On October 13, the UK House of Commons by an overwhelming vote of 274-12 urged the British government to extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine.
At first glance, it would seem a rather meaningless gesture. It is a non-binding resolution, and Prime Minister David Cameron has already declared that this expression of parliamentary opinion will have no effect whatever on existing government policy. So far Britain – along with the states in Western Europe – adheres to Israel’s stubborn insistence, echoed by Washington, that Palestinian statehood can only be established through a solution to the conflict negotiated by the parties.
Even if the British vote was binding, why should it be seen as a dramatic move in Palestine’s favour? After all, Palestine has already been accorded recognition by 134 states since Yasser Arafat declared the existence of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders back in 1988.
Such downgrading of the significance of what took place is also part of Israel’s tactical response. Its ambassador in London now declining even to comment on the decision after earlier indicating extreme disapproval. Before the vote, Israeli leaders used their many levers of influence to discourage the vote. Benjamin Netanyahu even insisted that such a step would seriously diminish prospects for resumed negotiations and would harm peace prospects. Afterwards, the Israeli tone changed, calling the vote meaningless and devoid of importance.
In actuality, the UK initiative is an important symbolic victory for the Palestinians. Until the recently elected Swedish government indicated its intention to recognise Palestinian at some future undesignated time, no Western European government had broken ranks on the Oslo approach as interpreted by Israel and the United States. It is this approach that has put a straightjacket on diplomacy, requiring any progress toward a solution to be exclusively through direct negotiations in which the US acts as intermediary.
|British MPs back recognition of Palestine|
At stake, then, is not only the momentum building for European countries to extend recognition to Palestine, but also a belated admission that this Oslo approach after more than 20 years of futility should no longer be respected as the consensus foundation of Israel-Palestine conflict resolution.
The UK action needs to be joined with the recent diplomacy of the Palestinian Authority – first the Fatah/Hamas agreement of April to form a unity government, and even more so, with the resolution to be submitted to the Security Council that calls for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, no later than November 2016.
It is expected that the US will veto this resolution if it is unable to mount enough pressure to prevent nine SC members from voting affirmatively. Such an initiative by Ramallah further signals that the PA is no longer willing to play the waiting game that has given Israel ample time for settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem now well past points of no return.
In Mahmoud Abbas’ speech of September 26 to the General Assembly, he clearly indicated that he was refusing to cooperate with these diplomatic maneuvers facilitated by the Oslo framework. Responding to Palestinian pressures from below, Abbas left no doubt that he would not pretend that he had “a partner for peace”, thereby turning the tables on Tel Aviv. He signaled this clearly when he described Israel’s 50-day military operation against Gaza this past summer as “a genocidal war”. The G-word was bound to elicit an angry Israeli response, which Netanyahu provided a few days later in the same venue, calling Abbas’ speech “shameless”.
There still remains a lingering ambiguity in these developments suggesting we have not yet arrived at a post-Oslo phase of diplomacy. The backers of the UK resolution accepted an amendment stating that its purpose was “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”.
This tail wagging the dog is a regression, sustaining the illusion that Israel, whatever the context, is willing at this stage to allow an independent sovereign Palestinian state to be established within 1967 borders, even if the borders are slightly modified. Someone needs to tell the world that Israel is no longer interested, if it ever was.
The UK resolution should be understood in connection with three recent developments: first, the inter-governmental diplomacy is moving away from the Oslo approach, and Western Europe is beginning to fill the diplomatic vacuum created by the April collapse of the Kerry round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Secondly, that civil society nonviolent militancy and political leadership is beginning to occupy centre stage in Palestinian hopes and dreams, particularly taking the form of the growing BDS campaign, but also visible in the success of Oakland, California demonstrators in preventing the unloading of two Israeli container ships. And thirdly, the PA is edging closer to seeking International Criminal Court membership as a prelude to asking for an investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies. He is also former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.