Israel’s election, Palestine, and Britain’s best response: Equal Rights
Analysis 23 Sep 2019

Israel’s election, Palestine, and Britain’s best response: Equal Rights

Sir Vincent Fean KCVO

The election is over and the haggling has begun, as Israeli voters ensured for the second time this year that there is no clear winner. It is too soon to write off Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, though his main opponent Benny Gantz won more seats. Gantz talks of leading a National Unity Government (NUG) to include Likud - but exclude Bibi. Since April Avigdor Lieberman has increased his power to make or break a coalition.

Populism, racism and incitement lost - just. Incitement against the 20% of Israelis who are Palestinian led more of them to exercise their right to vote. They are the third largest grouping in the 120 strong Knesset with 13 seats. But they will not be in any NUG. The two main Jewish parties vied with each other to claim that Israel would be safer in their hands, and would grow geographically, creating Greater Israel in the West Bank and thereby annihilating the state of Palestine. 10% of Israeli voters live in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu outbid himself in his zeal to win settler votes; in April he promised to annex West Bank settlements, and this month he promised to annex the Jordan Valley too. Not to be outdone, Gantz said that it was his idea in the first place. Such comments are an existential threat to the outcome of two states with equal rights for two peoples. They undermine the very concept of negotiations, and risk sustained conflict, with no way out. The Israeli occupation of 1967 will only end through negotiation. But what incentive is there for the Palestinians to engage in negotiations if Palestinian self-determination and a sovereign state are not on the table?

Governments are judged by their actions, not political campaign speeches. But they need true friends to warn them and act when their foreign policy is unlawful, as it is here. Annexation of occupied Palestinian territory – any part of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – is far from being an internal Israeli issue. It is of deep international concern, not only because it tramples on Palestinian rights, but also because it goes directly against the international rules based order. It is inadmissible to acquire territory through war. Here British values and interests converge. Our values, expressed in the Conventions we drafted and signed after WW II. Our interest, post-Brexit, in universal respect for the rule of law, which we will call upon in case of need. Nor is annexation in Israel’s long-term interest. Boris Johnson warned Netanyahu two years ago that the alternative to a two-state solution is a kind of apartheid system. True, and bravely said. But since then illegal settlements have grown and demolitions of Palestinian homes have accelerated - annexation by another name.

The big five European states – Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – have warned specifically against the annexation of the Jordan Valley as a serious breach of international law, and reaffirmed support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines as the way to a just and lasting peace. We have been talking about two states for many years. Words alone, without the prospect of action, have been ignored. There is urgency: Israel’s political leaders and voters need to know that annexation must not happen, and why. They deserve clarity about the political and legal consequences of breaking the law.

There is a blueprint for a better way forward:

“For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state is the only way to secure its demographic future as a Jewish and democratic nation. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government… There should be two independent and sovereign states: a secure Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people, as envisaged by UN General Assembly Resolution 181. The borders should be based on the lines before June 1967… with equal land swaps… There must be security arrangements that, for Israelis, prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with all threats…and for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty, ensure freedom of movement, and demonstrate that occupation is over. There needs to be a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1515.” This plan sees Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.

This is the PM’s vision for Middle East peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state, writing in The Telegraph as Foreign Secretary, two years ago. It remains right today. How to bring it closer to realisation? The Balfour Project, and 115 British Parliamentarians who wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this month, believe that now is the time for the British Government to recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel – giving hope and encouragement to all on both sides of the Green Line who believe in equal rights and peaceful coexistence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.