SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – William Hague produced only one important quote during his otherwise futile term as Foreign Secretary: “If progress on negotiations is not made next year, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.”
The memorable remark was made on November 28, 2012 during a Commons statement on Palestinian statehood. John Kerry was about to start his attempt to negotiate a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But that initiative is now dead. The Israeli invasion of Gaza has since led to the deaths of more than two thousand people and solved nothing. Meanwhile prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu persists with his illegal policy of building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
It is now reasonable to assert that Mr Hague’s prediction has come true. The two-state solution, which has formed the basis of all efforts to build Middle East peace for the past half century, is dying.
But what is the alternative? A one-state solution would involve the creation of a new entity stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. It would embrace Gaza and the West Bank, meaning that the majority of the population would be Arab.
This would place Israeli leaders, who claim that their country is the only democracy in the Middle East, in an agonising situation. They could stay loyal to democracy, but only by giving away Israel’s Jewish identity. They could retain Israel’s Jewish identity, but only through becoming an apartheid state in which only Jews were entitled to the vote and other basic rights.
It is doubtful such a structure could survive for long. It would lose all international legitimacy, and could only be sustained domestically by the use of force. No true friend of Israel could possibly support this outcome, though recent remarks by Mr Netanyahu suggest that he is determined to lead his country in exactly this direction.
Such is the momentous context for Monday’s unprecedented House of Commons vote on British recognition for the Palestinian state.
Sir Vincent Fean, the recently retired Consul General to Jerusalem, made the case for recognition of Palestine in these pages last month. In his authoritative article, Sir Vincent argued that we British have a unique responsibility. Britain gave birth to the modern state of Israel, first through the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and later as holders of the Mandate to rule Palestine up to Israel’s independence in 1948.
Sir Vincent reminded us that we were entrusted with a “sacred trust of civilisation” to act as guardian to the interests of the Palestinian people and guide them to independence, just as we did for Israel more than 60 years ago.
Successive British prime ministers have neglected this trust. However, there is a unique urgency to press the issue forward in the wake of the collapse of John Kerry’s initiative, and this summer’s horror in Gaza; those Palestinians who continue to argue for peaceful negotiation rather than resort to arms are in desperate need of encouragement. The Israelis, though, fear that a Palestinian state would swiftly gain membership of the International Criminal Court, meaning that Israeli soldiers would be open to prosecution for war crimes. Excellent – and exactly the same would apply to their deadly foe Hamas.
Some 134 states already support Palestinian statehood, and last week Sweden joined them. Britain should too. David Cameron has been weak, mainly because on this (as every other) matter he is terrified of offending the United States. The Prime Minister is no longer acting in the national interest. The British used to be respected right across the Middle East. But our influence has faded and will soon vanish altogether if we continue timidly to do what the American and Israeli governments tell us.
Indeed, Mr Cameron is not even acting in the genuine interests of Israel. Any sensible person can see that her national survival cannot be secure until she lives on good terms with her neighbours. That means granting dignity for Palestinians. Most Labour and Lib Dem MPs understand this and so too do a minority of Tories. For the first time in years there is an influential body of opinion inside the Conservative Party that is open-minded about the Middle East.
I expect that Sir Nicholas Soames, President of the Conservative Middle East Council, will vote in favour of Palestinian statehood next week. Minister of State for the Foreign Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, contemplated resignation during the Gaza crisis in agitation against David Cameron’s inability to condemn even the massacre of Palestinian children.
Sir Alan Duncan, who stood down in the summer reshuffle after four productive years as overseas aid minister, has emerged as a well-informed critic of Government policy. I have read in advance the speech that he will deliver to the Royal United Services Institute on the West Bank settlements next Tuesday. It is beyond doubt the most powerful, and probably the most important, speech made about the Middle East by any British politician in the past 25 years.
Sir Alan will assert that “many settlers are state-sponsored militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced”. He will raise the issue of some kind of punitive action against Israel over her settlement policy, and pose one rarely articulated question: does the pro-Israel lobby accurately represent mainstream Jewish opinion in Britain?
This pro-Israel lobby has, needless to say, been active ahead of next week’s vote. Guto Bebb, a Tory MP and one of the most assiduous supporters of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), has already put down a wrecking motion. The CFI was defined by the Conservative MP and historian Robert Rhodes James as “the largest organisation in western Europe dedicated to the cause of Israel”. It is still an extremely effective force.
Last week at the Conservative conference, queues stretched round the block ahead of the star-studded CFI evening event, attended by the Tory party chairman, Andrew Feldman, an array of cabinet ministers and plenty of influential donors. Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, who is yet to find his voice at the FCO, was the principal speaker. As is normal at such events, he did not utter a word of criticism against Israel, even in the wake of Gaza. Expect a repeat performance from David Cameron when he speaks to the CFI business lunch in December. It should always be borne in mind that there is no such thing as the Conservative Friends of Palestinians.
I sense change. A new generation of free-thinking Conservative MPs has entered the Commons. The Gazan atrocities, as well as Mr Netanyahu’s shameless disregard of international law over his settlement building programme, has created a new mood. Next week it is possible that the House of Commons can send a message to the world that Britain remains a steadfast supporter and true friend of Israel – while properly mindful of our duty to the dispossessed Palestinians as well.
Source: The Telegraph