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A momentous vote on Palestine

03 October 2014

The time has come for the UK to recognise the State, argues Vincent Fean


Sign of peace: Pope Francis looks on as Presidents Peres and Abbas embrace at the Casa Santa Marta, in the Vatican City, in June

Sign of peace: Pope Francis looks on as Presidents Peres and Abbas embrace at the Casa Santa Marta, in the Vatican City, in June

ON 13 October, MPs will debate and vote on a motion to recognise the state of Palestine. This is now the right course of action, to sustain those in Palestine who abhor violence, and strengthen the hand of those in Israel who seek a peaceful, secure coexistence between two sovereign states.

The Holy Land is home to two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. It is anything but a beacon of peace and harmony. The conflict there has cast a shadow over the region throughout my diplomatic career: some 38 years, the last three in Jerusalem.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all care deeply about Jerusalem, and seek the freedom to worship there.

What can Christians do to advance the cause of peace with justice in that sacred place? Pray for peace, mutual security, and justice for all. Give to good causes, such as the rebuilding of Gaza and non-political charities such as Friends of the Holy Land, dedicated to enabling those Christian "living stones" to remain where they were born.

And they can ask their elected representatives to do what is right: recognise two states with equal rights and responsibilities.

OUR spiritual leaders care deeply. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke eloquently of security for Israel, justice for Palestinians, and peace for all during his visit last year. Pope Francis prayed for peace with Presidents Abbas and Peres in June. Tragically, the third Gaza conflict in ten years was to follow. The latest ceasefire has suspended the killing, but resolved nothing.

The British Government recognised the State of Israel (without borders or a capital) in 1950. Why recognise Palestine now, based on the borders before the 1967 war and occupation, i.e. East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza?

First, for our own sake: we regain our balance. We are party to the history of this conflict, originators of the Balfour Declaration and holders of the Mandate to rule Palestine (1920-48). Under the Mandate, we took on a "sacred trust of civilisation" to advance the welfare of the Palestinian people and guide them to independence. There is unfinished business here.

Second, recognition makes a difference - not necessarily on the ground but in the minds of men and women. It underlines our commitment to an equitable two-state solution. Violence, the expansion of illegal settlements, and the continued closure of Gaza make that a two-state solution ever harder to discern, but it is the only solution that will work justly. Put simply, recognition makes it more likely, not less.

THE two parties to this conflict are at an impasse. The voices of moderation on both sides need encouragement. Those Palestinians who eschew violence and practise co-operation with Israel need something to show for their pains - to prove that their peaceful efforts, not indiscriminate Hamas violence, will lead to two states.

Those in Israel who acknowledge that settlements, the Separation Barrier, and the demolition of Palestinian homes are both morally and legally wrong need to be able to show that the world thinks the same. It matters to Israel's international reputation to end the Occupation.

External action is needed to break the impasse. The United Kingdom has the freedom to act perfectly legitimately in ways that are closed, politically, to the United States. US involvement in resolving this conflict is necessary, but the actions of the Secretary of State, John Kerry, are evidently not enough.

The Arab states have reaffirmed that they will recognise Israel and do business with it in the event of an agreement acceptable to Palestinian moderates. Europe too needs to act, beyond funding the rebuilding of Gaza for the third time in a decade.

Where we lead, other Europeans will follow. Recognition of Palestine is already under active discussion in France. The Nordic countries are not far behind: in the Evangelical Churches in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, there is keen awareness of the urgent need to find a way for two peoples to live in peace and mutual security.

In Ireland and Italy, too, the debate has moved from conflict analysis to determining action for the common good of all people in the region. Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in safety. Both deserve statehood. The status quo is unjust and thus indefensible. A one-state outcome is also no solution, for it means further discrimination in an apartheid-style system, and yet more violence.

The US administration sometimes says that we cannot want a solution more than the two parties do. Not so. The absence of a solution harms us directly in the region, through instability, the risk of violence, and the financial cost of our contributions to mitigating the damage caused by the Occupation.

Even more importantly, accusations of double standards contribute to the radicalising of Muslim youth in the UK. Recognition of the Palestinian State helps to level the ground for future negotiations in the region, and demonstrates a respect for the international law that we helped to create, and which needs political will to enforce.

If you agree, please tell your MP before 13 October.

Sir Vincent Fean served as British Consul-General in Jerusalem from 2010 until earlier this year.

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