OPINION: Labour must recognise Palestinian state now
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OPINION: Labour must recognise Palestinian state now

Israeli analysts Alan Baruch and Dr Alon Liel call on a likely new UK Labour govt to 'hammer out the fundamental elements of its understanding of the conflict and its vision of a way out'

Israelis take part in a rally in support of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel to end the conflict, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 27, 2017. Yellow signs read: "50 years is enough, peace now. 

Photo by: Daniel Bar-On-JINIPIX
Israelis take part in a rally in support of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel to end the conflict, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 27, 2017. Yellow signs read: "50 years is enough, peace now. Photo by: Daniel Bar-On-JINIPIX

The Labour Party has included recognition of the State of Palestine in its election manifesto in anticipation of a landslide victory in the 4 July general election.

A new page in UK policies, both domestic and foreign, is expected to be turned. The Israel-Palestine conflict will, no doubt, remain high on the international agenda as the crisis continues to fester.

That is why we, engaged Israeli political activists and analysts, believe the Labour Party’s policy forum must hammer out the fundamental elements of its understanding of the Middle East conflict and its vision of a way out.

At present, Israel and the Palestinians are wrestling with the outcome of the barbaric 7 October Hamas attack on peaceful Israeli communities and a dance festival in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, in which some 1,200 innocent Israelis and other nationals were murdered and hundreds of hostages dragged into Gaza.

This attack precipitated the Gaza war, an unprecedented Israeli retaliatory offensive on Hamas that has caused the death of tens of thousands, most of whom were innocent civilians. The destruction of Gaza has reached catastrophic proportions.

This war needs to end at once. On 10 June, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in support of the US-backed three-stage plan for a ceasefire deal that includes the release of the hostages and a vision of “the day after” in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace as two democratic states with internationally recognised borders.

For years we argued to the international community, the UK included, that a hands-off attitude towards our bleeding conflict would go up in flames. The magnitude and brutality of the Hamas attack, however, came as a surprise even to those of us who had warned of massive violence. The scope and ferocity of the Israeli response is intolerable.

No one knows if a more assertive stance on the part of world leaders in defence of Palestinian rights and the Palestinians’ rightful claim to self-determination would have averted the 7 October violence.

We are convinced, however, that for the international community to be able to make a meaningful difference, immediate recognition of the State of Palestine is imperative and should be seen as a preamble to rather than the outcome of negotiations and as the basis of a viable reconstruction plan.

Last month, when the UN General Assembly voted to grant Palestine enhanced rights within the organisation, the UK abstained. In recent weeks, several European countries have taken the step of recognising Palestine as an independent state and more are expected to follow, but the UK’s position remains that of support for the move at some undefined future date.

Furthermore, the Labour Party manifesto continues to tie recognition to progress within peace negotiations.

We believe the Palestinians are entitled to self-determination in a sovereign state of their own that would comprise the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Recognition of the State of Palestine as well as full membership in the United Nations would enable the two parties to enjoy parity when they enter the negotiations room.

The Israeli government and its allies, such as the Board of Deputies, argue that recognition at present will be a reward to terrorism and an obstacle to peace.

We believe this claim is baseless and is motivated by the desire of Israel’s extremist, ultra-nationalist government to veto Palestinian statehood forever.

We call on the leadership of the Jewish community in the UK to side with those Israelis who are struggling for a peaceful and just future for Israelis and Palestinians alike, in the spirit of the humanitarian values that we hold dear.

• Amb. (ret.) Ilan Baruch, is former ambassador of Israel to South Africa.

• Amb. (ret.) Dr. Alon Liel, is former ambassador of Israel in South Africa and former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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