood. What hopes remain of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rightly seen as the only long-term answer, demand no less – as does simple justice.
Yes, the obstacles are huge; as large as they have ever been in a dispute that has festered since the formal partition of 65 years ago, into Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On the Palestinian side, relations are still fraught between Fatah in the former and the militant Hamas group, which still refuses Israel’s right to exist and which dominates in Gaza. There is the perennial sticking point of the borders of a putative new state, including the status of Jerusalem, which both parties insist must be their capital. Last but not least, the very notion of recognition will be dismissed by Israel, and its ever-obliging patron, the US.
The mantra from Washington and Israel remains the same: a solution can only come from direct negotiations between the two sides: “meddling” by outsiders will only make a bad situation worse. The fact is however that since 1949, all negotiations, whether brokered by the US, or involving only Israel and the Palestinians as in the 1990s Oslo process, have failed.
Few of those failures moreover were as complete as Secretary of State John Kerry’s brave but foredoomed effort to somehow jump over procedural wrangling and get real talks going on the so-called “final status” issues: borders, Jerusalem, a Palestinian right of return and the rest. What followed the collapse of the Kerry venture last April was yet another tragic war in the sealed-off Gaza enclave, killing over 2,200 people – the majority of them Palestinian civilians – and resolving precisely nothing. Meanwhile Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, brazenly proceeds with new Israeli settlements on land that should belong to a new Palestine. So much for Israel’s enthusiasm for a two-state solution.
These are the truths that Parliament must acknowledge next week. With its plan to recognise a Palestinian state, the new Swedish government has already set an example. As noted above, a Yes vote will not alter realities on the ground. But it will give a sorely needed fillip to those Palestinian leaders who believe that violence is not the only resort, and that an equitable solution can still be reached at the bargaining table.
Israel will object that virtual statehood could give the Palestinians recourse to the International Criminal Court, where they might initiate cases over the killings in Gaza and the expansion of settlements. But why not? And for that matter, why shouldn’t Israel bring charges at the ICC for terrorist acts by Hamas?
Above all, a two-state formula is in Israel’s vital long-term interest. The alternative is one state – a Jewish state in which Arabs would become the majority, an untenable situation threatening the very future of Israeli democracy. It is now time for Israel’s friends like Britain to make this point. On Monday, the Commons has a precious chance to do so.Reuse content