Is the bid for Palestinian statehood bad for peace?

CMEC – MAP Chairman Robin Kealy: During my service as a diplomat, over many years in the Middle East, I frequently had to defend and justify publicly my Government’s policies, with some of which I privately felt distinctly uncomfortable. Such is the nature of the job-and with that in mind I tried to muster all the sympathy I could when reading Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Daniel Taub’s recent blog on Palestine. I am afraid, however that in misrepresenting the objectives of the Palestinian Authority and in contrasting these with what he presents as the moderate and restrained policies of the Israeli government, he is all too often being economic with the facts (Sarkozy put it more pungently to Obama at the G20 summit…)

In essence, Ambassador Taub argues that the Palestinian leadership have, despite the moderate and flexible attitude of the Israeli side, simply turned their backs on the negotiations in favour of unilateral steps-effectively opting for international grandstanding instead of the real thing. The truth is that, as Abu Mazen’s speech in New York made clear, the initiative was designed to act as a catalyst to reactivategenuine negotiations, not as an alternative.

He stated ‘We adhere to the option of negotiating a lasting solution to the conflict in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy. Here, I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities’

So why this initiative? It comes from a moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership, increasingly frustrated and concerned by

  • a declining commitment to promoting a just and genuine peace on the part of a US Administration entering another election year, which despite all Obama’s eloquence appears increasingly reluctant to show the kind of tough love to Israel commensurate with its huge political, economic and military support.
  • the continuing weakness of the Palestinian economy under occupation (the Palestinian Ministry of Finance, in a study partly financed by the UN, estimates that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank cost its economy $6.89 billion in 2010. and that were it not for the occupation, the Palestinian economy would be nearly double its actual size.)
  • the inexorable expansion of settlements. In an otherwise softly-worded speech Abu Mazen spoke out strongly on the issue (which he repeated in his commitment to negotiations quoted above). Ever since Oslo, in particular, the Israeli expansion of settlements has put the Palestinian negotiators in the position of trying to share a pizza with one side eating it.

Quite apart from the evidence of the Wikileaked Palestinian Papers, I find it hard to believe protestations by the Israeli government that they-more than the Palestinians-are committed to peace, when they not only permit, but actively promote, settlement expansion, often in the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Given especially the growing numbers of settler-supporters in the officer ranks of the IDF, theexpansion of settlements creates a major problem for any Israeli government which might have to remove some of them under the terms of a future Peace Agreement-or will soon make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Some would say that this simply reflects the realities of coalition politics within Israel. But the persistent expansion of settlements under a series of Israeli governments particularly since Oslo makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that Israel is being either naïve or cynical…

Others appear to share this view. On 21 December the four European Union Security Council members noted, in a joint statement read out by the British Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant:

‘the severely damaging effect that increased settlement construction and settler violence is having on the ground and on the prospects of a return to negotiations… Israel’s continuing announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, send a devastating message’

Ambassador Taub also, by implication at least, fails to distinguish between negotiations and the agreement which they are designed to produce. This is perhaps a forgivable error-and as a former diplomat in Jerusalem I myself was a fully paid up member of the negotiations industry (albeit at a time – 1997 to 2001 – when the conditions were usually agood deal more positive). And of course Ambassador Taub himself has immense personal experience of The Process. But like many observers, including Israelis, I look at the demographic and political changes in Israel and wonder whether Israel is now more comfortable with an interminable Process than with the actual achievement of peace. This is certainly not a view shared by all Israelis, but for some it may reflect a concern that a comprehensive peace and a Palestinian state would make it harder to sustain and justify the treatment of so many Israeli Arabs as second class citizens. For others, including Revisionist Zionists, like the Prime Minister’s father Mr Benzion Netanyahu, the Occupation and the expansion of settlements, under the cover of a Peace Process offer a way of steadily and stealthily achieving their goal of a greater Israel.

Over the three years that I spent in Jerusalem I saw much to admire in what Israel had achieved, and met many moderate, highly intelligent and courageous Israelis. Their country has much to be proud of. But against the background of the Arab Spring – and not forgetting the Arab Peace initiative of 2002 – Israel, more than ever before, needs to think long and hard about its future. Like the Euro, the longer a solution is delayed the harder it will be, and simply kicking the can along the road is not the answer. Some in Israel are clearly deeply worried by what they see as a deepening polarisation, both within and without: an advertisement in Haaretz last May signed by 102 eminent Israelis stated:

‘The world is changing around us, but the government of Israel is stagnant and paralyzed. The rejectionist policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is extraordinarily dangerous and threatens to make Hamas more legitimate in the world than the Israeli government…’

Before I left Britain in 1997 to take up my post as British Consul-General in Jerusalem, the then Israeli Ambassador to Britain wisely said to me that the Peace Process must be win-win, not a zero-sum game. Eleven years later, I still heartily agree. The question is: is Israel ready to play?

Robin Kealy was British Consul-General in Jerusalem from 1997-2001, he has been Chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians since 2008.

Source:, 16 January 2012


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