Parliaments across Europe — in Britain, Spain, France, Ireland and now the European Parliament — are acting to preserve the prospect of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. They seek recognition of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders as a contribution to a negotiated peace, not a substitute for it.
Sweden has already recognized Palestine. And in 2015, other governments will emulate the Swedes. Palestinians will see that the nonviolence policy of the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, brings international approval and clears the way for United Nations-sponsored talks. Israelis will see that there will indeed be two states in the Holy Land, so whoever they elect next March needs to negotiate that outcome in good faith.
The status quo is bad and getting worse. Europe condemns Hamas rocket fire into Israel, Israeli strikes against United Nations buildings in Gaza, and recent murders in Jerusalem. All are crimes against humanity.
Both peoples have the right to live safely, without fear of their neighbor. Each is the other’s nearest neighbor. Both have the right to self-determination, including statehood. Both need to invest in mutual respect, preventing spoilers from perpetuating myths, suspicion and violence. Life is sacred, irrespective of nationality — that of a three-month-old child in Jerusalem, or a 55-year-old minister in the West Bank.
America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, has made strenuous efforts to promote negotiations. Absent was a clear framework: what the international community expects of each party to this conflict. Clarity has been lacking since Bill Clinton’s parameters, set out as he left office in 2000. President Barack Obama still has two years to go — time enough, given the will.
Led by America, the United Nations Security Council should set out the framework and timescale for negotiations. It gripped this issue soon after the 1967 War, producing Resolution 242, ruling out the acquisition of land by force. The two parties to the negotiations should be the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (as at Oslo, but with a new equity of statehood).
The Security Council is the right guarantor, though this Israeli government demurs. America will always have Israel’s back, and deserves Israel’s trust at the United Nations. There is broad American-European agreement on a fair outcome: the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps enabling most Israeli settlers to remain; Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states; security for both guaranteed by NATO, with American- and European-led peacekeeping forces; and a fair and agreed solution to the refugee question, with all Palestinians gaining the right to live in Palestine. Palestinian sovereignty means an end to the occupation — the full, phased withdrawal of Israeli forces — and an end to all claims.
America cannot do everything. Europe is free to act independently on the shared analysis that the two-state solution is in danger from acts of violence, systematic Israeli settlement construction, the separation barrier, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the seven-year closure of Gaza. Two states are overdue — but are becoming ever harder to achieve.
At Oslo, the Palestinians were promised statehood by 1999. The murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 prevented that. Today, recognition gives renewed hope to the majorities in both states, who believe in the two-state concept.
And the European Union matters. It is Israel’s most significant trading partner, and an agreement gives Israel free access for its exports to 28 nations. But the relationship goes deeper still. Israel identifies itself as a Western democracy. John Major, a former British prime minister, said of Israel: “To whom high regard is paid, of him much is expected.” This Israeli government falls short of the values it claims to share with the West, breaking the law in the conduct of its 47-year occupation. It is a crime for an occupying power to transfer its own citizens into territory it occupied by war. That is what the settler enterprise does.
The P.L.O. has recognized the state of Israel on the 1967 borders. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has professed support for the two-state solution, yet is vague about details. But many in his defunct coalition are working to kill the two-state concept. This is against Israel’s interests, and it’s why Israel is losing Europe.
Peaceful coexistence between the two peoples entails Palestinian sovereignty over its own borders, the legitimate movement of Palestinian goods and people between the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, and the end of the occupation. A key task for the United States and Europe is to ensure security for both states, working with Egypt to make and keep the peace in Gaza, and with Jordan to protect the Jordan Valley, with European Union and NATO guarantees.
The Palestinian address for a lasting agreement is the P.L.O. in Ramallah, not Hamas in Gaza City. Hamas’s recourse to violence and lack of a peace strategy both need to change. Support for the men of violence will wane decisively when there is a genuine chance of peace with dignity. Egypt and Jordan have key roles as Israel’s peace treaty partners and as beneficiaries of Palestinian statehood. Egypt can stem the flow of weapons into Gaza, while permitting legitimate travel. Jordan is working to calm tensions at the Noble Sanctuary (known to Jews as the Temple Mount) in the old city of Jerusalem. Together with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan uphold the Arab Peace Initiative, which would assure Israel of permanent recognition by over 50 Arab and Muslim states following an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Recognition of the Palestinian state is a step toward an equitable negotiated solution. The alternative is the stuff of nightmares: discrimination, violence, revenge and retaliation.
The one-state outcome, which is where Israel is headed, would mean subjugation and violence inside that state. In that scenario, the result would be a descent into tragedy. To preserve its identity, its principles and world repute, Israel needs Palestine just as much as the Palestinians do.
Vincent Fean was Britain’s consul- general in Jerusalem from 2010 to 2014.