Middle East Peace Process Inquiry Evidence

In January 2017, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process. Yachad submitted written evidence on the importance of the two-state solution, the UK’s capacity to act, the role of trade and aid, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian incitement. You can read it below or here on the UK Parliament’s website. You can also download a PDF copy here.

Written Evidence from Yachad UK (MEP0034)

Content

  1. Background to Yachad
  2. The continued importance of the two-state solution
  3. The UK’s capacity to act
  4. Trade and Aid
  5. Israeli settlements
  6. Palestinian incitement
  7. Key recommendations

Background to Yachad

  1. Yachad is the UK Jewish community’s pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. We were founded in 2011 to mobilise British Jews in support of a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since then, thousands of British Jews have taken part in our campaigns, educational events, and study tours to Israel and the West Bank.

The continued importance of the two-state solution

  1. The two-state solution remains the only viable method of peacefully resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This continues to be true, despite a growing debate in Israeli, Palestinian and international policy circles around alternatives to two states, and frequent media discussion of the alleged “death” of the two-state solution. Since our founding, Yachad has adopted the model of two states for two peoples as ‘Israel’s best hope for safety and security’.[1]

 

  1. Although support for a two-state solution is at a long-term low in both Israeli and Palestinian society, recent polling indicates that the key drivers of falling support for two-states are fundamentally practical – either scepticism about its implementation, or about the other side’s will to make peace. Opposition to two-states is relatively malleable, and research indicates that, in some cases, it can be overcome by the introduction of additional incentives, both symbolic and practical.[2] Support for a one-state solution is far lower in either society than a two-state solution, and there is no consensus around what a one-state solution would entail.[3] For many in the international community, and some Palestinians and Israelis, a one-state solution would necessarily entail a single, democratic state with equal rights for all.[4] By contrast, most versions of one-state proposed by right-wing Israelis would leave the Palestinian population of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and – in some cases – Gaza without fundamental rights like the right to vote or even guaranteed residency rights.[5] Hard-line Palestinians propose similar scenarios, but in the reverse. It is difficult to see, therefore, how a one-state solution would lead to an actual resolution of the conflict. It would either leave two national groups of similar size in a constant political struggle over the identity of the state, or it would leave one national group dominant over the other. Ultimately, this would likely lead to more – not less – violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

 

  1. In the UK Jewish community, support for a two-state solution is widespread. According to the most recent research on British Jewish attitudes towards Israel, a 2015 study conducted by City University and Ipsos MORI, and commissioned by Yachad, 71% believe that ‘the two state solution is the only way Israel will achieve peace with its neighbours in the Middle East’.[6] 90% of British Jews support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, while a clear majority – 72% – agree that the Palestinians have a ‘legitimate claim to a land of their own’.[7] There thus appears to be overwhelming support among British Jews for the broad thrust of the UK government’s existing policy of supporting the two-state solution.

 

  1. One proposed solution – the confederated model promoted by the organisation Two States One Homeland – could provide an alternative path if partition proves too challenging to implement.[8] This would still entail two independent sovereign entities, but would de-couple residency from citizenship, potentially allowing Israelis to continue living in areas under Palestinian sovereignty and Palestinian refugees to return to areas under Israeli sovereignty. This requires further study and debate, although it is also clear that there are practical impediments to such a model.

The UK’s capacity to act

  1. Although most Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in recent years have been led by the United States, the United Kingdom, as a major Western nation, permanent member of the security council, key European economy, ally of Israel and deliverer of crucial aid to the Palestinian Authority, has the capacity to encourage positive steps towards peace in the region. While Britain must deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sensitively, not least because of the unique history of the British mandate, that should not be a barrier to action.

 

  1. In recent years, the UK’s diplomatic work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been carried out in the context of the European Union. The departure of the UK from the EU could present an opportunity for the UK to renew its approach to the conflict outside of EU structures. Despite close economic ties and a longstanding commitment to the existence of a flourishing state of Israel, the EU is not seen as a trusted partner by either the Israeli public or Israeli elites.[9] Many Israelis see the EU as overly sympathetic to the Palestinians. In the context of the 2014 decision of the European General Court to remove Hamas from the EU’s terror list, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that ‘too many’ Europeans ‘haven’t learned a thing’ from the Holocaust, adding ‘the friendship we see from the United States stands in complete contrast to what we are seeing regretfully in Europe.’[10] Israelis tend to view the UK more positively than the EU at large.[11] At the same time, the UK does not have the same recent history as attempted mediator to several failed peace processes as the USA does, nor the same baggage in terms of Palestinian perceptions of the USA as a non-honest broker.

 

  1. The UK therefore has an opportunity to utilise its position as both an ally to Israel and backer of the Palestinian Authority to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, either independently or bilaterally with the USA. If the Trump administration does choose to push an Israeli-Palestinian ‘ultimate deal’ as a key priority,[12] a scenario which looks more likely now than it did before President Trump took office,[13] the UK could be a key player in that diplomatic process. If the Trump administration chooses to disengage from the Middle East Peace Process, the UK could help fill that void and provide crucial international diplomatic leadership and support to peacebuilding.

Trade and Aid

  1. Bilateral trade with Israel is worth £5 billion per year.[14] As the UK embarks upon the process of leaving the European Union, this moderate but growing area of business will be increasingly important. At the same time, owing to the Israeli economy’s small size relative to the UK economy, a hypothetical future UK-Israel trade deal independent of the EU would be in Israel’s interest.[15] The terms of any such deal with Israel can be used to encourage the Israeli government to return to serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

 

  1. The UK will provide up to £25 million in development aid to the Palestinian Authority this financial year.[16] This money will help pay the salaries of up to 30,000 vetted education and health professionals, providing vital services to the Palestinian people. The proper functioning of the Palestinian Authority is crucial, not just for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people, but for the basic security and economic interests of Israel. The collapse of the PA, due to either economic or political pressure, would leave Israel to resume direct administration of all Palestinians in the West Bank. This would be expensive, and could lead to the resumption of direct conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in West Bank cities and refugee camps. The UK should do what it can to prevent this from happening. At the same time, the UK should make an end to incitement against Israel and corruption within the Palestinian Authority key policy goals.

 

  1. In addition to supporting the functioning of the PA and increased trade with Israel, the UK is in the position to provide vital support to Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations that promote peace, human rights, and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. In 2015-16, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided £620,212 to Israeli NGOs though the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund, and £242,407 to Palestinian NGOS through both the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund and the Bilateral Programme Budget.[17] In order to help foster a “culture of peace” and expand their reach in both Israeli and Palestinian society, increased UK aid should go to NGOs, charities and campaigning groups, most of which largely rely heavily on international donors. In Israel, civil society organisations which support the UK’s long-term regional policy aims have come under increasing legislative attack.[18] In order for their tireless efforts to promote a resolution to the conflict to be effective, they need an increased commitment – both moral and financial – from our government.

Israeli settlements

  1. For the UK to exercise all available policy options in support of a two-state solution, it is vital that the government maintain its commitment to the shared European policy of differentiation between Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. This includes maintaining the EU-wide policy of labelling West Bank settlement products, introduced in 2015, which is partially based on existing DEFRA guidelines and which Yachad has supported since its adoption.[19] While a British boycott of products from settlements would not be beneficial, it is important to continue to make clear that the UK does not consider the West Bank to be a part of sovereign Israel and therefore does not consider products from the West Bank to be Israeli. While the Prime Minister’s office has rightly noted that Israeli settlements are not the only barrier to peace,[20] 75% of British Jews believe that ‘the expansion of settlements on the West Bank is a major obstacle to peace’.[21]

 

  1. Any normalisation of the settlements would only serve to increase the perceived viability of annexation by Israel of some or all of the West Bank. In recent years, key politicians in Israel’s governing coalition have proposed Israeli annexation of the West Bank, and one of the Israeli establishment’s main objections to annexation has been the potential reaction of the international community. If the United Kingdom were to change its policy towards the settlements, either unilaterally or together with the new US administration, that would make it more difficult for the status-quo oriented wing of the governing Likud party – led by Prime Minister Netanyahu – to resist calls for the application of Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank. Even if the United Kingdom has a limited capacity to affect Israeli government policy directly, it would be irresponsible to remove any potential barriers to a further entrenching of the conflict.

Palestinian Incitement

  1. At the same time as pushing Israel to desist from settlement activity, it is vital that the UK does not lose sight of the significant obstacles to peace on the Palestinian side. Continued incitement to violence against Israelis and denial of Israeli and Jewish rights and history from Palestinian officials and in wider Palestinian society are key drivers of conflict itself and barriers to trust in conflict resolution. This ranges from PA officials denying Jewish history in Jerusalem,[22] to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying that ‘every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise’,[23] to the common public commemoration of terrorists such as suicide bombers as “martyrs”. Greater commitment to tackling incitement is needed from the Palestinian Authority, and could serve as a crucial trust-building measure in the context of a UK-led diplomatic process.

Key recommendations

  1. Our key recommendations are:
  • Continued support for the two-state solution as the only viable peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Renewed UK efforts to bring both parties back to the negotiating table
  • Strengthened bilateral trade with Israel
  • Maintaining financial support for the Palestinian Authority
  • Increased support for Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations
  • Continued opposition to the normalisation of Israeli settlements
  • Greater commitment to tackling Palestinian incitement

[1] http://yachad.org.uk/about-us/core-principles/

[2] Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll, conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 16th February 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marissa Newman, Rivlin backs annexation with full rights for Palestinians, Times of Israel, 13th February 2017, http://www.timesofisrael.com/rivlin-backs-annexation-with-full-rights-for-palestinians/

[5] i24News, Israeli lawmaker to i24NEWS: No voting for Palestinians in one-state solution, i24News, 6th March 2017, https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/politics/139344-170306-israeli-lawmaker-to-i24news-no-voting-for-palestinians-in-one-state-solution

[6] Stephen Miller, Margaret Harris, Colin Shindler & Edward Temko, The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, City University, London, 12th November 2015. Available at http://yachad.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/British-Jewish-Attitudes-Towards-Israel-Yachad-Ipsos-Mori-Nov-2015.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://2states1homeland.org/en

[9] Sharon Pardo, What does Israel think of the European Union?, European Council on Foreign Relations, 18th August 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_what_does_israel_think_about_the_european_union_7101

[10] Barak Ravid, Netanyahu: Europe has learned nothing from Holocaust, Haaretz, 17th December 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.632369

[11] Globescan poll for the BBC World Service, 3rd June 2014, http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf.

50% of Israelis saw the UK’s influence as mainly positive, and only 6% as mainly negative. By contrast, 41% saw the EU’s influence as mainly positive, and 23% as mainly negative.

[12] Tovah Lazaroff, Trump: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Would Be ‘Ultimate Deal’, Jerusalem Post, 12th November 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Trump-Israeli-Palestinian-peace-would-be-ultimate-deal-472404

[13] Barak Ravid, On his first visit to the Middle East, Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt surprises everyone, Haaretz, 20th March 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.777881

[14] Oral Answers to Questions, Department for International Trade, 23rd March 2017, https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-03-23/debates/4C7AA090-AD8D-448B-9A03-088774350EFB/OralAnswersToQuestions

[15] Mark Leftly, After Brexit, Israel senses a chance to boost trade with UK, The Guardian, 11th March 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/11/israel-farmers-programmers-sense-chance-to-grow-in-britain-brexit-trade-deal

[16] Department for International Development, Future UK support to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 16th December 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/future-uk-support-to-the-occupied-palestinian-territories

[17] Middle East: Overseas Aid: Written question – 37735, Answered on 25th May 2016 https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-05-20/37735/

[18] Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Overview of Anti-Democratic Legislation in the 20th Knesset http://www.acri.org.il/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Overview-of-Anti-Democratic-Legislation-March-2017.pdf

[19] http://yachad.org.uk/eu-labelling-of-settlement-products-2/#.WNT8hvmLSUk

[20] Orlando Radice, Theresa May hits out at John Kerry over settlements speech, The Jewish Chronicle, 29th December 2016, https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/theresa-may-hits-out-at-john-kerry-over-settlements-speech-1.429943

[21] Stephen Miller et al., The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, 12th November 2015. Available at http://yachad.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/British-Jewish-Attitudes-Towards-Israel-Yachad-Ipsos-Mori-Nov-2015.pdf

[22] UN chief says Temple Mount was home to Jewish temple, Palestinians demand apology, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 30th January 2017, http://www.jta.org/2017/01/30/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/palestinians-demand-apology-after-new-un-chief-says-temple-mount-was-home-to-jewish-temple

[23] Ilan Ben Zion and Times of Israel Staff, Abbas: Blood of ‘martyrs’ spilled on Temple Mount is ‘pure’, Times of Israel, 17th September 2015, http://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-blood-of-martyrs-spilled-on-temple-mount-is-pure/

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