The response to Trump’s peace plan should be – recognise Palestine now

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As we leave the EU, we need to show that we are not Trump’s poodle. Britain must therefore publicly be seen to reject the wholesale attack on the rule of international law that is unfortunately an important element in Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, his plan for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Although the “deal” contains positive elements, such as aspects of its vision for cooperation in economic development, nothing can hide the fact that it contains a diktat to be imposed on the Palestinians that deprives them of their right of self-determination (whilst brazenly maintaining that the contrary is true), as well as the territorial integrity of the Palestinian land that Israel occupied in 1967.

The “deal” has understandably already been described as creating “disconnected Bantustans” rather than a Palestinian State. If it is successfully implemented in the form in which it is published, it is likely to mean the end of the two State solution and become the focal point for a struggle for equal rights for Arab and Jew between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. It also has the regrettable appearance of trying “to buy” the Palestinians so as to induce them not to insist on their rights. That is creating anger far beyond Palestine.

The plan claims to recognise the realities on the ground. This assertion must be called out.

Realities on the ground – like all other realities – are subject to the realities of the rule of law. Consider Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which the USSR illegally and unilaterally occupied and then incorporated into itself in 1939. For several decades, the reality on the ground was that they were part of the USSR, but this always remained subject to the overriding realities of the rule of international law. That is why Britain continued to recognise them as independent sovereign States, even though they were under Soviet occupation and had been forced to become Soviet republics. When the USSR collapsed, these States resumed their independence and the realities on the ground and in law reverted to being one and the same. The same will happen one day for Palestine when a genuine peace with Israel that is based on each party’s legitimate rights is achieved. Stalin could not unilaterally change international law. Nor can Trump.

Britain has already implicitly accepted that Palestine is a State with sovereignty over the Palestinian territory Israel occupied in 1967 (the area commonly referred to as “the Occupied Palestinian Territory”). This is clear in the words of the junior minister Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon in the House of Lords in June 2018, “We will formally recognise the State of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace.” The time for this is self-evidently now.

I am very proud, as a Liberal Democrat, that our manifesto in December contained a commitment to recognise Palestine. Britain, after all, has a historic responsibility towards the Palestinian people.

Granting recognition to a State is an act of sovereignty by the State that grants recognition. It does not imply approval or even recognition by the recognising State of the recognised State’s government. If we care about the rules-based international order, we must campaign urgently that Britain should immediately extend full recognition to the State of Palestine. No sovereign State, not even America, can unilaterally change the rules of international law.

Recognising Palestine at this point (especially if some EU countries follow us) might even help to give the Palestinians the courage to negotiate, even though Israel and the USA clearly do not recognise their legitimate rights as the starting point for any discussions. It will also mean that we will consider that any territory occupied by Israel in 1967 that Palestine gives to Israel in a final peace settlement will have been ceded by Palestine to Israel, as part of a reciprocal package. It will not be Israel’s to annex, something that the Trump plan mistakenly seems to see as Israel’s right.

* John McHugo is a member of the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Advisory Group. He is a former chair of Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and is the author of A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is, Syria: A Recent History, and A Concise History of the Arabs.

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  • Very good analysis John McHugo.

    I was pleased to see that 133 parliamentarians from all parties have today signed a strongly worded letter urging the Prime Minister to challenge the deal. Signatories included ten of our MPs and several of our peers.

  • I don’t understand why Palestine is only recognised as the 1967 Occupied Territories which were captured from Egypt and Jordan, rather than all the territory of Palestine allocated to a Palestinian state in the 1947 United Nations Plan for Palestine. Especially as it seems that Resolution 181 which accepted the partition plan is the legal basis for Palestinian statehood. (Map –

  • John Marriott 31st Jan '20 - 8:19am

    I’m no expert on the Middle East. Who is? In fact the Middle East is a political, societal and, above all, a religious mess – and we share some of the blame. Messrs Sykes, Picot and Balfour clearly never realised what the consequences of their plans and actions would be.

    No side is blameless here. Israel came about partially through terrorism, although there is no doubting that its citizens have made a great success of its development as a western style democracy. However, the current group in charge have clearly exploited the weakness on the Arab side to consolidate the ‘gains’ made by military superiority in a series of wars instigated mainly (and foolishly many would say) by the latter.

    Trump has clearly ripped up the game plan that I thought all of us in the West had supported over many decades. We all know who has been twisting his arm. As for recognising Palestine, I have to say that we always had! The problem is that, while some states still want to destroy the state of Israel, we are never going to make real progress.

  • Andrew Daer 31st Jan '20 - 9:13am

    We need to ensure we don’t become immune to Trump’s nauseating rhetorical style. Announcing himself Israel’s ‘greatest ever friend’ while presenting his ridiculously one-sided ‘solution’ to a long-standing political problem people far better than him have failed to solve would be regarded as an absurd tactical error in anyone but him. In his case, we have grown to expect the kind of self-aggrandising behaviour we would find childish in a twelve year-old.
    The deteriorating plight of the Palestinians is dreadful, and in this case involves the complete denial of international law, which explicitly prohibits annexation of land overrun during a war. Israel has sidestepped this awkward impediment to their ambition (to permanently include in Israel land taken during the 1967 war) by pretending the West Bank is still under a ‘post-war’ occupation (lasting decades). Now they think people are bored with talk about illegal settlements, and they will be able to get away with simply ignoring international law.
    The British government has a clear duty to call out this flagrant breach of (among other rulings) the Fourth Geneva Convention, and MPs of all parties must ensure they do.

  • Toby Keynes 31st Jan '20 - 9:30am

    John Kelly draws attention to yesterday’s letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 10 of our 11 MPs, calling on the Prime Minister to challenge Trump’s “peace plan”.
    The LibDem MP who has NOT signed the letter is Tim Farron.
    I should very much like to know why – and whether Tim would be happy to endorse the letter.

  • Julian Tisi 31st Jan '20 - 9:49am

    Very fair analysis. The very fact that the Palestinians were not involved in the Trump “deal” tells you all you need to know. If there were any more doubt over the one-sided nature of it you need only look at the fact that all of the intractable problems – the final status of Jerusalem, return of displaced Palestinians, the settlements, etc. appear to be “solved” in Israel’s favour. There is no way the Palestinians will agree to this “deal” and one look at the map for the proposed Palestinian “state” shows how unreasonable and unfeasible this solution is in the long term. The international community has the ability to tip the scales such that any future negotiated solution has the chance to succeed by being reasonably accepted by both sides. They can do this by recognising the State of Palestine.

  • Peter Kenny 31st Jan '20 - 1:27pm

    If the “two states” plan was in hospital, the Doctors would be having hushed conversations with it’s loved ones about what was best.

    When the Trump plan is put into operation, as it probably will be, then the possibility of “two states” will almost certainly be dead. What then?

    Either the Palestinians lead miserable, constrained lives in these fragments or things get even worse and they are ejected from even that. Alternatively, the idea of “one state” might be the only progressive and humane way forward.

    A secular state in which all religious beliefs are protected.

    Someone will now say this is a utopian dream.

    It is – as opposed to a dystopian reality!

  • With Assad in Syria, Hamas in Gaza and a Hezbollah controlled Lebanon as neighbours, it’s almost impossible to get a settlement. What would they agree about? Does anyone really think any future US President will change Trumps policy on Jerusalem? Will Israel let their 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem live under Palestinian rule – not a chance. It’s a shame for the Palestinians, but this fight is almost finished. They had a chance under the Carter and Clinton administrations, but failed to see their how weak their position was and missed the opportunity. In truth there is nowhere near as much sympathy or support for the Palestinian cause as there was 30 years ago.

  • Jonathan Coulter 31st Jan '20 - 2:42pm

    Netanyahu must have anticipated that even the relatively compliant Palestinian Authority would reject such an offer outright. Ambassador Zomlot has rightly described it as a Micky Mouse deal. I think Netenyahu’s purpose is to be able to say “now, you see, we don’t have a partner for peace”, and use this as a pretext to continuing settling and annexing more of the West Bank.

  • Rodney Watts 31st Jan '20 - 5:21pm

    John McHugo: “If it is successfully implemented in the form in which it is published, it is likely to mean the end of the two State solution and become the focal point for a struggle for equal rights for Arab and Jew between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.”

    Hagai El-Ad, B’Tselem (Israeli NGO Human Rights Info. Centre for Occupied Territories):
    “And the future? What the Palestinians are being offered right now is not rights or a state, but a permanent state of Apartheid. No amount of marketing can erase this disgrace or blur the facts. But, the painful facts of today give rise to hope for the future, the only future that can genuinely offer peace. A future not based on supremacy for some and oppression for others, but on full equality, liberty, dignity, and rights for all.” (Gush Shalom – hebrew for Peace Block)

    @ Peter Kenny – Good (but sad) way of putting what I have believed for over two years.

    As a Jewish LibDem I often recall that notable Jewish Liberal statesman Lord Edwin Montagu, 1910 -22 and all his warnings about friction in Palestine and an increase in anti-Semitism in the rest of the world:

  • Peter Hirst 1st Feb '20 - 12:47pm

    My response is to focus on human rights rather than sovereignty. When Palestinians receive equal rights to Israelis the issue of the legal status of Palestine will solve itself. Rights do not depend on where or what a person lives and are alienable depending only on being alive.

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