Opinion: Netanyahu’s rejection of peace must mean British recognition of Palestine

On ‘Call Clegg’ this week Nick robustly declared that “if Benjamin Netanyahu now unilaterally has decided to rule out the prospect of a Palestinian state then I think it is inevitable that British parliament, as it voted a few months ago, should rule a Palestinian state in.” The contrast with Cameron’s (is it unthinking or calculated?) support for Netanyahu’s hope-destroying election victory is both massive, and very welcome. It is great to see the Liberal Democrats standing up for the peace process rather than for an obstructionist right-wing government.

It has become a cliché to say that ‘paradoxically Netanyahu’s election victory is a good thing’: that with the emperor’s new clothes exposed for what they are, there can be no more pretending that there is an Israeli partner for peace.

I’m not so sure. There is no evidence that a prime minister who openly exploits prejudice against Israel’s Arab citizens will suddenly show any serious commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict. And just as those of us who support an end to the illegal and divisive policies of the occupation want a just peace for the Palestinians, we also recognise that such an outcome will be to Israel’s benefit too. We want a safe, decent and prosperous Israel as a genuine partner for Palestine: an Israel which is becoming ever more unequal, racist, militarised and beholden to its extremists cannot be a partner for peace, let alone a decent place for Israelis to live. This election result is a tragedy for both sides.

It is reported that Netanyahu is rowing back on his election promises, although “Mr. Netanyahu did not say he was ready to return to negotiations or to present any new ideas for achieving peace” and President Obama is unsurprisingly said to be unimpressed.

Widely considered an untrustworthy opportunist, Netanyahu should be judged by his actions. During his years as Prime Minister these have included the ramping up of illegal settlement expansion – one of the biggest hurdles to good-faith negotiations, never mind the possibility of an eventual two state solution; toleration for constant harassment and even killing of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; a refusal to engage with Mahmoud Abbas “the Palestinian president [who] has abjured violence and maintained security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank”; and we cannot of course forget the terrible price paid by civilians in his collective punishment of Gazans before and during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ battle with Hamas.

Most western countries are committed to a two state solution; something predicated on the opposite of what Netanyahu is set out to do. His promises to rip up of the fundamentals upon which any two state solution must be based and his racist denigration of Israel’s Arabs cannot but invite another comparison: in 2006 Hamas won the Palestinian legislative election on a platform of continued resistance to the occupation, but also upon the prospect of a generational truce with Israel and a tacit acceptance of the 1967 borders as the basis for a two state solution. Western governments for the most part chose not to believe that Hamas’ change of direction was genuine, or worth exploring, citing the movement’s refusal to disavow violence or accept an Israeli state as a precondition for talks as reason to boycott it. How will Western states now respond to an Israeli government which actively promotes the violence implicit in settlement expansion and which rules out the creation of a Palestinian state?

Editor’s note: All comments on this post will be pre-moderated

* Jonathan Brown is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate of the Chichester Party and founder of the Liberal Democrats for Free Syria.

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  • Lots of politicians make comments and pledges in the heat of an election campaign they later come to regret. A new Israeli Government will be formed in the next few weeks and will set out its policies on peace and security as well as Israeli domestic affairs.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Mar '15 - 4:44pm

    I watched the election fairly closely and now I am finally on board for getting tough with Israel. I know he has tried to row-back on his last minute opposition to a two-state solution, but he can’t be trusted.

    However we need to not demonise Israeli’s, which I have seen plenty of people doing and they seem to think it is OK as long as they don’t use the word Jewish.

    I came across this Bloomberg opinion piece the other day that seems to explain the fears from both sides quite well. The main fear from the Israeli side seems to be that giving Palestinians more land would allow Hamas to takeover it and use it to launch attacks, as happened after the last pull out under Sharon in 2005/6.


  • Jonathan Brown 20th Mar '15 - 6:00pm

    @Jonathan, that’s true, and I suppose Netanyahu could conceivably present a proposal diametrically opposed to what he’s been saying in the election campaign. My point however, is that such a proposal would also be diametrically opposed to what he’s been doing for years in government.

    @Eddie Sammon, good point. I think it’s also worth noting that for understandable reasons many Israelis (and many Jews), fear the worst and assume bad intent when they see or hear people studiously avoid using the word ‘Jews’ when they criticise Israel, even when those critics are genuinely trying to be fair and reasonable.

    Your point about the trustworthiness of Netanyahu is crucial. The purpose of entering negotiations is, or ought to be, to get to an outcome which not only gives everyone a stake in the future, but the basis on which to build ever-improving relationships.

    The problem with what happened after Israel’s pullout from Gaza (or one of the problems) was that while Israelis felt they’d made a significant concession and move towards peace, what they don’t generally appear to appreciate is that life for the Palestinians continued to deteriorate under a new form of occupation. For sure Hamas must share some of the blame, but what is required from Israel is not just tactical withdrawals from bits of land it attaches no value to, but genuine engagement with the Palestinians.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 20th Mar '15 - 6:01pm

    Jonathan, totally agree. It’s so good to see the Liberal Democrats standing up for peace, social justice and the rule of international law. Netanyahu clearly demonstrated using the policies of fear and hate, that he has no intention to promote peace with Palestinians. Difficult for any liberal or democrat to support these divisive politics.

  • I don’t understand what the election has to do with it we should recognise regardless. We have been treating it as an occupied country so we should formally recognise that. Any thing else is a distraction.

  • John McHugo 20th Mar '15 - 6:54pm

    What everyone should realise is that British recognition of Palestine would not deprive Israel of anything that rightfully belongs to Israel. It would encourage Palestinian moderates and draw to the attention of Israelis the extent of the rights that they will one day have to grant the Palestinians of the occupied territories. Recognition will thus encourage negotiations, not hinder them. It will also show our good faith – something that is very necessary at a time of chaos in the Middle East.

    John McHugo

  • If Netanyahu had been a member of UKIP, even Nigel Farage would have expelled him for racist comments. Whatever coalition is put together, European political leaders must surely shun him. If he was leader of another EU country he would undoubtedly be shunned by the others.

  • Parliament voted to recognise Palestine 274–12. If Cameron was as concerned with the “will of the House” as he was over prisoner votes, we’d have an embassy in Ramallah by now.

  • Jonathan Brown 20th Mar '15 - 8:26pm

    @Psi – quite so. One of the arguments used by those who don’t wish to afford the Palestinians the recognition they ought to be given is that doing so will somehow get in the way of negotiations and peace. As John McHugo points out, that’s clearly wrong. Having failed to recognise Palestine when we should have done, the blatancy of Netanyahu’s dismissal of any route to genuine peace removes any pretence of that excuse being valid.

    @Sarah – quite true. Although the embassy should probably be in the capital, East Jerusalem, rather than Ramallah.

    @John Kelly – quite. Can you imagine the leader of anything but a fringe party calling on their voters to turn out because ‘the Jews’ were going to vote in large numbers? Or any other ethnic minority? It’s disgraceful.

  • Philip Thomas 20th Mar '15 - 11:02pm

    Personally I favour a one-state solution: full incorporation of Gaza and the West Bank into Israel, full right of return for the Palestinians expelled from Israel since the 1940s, and full civic rights for everyone within the state of Israel. Hamas can be another part in the Knesset…

  • Jonathan Brown 21st Mar '15 - 1:35am

    @Philip, I think that’s an entirely reasonable as well as idealistic view. (And by idealistic I mean positive and inspiring rather than suggesting cynicism towards your naivety.) Given the direction Israeli politics seems to be going in, it’s looking less and less like an unrealistic view too, compared with the two state solution.

    The tragedy is that any just solution seems so very far away at the moment. The conflict must ultimately be resolved by those directly involved, although we can and should do what we can from the outside to treat parties consistently, press for international law to be upheld by all and encourage moderation and genuine attempts at peace making.

    I don’t know whether support for a single, democratic state that guarantees the rights of all its citizens (full civil and political rights within a ‘greater Israel’) will grow to become the preferred option of most Palestinians. And for it to be a realisable goal it would have to be one that attracted Israelis too. But if it does, I would happily support it. Allowing both sides to have the whole of Palestine / Israel, if it could be made to work, seems like a very attractive proposition!

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Mar '15 - 12:40pm


    given that the West Bank was seized from [Trans] Jordan and the Gaza from Egypt, surely it would be a war crime to annex them, absorbing them into the state of Israel?

  • Philip Thomas
    From the 1940s Gaza was until 1967 part of Egypt and the West Bank was part of Jordan, also until 1967. The Palestinians in the West Bank were Jordian citizens. The Palestinians who were expelled from Kuwait returned to Jordan in 1991.
    In fact since 1946 there were two states, the second being Transjordan.

  • Philip Thomas 22nd Mar '15 - 7:47pm

    International borders change. Gaza and the West Bank were part of the old Palestine, no? So they should be part of the new Israel. I don’t thin Gaza+West Bank is a viable state on its own, and I don’t see anyone wanting to return Gaza to Egypt or the West Bank to Jordan. At the moment they are effectively Israeli satellites whose population are denied full civic rights.

  • Jonathan Brown 24th Mar '15 - 12:00am

    @ A Social Liberal and Manfarang – Gaza and the West Bank have culturally, historically, politically been part of Palestine. They were part of the mandate, and part of the territory that was considered for partition by the UN. Residents of Gaza and the West Bank (not yet definable territories) voted in the referendum against partition.

    That Egypt and Jordan announced their annexation does not make them Egyptian or Jordanian. In any case, both Egypt and Jordan have long since relinquished any claim to the territories.

    Israel still excercises control over both, and the populations of both consider their national identity to be Palestinian, not Egyptian or Jordanian. They are both occupied territories and as such, both ought to be freed to form an independent Palestinian state, or, subject to this being the wishes of the inhabitants, incorporated into a ‘Greater Palestine’ that is simultaneously a ‘Greater Israel’ i.e. a single state.

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