Both the Guardian and the Telegraph have this week carried articles urging the House of Commons to “recognise” Palestine when it debates the issue on Monday (by the way, did you notice anything unusual about the authorship of these two pieces? It is interesting that both of these papers carried these articles).
It is possible the motion will be successful. Whilst I support it, I do so in a qualified way. Why only in a qualified way?
The idea of “recognising” Palestine is seen by many establishment figures as a way of supporting the “peace process” and, in Vincent Fean’s words in the Guardian, it “would help to preserve the two-state solution which is, after all, the policy of the three main political parties” (I presume he means the Westminster parties, though the SNP also supports the two-state solution).
This is well-intentioned, but pretty meaningless, as Fean will know. There is no “peace process” – and there has not been for a very long time. Britain “recognising” Palestine might have been of significance had it happened at the latest in the early 1990s, but now it has no real meaning (most of the rest of the world already recognises Palestine, with – broadly – Western states the ones who are just catching up on this issue). Recognising Palestine as a state implies a two-state solution, but Israel has de facto created a one-state solution, leading to a situation of apartheid, as Virginia Tilley argues (along with Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and countless others). All we have in the Middle East is “process” and not “peace” – an endless meandering of diplomats, the furthering of lucrative careers of apparatchiks in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government, the bloating of the international NGO sector, and futile “interventions” from foreign officials. This “process” serves to obscure the ongoing illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory, involving violent repression and blatant human rights violations, all with the aim of dispossession and theft of Palestinian land and resources. There can be no peace whilst Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, is allowed to continue to occupy Palestinian land. Palestinian resistance (even armed resistance) is no match for such a military colossus.
Even before the first intifada began in December 1987, Meron Benvenisti, former (Israeli) deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek, said that the number of Israeli settlers (better: colonists) in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories made a two-state solution impossible – the infrastructure of the colony-settlements was too tightly bound to Israel’s infrastructure to make a separation of the two possible (note that every single one of the Israeli colonists in the occupied territories is there illegally). In 1987 there were several tens of thousands of illegal Israeli colonists in the occupied territories; now there are over 500,000. How can a two-state solution work under such circumstances? Even if Benvenisti had been wrong in 1987 – and the so-called “peace process” was ostensibly predicated on this kind of assessment being wrong – there can now be no doubt that Israel will not willingly relinquish the occupied territories; indeed, the illegal occupation has become an integral part of Israeli identity – the colonists need the army, and the army needs the colonists.
So what to do? There are some really creative ideas emerging from a variety of different parties that offer some hope – none of them predicated on a two-state solution as traditionally understood. Many of these are variations of the one-state solution, and I can recommend some interesting reading on this:
- Virginia Tilley, The One State Solution, University of Michigan Press 2005 (a brilliant book, now in a 2010 edition); see also her short piece in the London Review of Books, 6.11.2003;
- Leile Farsakh, Time for a bi-national state, in Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2007;
- Nathan Witkin, “The Interspersed Nation-State System: A Two-State/One-Land Solution for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” The Middle East Journal 65, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 31-54 (apologies: this may only be accessible via a university/paywall);
- Leila Farsakh, “The One-State Solution and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Palestinian Challenges and Prospects,” The Middle East Journal 65, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 55-71 (apologies: this may only be accessible via a university/paywall);
- Mark LeVine/Mathias Mossberg (eds.), One Land, Two States, University of California Press, 2014 (a ground-breaking effort involving Israeli and Palestinian authors working on the idea of ‘parallel states’).
But in the meantime, what to do? Should we support the move to get Britain to recognise the State of Palestine, even though it cannot conceivably come about in the present circumstances? I believe we should do so, for two main reasons:
- Palestinians are themselves asking us for this and as they are the oppressed party, we should pay heed to what they see as a viable strategy for changing the situation they are in (in the same way that many of us support the 2005 call for boycott, divestment and sanctions). For example, Hanan Ashrawi argues that recognition is a “human, moral, legal, and political imperative.” Palestinian church leaders have said: “From Jerusalem, our occupied capital, we send our urgent message to the whole world and particularly to Europe: We are yearning for justice and peace. Recognizing Palestine and defining Israel’s borders is a first step towards that goal.”
- Israel pays no heed to simple condemnations (as Fean puts it in the Guardian article, “We have deplored [Israel’s actions] frequently, to no avail.”), and so further external pressure needs to be brought to bear – recognising Palestine will not do much, but it will do a little.
Ultimately, all of this is about a very simple issue: it is about bringing Israel into compliance with international law and finding a way forward for the conflict to be transformed. In the eyes of many, Israel is “a rogue state” in that it ignores UN resolutions it does not like, contravenes countless international laws (e.g. Geneva Conventions, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Convention against Torture, and so on), and generally behaves as if it has complete impunity. Demanding accountability for Israel’s actions in the occupied territories is essential for a just and lasting transformation to the conflict. We are a long way from that at the moment, but recognising the Palestinian right to a state is a little step along the way. The situation will constantly change, possibly for the worse, but if there is to be a chance of any improvement it needs to include a change in the behaviour of the occupier, and it has to be worth utilising every possible avenue for creating pressure to make that happen.
You can support the moves towards recognition by clicking the image below, which will take you to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s action page: