Monday’s vote in Britain’s parliament to recognise an as yet non-existent Palestinian state may not change government policy but it sends a negative message way beyond London. This despite the fact that less than half of the House of Commons was present for the debate
The vote to recognise “Palestine” will encourage Israel’s detractors (of which there are many in Britain) and, in the words of Britain’s ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould, “This Parliamentary vote is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace.”
Sweden’s new government has made a similar declaration of support for the “state of Palestine”. Palestinian emissaries have been busy and other governments will follow, adding to the more than one hundred already recognising “Palestine”.
This is all part of Mr Abbas’ plan for formal recognition of his “state” at the UN and to join as many UN bodies as he can to increase his international credibility. The one he really wants most of all, of course, is membership of the International Criminal Court so that he can bring lots of fruity charges against Israel.
The Independent, three days ahead of the British vote, devoted lots of column inches to why this was going to be a breakthrough move for everyone all round and pointed out that Britain had recognised the nascent Israeli state in 1950 without fixed borders or a capital.
What they omitted to mention was that the creation of Israel was part of a UN partition plan that the Jewish administration had accepted and was simply putting into action. He also omitted to mention that the surrounding Arab countries rejected the same partition plan out of hand and instead attempted to make sure Israel never existed at all.
Of course, if the Arab states had accepted the UN plan in 1947, as the Jews did, we would not be having these debates now. There would already have been a Palestinian state in existence as long as there has been a parallel state of Israel!
Succeeding Palestinian leaderships over the years have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity (as they say) to have their own state – which begs the question of whether they are actually committed to the idea at all or just want to keep the conflict going until (somehow) Israel disappears off the map.
So why are the British and Swedish moves such a bad idea?
To start with, there is no state to recognise. International law is a strange beast, but it is quite certain what a state wishing to be known as such should look like. The idea of a state of Palestine falls down on every count.
A state has to have fixed borders; which borders are eternally argued over and supposedly should lie along a fictitious and historically totally irrelevant line that was once where Israeli and Jordanian forces stopped fighting in 1949. Borders are adjudged to be a “final status issue”, to be decided by the two parties at some point in the (distant) future when final issues are finally finalised. Since we are a long way from that point, there are no borders for this dream state to call their own.
Similarly, a bona fide state has to have a stable government; “Palestine” has an interim organ (the Palestinian Authority – PA) instituted twenty years ago that should have been dissolved long ago. Further, despite assorted cosmetic grand-standing, there is no common governing body over the two elements of “Palestine”; the West bank and Gaza.
You would think, if there was a genuine commitment to a peaceful settlement with Israel and a two-state solution, that more effort would have been made to find common agendas between Fatah (West Bank) and Hamas (Gaza). However, while Fatah is prepared to wait to see Israel destroyed (= definition of “moderate”), Hamas can’t do it soon enough (= definition of “extreme”) and refuses to take part in sensible democratic politics that don’t involve bombs and rockets.
Of course religion has to come in somewhere, doesn’t it? Fatah and the PA have always been a more secular, nationalistic entity. They want Israel gone, so they can create a state “from the river to the sea”. Hamas has the added edge that they are doing it for Allah, giving them the raison d’être to keep the rockets and bombs banging and flying.
A further reason for not offering recognition of this fictional state is that Britain was part of the negotiating process that led to the Oslo accords twenty years ago. We helped to preside over agreements that included a commitment by both Israel and the Palestinians not to try and change the status of the disputed territories outside of a negotiated peace agreement.
Even discussion of formal recognition at this stage is effectively admitting that Oslo is dead and gone and encourages the Palestinian leadership to consider themselves released from the “restrictions” of the Accords.
Sure enough, the same day Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks finally failed, Mahmoud Abbas signed applications for “Palestine” to join 15 UN bodies! the more encouragement the Palestinians are given to leave Oslo behind, the more they will push the international comity for more acknowledgement that they have a state.
Contrary to the international community’s mantra that the failure of peace talks is always Israel’s fault, it is Mr Abbas who repeatedly refuses to compromise on his most extreme demands for the sake of a real, solid peace between the two. Israel, meanwhile, faces continual demands to weaken its borders or allow UN troops to defend it – something that has so far proved an empty promise.
British policy on recognition of Israel is simple. The Government will offer recognition of a Palestinian state at the point it believes this will most promote a lasting peace between two states. As MP David Burrowes said: “A Parliamentary motion may appease a vociferous lobby but will not further peace for Palestinians and Israelis.” He is right. This vote will not promote peace.