On his last visit to Israel in March 2014, David Cameron spoke in only the most positive terms as he addressed the Israeli parliament, outlining his vision of a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Photo: David Cameron visits Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel last March.
“Imagine what this land would be like if a two-state solution was actually achieved. Think of all the aspects of life that would change,” he said. “Israel’s relationships with the world. Its security, its long-term prosperity and the quality of life for all its people.”
One might infer from those words that Cameron, prime minister of an inclusive, liberal and democratic Britain, was speaking in desperation: as long as there is no two-state solution in sight, he was saying, Israel will forever be denied the international standing, the security and the prosperity it rightfully expects and deserves. It would also endanger its own liberal and democratic foundations.
In stark contrast to the vision set out that day by Cameron, Israeli advocates of peace, equality and democracy have been horribly dispirited of late. Forced evictions of Palestinian farmers from their land in the Jordan Valley and from the Hebron district – to make room for more settlements – clashes between settlers and soldiers, the burning of a church, the stabbing of a 16-year-old girl at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, and the murder of 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe, along with his father and mother, as a result of a deliberate arson attack by extremist settlers in the Palestinian village of Duma: it’s added up to a period of real bleakness.
An Israeli tradition has developed in which the immediate response to terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians is the construction of new homes in the Israeli settlements of the West Bank. There was something of this same spirit in the response to the recent order from the Israeli supreme court to raze two illegal buildings in the settlement of Beit El: the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, announced that 300 new housing units would be built in the West Bank, in addition to implementing plans for 500 additional new units in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu felt compelled to respond with action, in order to appease the nationalist zealots in his coalition.
By the same token, the attack on the home of the Dawabshe family should be answered not only with condemnations, but with action. The most decent, fair and effective move is to recognise a Palestinian state and accept it as a full member of the UN.
A few months ago, with her appointment as Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely told the Israeli diplomatic corps that there is no need to apologise to the world, or even to clarify Israel’s diplomatic and security policies. Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) were given to us by God, she said, and once the public understands that, the world will stop condemning us for the occupation and the settlements.
A significant part of the Israeli public believes this assertion. And so Hotovely and her colleagues conclude that Israeli and international law do not apply in the case of the West Bank. The Israeli supreme court is even threatened by extreme rightwing nationalists who believe that damaging Palestinian property and attacking Palestinians is permissible when it comes to enforcing what they believe is a divine promise.
Europe must understand the direction in which we are heading. We are racing towards a single Israeli-Palestinian state that will end up as the apartheid state of Israel. Such a joint state will not allow the Palestinians to exercise their full civil rights. Europe and the UK must speak up in order to save the two-state idea. Their leaders need to say to Israel: “This land is not exclusively yours. It also belongs to another indigenous people that have been living there for centuries: the Palestinians. We recognise this people’s right to share this land and its right to an independent state.”
On the eve of Netanyahu’s reciprocal visit to the UK, our message to Cameron is this: agonised by years of political stagnation, President Mahmoud Abbas is desperately keeping the Palestinian people on an even keel, investing his meagre political currency in restraining any violent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In recent months this relative security has turned volatile. Any day could lead to an eruption of violence. Europe needs to vigorously step in, without delay, and apply pressure to both protagonists of this conflict, but above all to Israel as the occupying power, to engage in transforming Israeli-Palestinian relations from occupation to neighbourliness. Peace will, we believe, soon follow. The road to a breakthrough goes through unconditional international recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state without delay.
Last October, the British parliament voted in favour of a symbolic resolution, calling for unconditional recognition of the state of Palestine, not as a result of peace negotiations with Israel but rather as a conduit to it. The British government should follow its parliament’s recommendation and formally recognise the state of Palestine. Sweden did so one year ago, and France is seriously considering this option. Renewed momentum for recognition in Europe will keep the idea of two states alive. It will clarify to the growing camp of supporters of a single state, in Israel and in Palestine, that the world will not give up on the two-state idea.
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