Jan Royall on resolving the status of Palestine and keeping the goal of Middle East peace alive
The two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and a just and fair deal for refugees.
The news that Israel had seized more than US$120m of the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority has made the situation more dangerous. In the past, when Israel has frozen monthly revenues, it resulted in the late payment of salaries for thousands of public servants in the West Bank and Gaza. Peace cannot ensue when men and women are no longer able to provide for their families. Saudi Arabia and others will no doubt do what they can to assist financially but that will be a short term measure, not sustainable for any of the parties concerned.
Equally worrying is the news that Prime Minister Netanyahu has authorised the construction of 3,000 new homes in settlements and the speeding up of 100 existing planning permissions. As the UN Secretary General said, this could be “an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution”.
Last week, the UN General Assembly voted massively in favour of Palestine moving from an observer entity to an observer state at the UN. 138 nations voted for, nine against and 41 abstentions including the UK. This was a strong global signal – and also happened to reflect the view of the British people (72% of respondents in a recent YouGov poll said they were in favour of recognising the Palestinian state, with only 6% against).
Labour believes the UK government was wrong not to support the resolution. The vote was an important means of demonstrating support for President Abbas; especially so, in light of the recent conflict which saw the power and influence of Hamas enhanced. Palestinians, like the world, wanted tangible proof that diplomacy works better than rockets.
The Middle East will be a priority for President Obama in his second term, but the UK’s abstention will not have helped. On the contrary, it will have diminished our position as a global leader in the eyes of the world. Israel’s Ambassador has been called to the Foreign Office for a meeting with the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt and there is much press speculation that our Ambassador in Tel Aviv could be withdrawn. But nothing is clear.
For the past four years there has been a near-total cessation of terrorist activity in the West Bank, partly as a result of co-operation between the Israel Defence Forces and Palestinian security forces trained and organised by Lt General Keith Dayton’s team. If however, the Palestinian economy collapses as a result of external economic pressures, this situation could easily be reversed and Israel will become more vulnerable.
The UN vote demonstrated that the world wants a two state solution, one in which both Palestine and Israel live in security with dignity. Giving Palestine observer status at the UN is a positive, if mostly symbolic, step forward, but the subsequent announcements by Israel are deeply worrying and could jeopardise the hope of peace. There is still time to talk and I urge our government to do all it can to ensure no steps are taken which would be a set-back, not just for the Middle East but the whole world.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords
Published 3rd December 2012