By Vivian Wineman,
President, Board of Deputies
On Monday night, MPs voted to pass a motion calling on the Government to recognise a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.
An amendment, tabled by Jack Straw, added “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state settlement”. This resolution and amendment, however well-intentioned it may be, is a most unfortunate and misguided development.
Regrettably, a further amendment previously tabled by pro-Israel MPs, adding “on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority” was not debated.
This amendment, which would have re- emphasised the necessity of negotiations, had been supported by communal organisations including the Board.
Letters written to MPs, opinion pieces in the press, a joint letter between the Board, the Jewish Leadership Council, Bicom and the Zionist Federation was published in the Daily Telegraph and an advert calling the community to action was published in the Jewish press.
Although the amendment we pushed for did not come to fruition, there are signs the Government will continue its policy of supporting negotiations, and that recognition of Palestine will only occur when these negotiations have reached a satisfactory conclusion.
During the debate, Tobias Elwood, Minister for the Middle East, reiterated that the Government reserved the right to recognise Palestine only when the “time is right”.
British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, has also reiterated that the outcome of Palestinian sovereignty can only be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.
While the initial response of the Government is to be welcomed, we cannot be complacent. Some comments made by MPs during the debate, referring to a “Jewish lobby”, insisting Israel’s actions led to anti-Semitism, and the propagation of the naïve belief that this recognition will have a positive impact on negotiations, show there are some who would like nothing more than to see the peace process hit a dead end.
Others pay lip service to the two-state solution, but in reality support steps to torpedo it.
According to the Times of Israel, which transcribed the debate, Mike Wood MP outrageously spoke of a supposed “process of driving everybody who is not Jewish out of what is considered to be greater Israel”.
It’s important the Government continues to act with the utmost responsibility, in a way that does not harm negotiations.
President Mahmoud Abbas has already spoken of using unilateral recognitions from other states and international organisations as a way of “internationalising the struggle” in lieu of a settlement. This is bad news as it gives fuel to Palestinian rejectionism.
It would also only contribute to the delegitimisation campaign against Israel, with the Palestinians using international courts, pushing for boycotts and other activities, which the vast majority of British politicians oppose.
Fortunately, the UK Government understands our community’s concerns. Prime Minister David Cameron remains a steadfast friend of Israel and its right to defend itself, stating that “those criticising Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own Government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today”.
The Board has written in support of the prime minister and the (former and new) foreign minister on a number of occasions. The letters have thanked them for their strong public support of Israel’s right to self-defence as well as the UK’s role in the EU Council’s positive Middle East conclusions, which called for the disarmament of Hamas and reaffirmed the EU’s role in supporting a two-state solution.
The most salient fact is that, as it stands, the Palestinians have still not resolved the divisions between themselves and the role of Hamas, an organisation recognised as a terror group by the US and the EU, among others.
The only way forward is negotiation, and not derailment by those who seek to block a meaningful peace process. After all, unilateral moves have not contributed to the peace process.
Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza nor the Palestinian campaign for international recognition have brought the sides any closer to a settlement. I want to finish on a note of optimism.
This year, despite everything, has seen record bilateral trade figures between the UK and Israel.
So while there remain those who would like to see the downfall of that relationship, the UK-Israel alliance remains a warm one.