Opinion: Violence And Peace In The Middle East – There Is Something We Can Do

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishThe recent murders of the Israeli and Palestinian children were in themselves terrible crimes but they also served to ignite the latest round of brutal violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Some media commentators are tempted to suggest that this is inevitable and un-resolvable but I don’t believe that to be the case.

I was surprised recently to discover – and then to find that I greatly admired – the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine’s 9 point plan for peace and the three principles that inform it. I urge you to all to read it and, if you would like to support its adoption, to contact the group. If you are a Conference Voting Rep you may also be interested in supporting a motion on Middle East peace this Autumn.

The plan is a quick and clear read, so I won’t repeat any but the first and main point here: the immediate recognition by the Government of the United Kingdom of the State of Palestine within the boundaries of 4 June 1967.

The plan was conceived directly in response to the failure of the most recent ‘peace talks’ between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Recognition of Palestine would at a stroke inject new impetus and credibility into any future negotiations, as there must, eventually, be. It enables the second and seventh points of the plan to be implemented, which would put real pressure on the government of Israel to finally act against the illegal settlements which are pretty universally accepted to be one of the biggest single blocks on progress.

In reverse order, the third of the principles underpinning this plan is the absence of historical narrative: the nine points look to the future, not to the past. This is hard, and the past is of course important, but it will come as no surprise to hear that history has in the past been a barrier to trust and compromise.

The second principle is to take international law as the starting point for negotiations. The repeated failure of previous attempts which have not been expressly predicated on the mutual recognition of the other side’s rights in international law demonstrates that this is the correct approach.

The first principle is, ironically, the one I find hardest to accept: the assumption that the two state solution remains the most realistic possibility at the present time. I remain of the opinion that a single democratic state that protects and promotes the rights of its Israeli and Palestinian citizens alike is not only by far the more worthwhile goal to aim for but also not hugely harder to achieve in practice than a just two-state solution will be. However – and this is why I can nevertheless support this peace plan – this goal is not mine to decide. To my knowledge no polling of Palestinians living within the Occupied Territories has shown majority preference for a single state over two states (although I believe this is slowly changing). I hope that a unified and free Israeli/Palestinian state will become a reality one day. But in the meantime I will support this plan that is realistic, practical, hopeful, powerful and supportive of the repeatedly demonstrated wish of most Palestinians living within the Occupied Territories to live in peace alongside their Israeli neighbours.


Photo by Al Jazeera English

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

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  • Point zero is surely an acceptance of the truth of Gandhi’s saying: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”; With respect to Israel and its neighbours, we’ve had too many decades of “an eye for an eye” to know that it is only perpetuating the problem.

  • You can make a very strong case for saying that the problems of the middle east (and a lot of other parts of the world) are the result of people in western countries doing things. Maybe this time it would be better of ‘we’ were to mind our own business and let the people there sort their problems out?

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jul '14 - 10:49am

    Before we can recognise Palestine as a nation, it has to show that it can (and I am being generous here given the evidence that the terrorism coming out of it is controlled by the Authority). control and punish the terrorists within its borders. It has to show that it is really democratic and that there will not be another Stalinist purge of those who might stand against it in elections.

    There have been few if any suicide bombs in Israel since the wall between Israel and the West Bank went up. Yes, it infringes on territory in the West Bank but that, I believe , was for strategic reasons. History shows that Israel is willing to give back territory when there is no longer a threat. History also shows that when the threat level changes they are willing to do what it takes to protect its citizens.

  • Jonathan Brown 16th Jul '14 - 1:30pm

    the site appears not to be letting me log in to this article, but I wanted tok post some quick answers.

    @Roland – good point. One of the strengths of this is that it looks forwards to positive change rather than dwells on the past, important though it is.

    @Chris – I would say it depends what you mean by ‘leave them to it’. a policy of active neutrality would be one thing – which would involve recognising both sides presumably, ending the EU association agreement, stopping dealing with companies that profit from West Bank occupation, etc. If by ‘keeping out’ however, you mean that we carry on as we are, wthen we ough to admit that we are already heavily implicated in what is happening. the proposal here is to support the took sides to engage in serious negotiations, not to impose a solution of our own.

  • Jonathan Brown 16th Jul '14 - 1:37pm

    @social liberal, we recognise many vile regimes around the world without expecting that they refrain from terrorism, no matter how much we may desire it. I believe most of your assertions here are very wrong, but as with the proposal, it is not my intention to dwell on the past.

    The point is to support something that could empower moderates on both sides and move the conflict on from a half century of occupation and conflict and towards a just and workable peace. It is not original to say that you make peace with your enemies. whether or not you consider the Palestinians to be an enemy, no Peace is possible without finally giving them the means to participate in a genuine peace process.

  • Geoffrey Payne 16th Jul '14 - 2:06pm

    I think the reason why a one state solution would be difficult is that for many Israelis the point of Israel is that it is a Jewish state, and is therefore a place that Jews can go to if they are oppressed in the country where they live. The right of return. But how can Israel be a Jewish state if the majority are not Jewish? The problem in seeking to create a majority Jewish state is what happens to the non- Jews who live there? Some are now Arab Israelis, some have been expelled from Israel and some are refugees within Israel, with no voting rights. Hence the problems we have today.
    As I see it, because Israel has the unconditional support of the US which has effectively turned it into a regional military superpower, Israel can impose its own preferred solution and set stringent conditions for peace talks knowing they either won’t happen or won’t make any significant progress. Only if the US withdraws its support for Israel is there likely to be any significant progress. The status quo suits Israel.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jul '14 - 3:20pm


    I accept all of your arguments after the recognition of ‘vile regimes’, and actually agree with the points made. I believe in the two state solution BUT there has to be a lot of work done beforehand to ensure that there will not be a return to the terrorism of the pre-wall era.

    On recognising ‘vile regimes. We do, but you must accept that we recognised the countries before their governance by those vile bodies. At the moment, though, the country of Palestine does not exist – the Palestinian people aren’t even governed by a single entity. We cannot recognise a body which has, in its charter, the stated aim of bringing about the demise of its neighbour. We also have to ensure that before we recognise a changed Hamas that it doesn’t revert to its barbaric near history of trying to annihilate its political opponents.

    Finally, a point of order. I believe you mean a two state solution based on the UN plan before Israels formation. Pre 1967 the West Bank was the de facto territory of Jordan, who (as Trans-Jordan) seized it in the 1948 war.

  • Richard Dean 16th Jul '14 - 3:29pm

    What would the West End of London do if the East End of London decided to lob a few rockets their way?

  • Jonathan Brown 16th Jul '14 - 6:04pm

    @Geoffrey – “because Israel has the unconditional support of the US which has effectively turned it into a regional military superpower, Israel can impose its own preferred solution and set stringent conditions for peace talks knowing they either won’t happen or won’t make any significant progress”

    Exactly. Even many of Israel’s supporters realise that the occupation is doing tremendous damage to Israeli society, never mind the Palestinians, and that the settlements and lack of progress in peace talks is a problem for the state they support. This proposal seeks to overturn the status quo and for the first time in an awful long time give peace talks the chance to succeed. As well as demonstrating our own support for international law.

    @A Social Liberal – “there has to be a lot of work done beforehand”

    There has to be a lot of work done. Full stop. The wall hasn’t brought peace. It has perhaps – probably even – contributed the tailing off of suicide bombing, but there are many other factors at work there too, not least of all the long periods in which Hamas has held to a ceasefire. But for the Palestinians the wall has brought more land appropriation, more jobs destroyed, more families split apart, more house demolitions and more killings. The conflict won’t be solved by waiting for peace.

    In any case, the proposal calls for the recognition of the State of Palestine, not Hamas. It also calls for fresh Palestinian elections. Hamas has for years shown its eagerness to participate – at arm’s length – in genuine peace talks based upon the two state solution, so even with the racist and authoritarian elements in its constitution, there’s no reason not for us to press ahead with an attempt to resolve the underlying cause of the violence: i.e. the occupation.

    @Richard Dean – I’m not sure what the point is you’re trying to make. Not presumably that you’d support calling in the RAF to bomb our capital?

  • There is something we can do.

    We can start listening to Jenny Tonge, who has worked diligently on this issue for years.

    As a long-standing member of the party, former councillor, former MP (and an excellent one too), as one for our Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and sadly a former member of the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords — she should be given credit for warning about the ever worsening crisis in Gaza.

    How many more Israeli wars on Gaza before we come to our senses?

  • Richard Dean 16th Jul '14 - 9:02pm

    Certainly not, Jonathan, though I expect there would be plenty in the West End willing to support that.

  • John McHugo 18th Jul '14 - 2:58pm

    I think we should also bear in mind that over half the population of Gaza had been ethnically cleansed by the Zionist militias that would become the army of the state of Israel once that state had been proclaimed, or by that army itself as it pushed into south west Palestine in the latter stages of the Nakba/”Israeli war of independence”. The people of Gaza have been effectively kept in cages ever since. In international law, Gaza is still Israeli occupied territory, despite Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, and Israel accordingly carries a responsibility towards its people.

    Firing rockets from Gaza aimed at civilians is a war crime, but let us not forget that Israel’s refusal to acknowledge Palestinian rights is the root of this conflict – and this goes back to the declaration of the state of Israel and the period before. Israel still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the rights of those who were adversely affected by its establishment. It is only when this taboo is finally addressed that it will be possible to negotiate the two state solution in which most of us believe.

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