By John V Whitbeck
ON OCTOBER 12, at a donors’ conference in Cairo, participants pledged US$5.4 billion toward the reconstruction of Gaza. However, numerous participants noted that repeatedly paying to reconstruct what had been destroyed – and was likely to be destroyed again – was an insufficient response and that the core problem must be addressed. However, no original ideas for addressing it were offered.
The core problem is the occupation, now in its 48th year. It was addressed the following night when the British House of Commons voted overwhelmingly (274-12) in favour of the United Kingdom’s extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”, implicitly while its entire territory remains under belligerent occupation and without Israel’s prior permission. On October 3, the new Swedish prime minister had announced his government’s intention to recognise the State of Palestine, thereby joining the 134 other UN member states, encompassing the vast majority of mankind, which have already done so.
Europe should not stop there. Eight European Union states, including Cyprus, have already recognised the State of Palestine. Imagine that all of the 20 EU states which have not yet done so were to do so and that the EU were then to announce that, if Israel did not comply with international law and relevant UN resolutions by withdrawing fully from the occupied State of Palestine by a specified date, it would impose economic sanctions on Israel and intensify them until Israel did so.
Europe is not simply Israel’s principal trading partner. It is the Israelis’ cultural homeland, with many Israelis viewing their country as a “European villa in the jungle”. It is even Israelis’ sports homeland, with Israeli teams competing in European football and basketball competitions. If Europe were to adopt and pursue a firm and unified position of constructive disapproval along these lines, the writing would be indelibly on the wall, and the end of the occupation and the transformation of the current two-state legality under international law into a decent two-state reality on the ground would become unavoidable, a mere question of when rather than of whether.
Then, and only then, meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the practical modalities of ending the occupation and structuring future peaceful and cooperative coexistence could begin.
One may well respond that, of course, Europeans would never dream of taking such an initiative. It is true that Europe has traditionally preferred smooth and non-contentious relations with the United States and Israel, even when such subservience runs counter to its proclaimed values and interests and further fuels the multi-decade war of civilisations between the Muslim world and the West now taking shape, to applying non-violent pressure consistent with international law to achieve peace with some measure of justice in Israel and Palestine.
However, this does not mean that Europe is incapable of breaking free from the American imposed orthodoxy that a Palestinian state can and should never exist, even on a purely legal level, without Israel’s prior consent or incapable of acting wisely and in accordance with European values and interests.
Oddly, since Israel has never defined its own borders, an act which would necessarily place limits on them, a principal argument of the Israeli government and its supporters against diplomatic recognitions of the State of Palestine is that Palestine does not have defined borders. In fact, Palestine does have clearly defined borders, and they were confirmed in the overwhelming (138-9) November 29, 2012 UN General Assembly vote confirming Palestine’s “state status” as “the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”.
Both Israel and Palestine now have “internationally recognised borders”. For Israel, they encompass all of Mandate Palestine conquered prior to 1967 – nothing more and nothing less. For Palestine, they encompass all of the remaining part of Mandate Palestine, conquered in 1967 – nothing more and nothing less. No country, not even the United States, recognises any other borders for either state.
Of course, states are always free to redraw their borders with other states by mutual agreements feely entered into, and, if Israel is ever to agree to end its occupation, some land swaps or, in the case of Jerusalem or emotionally charged parts thereof, some sharing of undivided sovereignty over territory are likely to be agreed to.
Most of those who proclaim themselves “pro-Israel” or who genuinely care about the welfare of Israelis and non-Israeli Jews (not necessarily the same people) profess to support a “two-state solution” and realise that the perpetuation of the current one-state reality would nullify the Zionist project if transformed into a fully democratic state and make Israel a despised pariah state if perpetuated as today’s effective apartheid state.
Such people should ask and answer a simple but essential question: “Is the Israeli government more likely to negotiate seriously with a genuine desire and intention to reach a definitive peace agreement ending the occupation if most Israelis feel that such an agreement would best serve their interests and enhance the quality of life for them and their children or if most Israelis feel (as has been the case for at least 20 years) that maintaining the status quo of occupation and continuing settlement expansion is preferable to any realistically realisable agreement?”
There being only one coherent answer to this question, “friends of Israel”, whether opportunistic or genuine, should shout that answer out to all who would accuse them of being insufficiently “pro-Israel”.
One and only one road to peace with some measure of justice in Israel and Palestine exists. It is open. It remains to be seen whether European leaders have the political will, wisdom and courage to start down that road.
John V Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel