Europe Presses Israel on Palestine

As Israel heads into a historic election, more European parliamentarians are urging recognition of Palestine and an end to the Israeli occupation. But it’s unclear if Israeli voters will heed the sentiments for peace or dig in deeper for more repression, as John V. Whitbeck explains.

By John V. Whitbeck

The European Parliament, after a late compromise in pursuit of consensus, passed on Dec. 17, by a vote of 498 to 88 with 111 abstentions, a resolution stating that it “supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.”

This compromise language bypasses the fundamental question of when the State of Palestine should be recognized, using vague words whose imprecision neither those who genuinely wish to achieve a decent “two-state solution” (and thus support recognizing Palestine now so as to finally make meaningful negotiations possible) nor those who support perpetual occupation (and thus argue that recognition should await prior Israeli consent) can strongly object to.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In doing so, the European Parliament has missed a rare opportunity to be relevant by joining the United Nations in recognizing Palestine’s “state status” or following the recent trend of European national parliaments urging their governments to join the 135 UN member states, representing the vast majority of mankind, which have already extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine.

The overwhelming 274-12 vote in the British House of Commons on Oct. 13 has been followed by favorable votes in France (339-151 in the National Assembly and 154-146 in the Senate), Ireland (unanimous in both houses), Portugal (203-9) and Spain (319-2).

On Oct. 30, Sweden took the essential further step of actually extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine, becoming the first European Union state to do so after becoming a member of the EU. However, it was not, as some media reported, the first European state to do so. It was the 20th.

The State of Palestine had already been recognized by eight other EU member states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) and by 11 other states which are commonly considered to be “European” (Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine).

Since the British, French, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish parliamentary resolutions are not binding on the executive branches of their respective governments, they have commonly been dismissed as “symbolic,” even while those favoring perpetual occupation have expended major efforts to prevent the votes from taking place. It is also commonly asked whether they matter at all.

Whether they matter, at least in a constructive sense, depends entirely on what happens afterwards. European parliamentary resolutions urging their governments to recognize the State of Palestine would not only be purely symbolic but actually counterproductive and dangerous if they are not followed relatively rapidly by actual recognitions of the State of Palestine.

Offering Hope

These resolutions offer hope, but if, even after the latest Israeli onslaught against the people of Gaza, the European governments which have not yet recognized the State of Palestine prefer to ignore the clear will of their own peoples, as expressed by their elected representatives, and to continue prioritizing the wishes of the American and Israeli governments, then the last hope of the Palestinian people for ending the occupation and obtaining their freedom by non-violent means would have been extinguished.

These resolutions are thus a double-edged sword, offering both immediate hope and the potential for definitive despair.

The hope for peace with some measure of justice which actual European recognitions would generate is based on the assumption that the occupation by a neighboring state of the entire territory of any state which one recognizes as such is not something which any state with the influence and capacity to take meaningful action to end that occupation could tolerate indefinitely and that, by virtue of diplomatic recognition, meaningful action to end that occupation (including economic sanctions and travel restrictions) would become a moral, ethical, intellectual, diplomatic and political imperative for European states, which, alone, possess the requisite influence and capacity.

The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq was permitted to last seven months. The occupation of Palestine by Israel is in its 48th year, the entire lifetimes of the great majority of Palestinians in occupied Palestine.

European governments are conscious of Europe’s unparalleled leverage as Israel’s primary trading partner and cultural homeland, and their realization that diplomatic recognition of Palestine would make meaningful action to end the occupation imperative surely constitutes a primary reason (in addition to the fear of upsetting the American and Israeli governments) why even those European governments which do not support perpetual occupation and genuinely wish to see the achievement of a decent “two-state solution” are reticent, hesitant and nervous about extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine now.

Yet if not now, when? It is now or never if, indeed, it is not already too late.

European governments must seize their unprecedented opportunity to have a positive and potentially determinative impact on Israel’s March 17 election and the composition of the next Israeli government by writing indelibly on the wall a new reality which could convince a critical mass of Israelis, for the first time, that a fair peace agreement is preferable for them personally to perpetuation of the currently comfortable status quo.

Only then can a new and true “peace process”, under new management, based on international law and relevant UN resolutions and with both Israel and Palestine negotiating with a genuine desire and intention to reach an agreement, begin.

The Israeli electorate has been estimated to be divided roughly equally into three groups those firmly on the right and extreme-right, those firmly on the center-left and those “swing voters” in between. Those in between will determine the composition of the next government. European governments have the influence and capacity to move them in a positive direction in the best interests of Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world.

It remains to be seen whether European governments have the wisdom, courage and political will to do so.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.

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4 comments for “Europe Presses Israel on Palestine

  1. Peter Loeb
    December 19, 2014 at 08:02

    It seems more than ‘CLEAR” that the upcoming Israeli elections may affect the fortunes
    of certain actors in Israeli politics, but they are not “historic” in any other sense. The outcome will not mean justice for Palestinians, the end of the occupation, discrimination, murders and rapes , home demolitions, illegal walls, the building
    of “settlements” with US aid, ending of Israeli Military Law and on and on. It will not
    mean the end of Zionist Israel and its decades-long history as a terrorist state.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. Mark
    December 17, 2014 at 22:21

    Every single act of recognition and support for a Palestinian state is relevant, and more so if it comes from any entity that will receive media coverage. The momentum for Palestinian rights and liberty from decades of brutal and sadistic oppression of Zionism, is building. Israel is not founded on even one single legal right. It was founded on the ability of the devious to coerce weak foreign politicians to try and “legitimize” illegality and moral vacancy at the expense of people who were minding their own business – until the invasion of European Zionists. The lies and the propaganda machine are not holding up due the internet and websites like this educating people to the true facts which are only found outside the deliberately biased mass media. As corrupt and paid for as the huge network media organizations are, these outside the mainstream websites, I might add, may be the only hope for mankind on so many issues concerning our near future survival.
    Freeing Palestinians is one step towards freeing mankind.

  3. Zachary Smith
    December 17, 2014 at 13:23

    The Balfour Declaration wasn’t much more than a letter.

    It was more than a letter – the Declaration was rather the tip of the iceberg. British Zionists maneuvered to get their government’s support for suppressing the Arabs in order to build a Jewish state, and we can see the results today.

    I’d urge you to try to read Palestine: The Reality by Joseph M. Jeffries. You’ll have to arrange for your library to get it via interlibrary loan, for there are no copies of this book for sale anywhere in the world at any price. Somebody has undertaken to get it totally out of circulation, and they’ve succeeded admirably despite it having a printing in 1939 and 1975. You’ll understand why they bothered when you see how the Zionists and the British government conspired to turn Muslim Palestine into Jewish Israel. The book is now in only a handful of libraries, and one of these days those copies are probably going to start disappearing too, so delay isn’t wise.

    Another book which is still for sale, but which I can’t afford, is Fifty Years in Palestine by Frances Newton. Only two copies for sale, and the cheapest is $99! I haven’t read this one, but reviews suggest that the Brits overlooked Jewish terrorism between the wars, but was merciless with any Arab resistance to the lawlessness to which they were subjected.

  4. Joe Tedesky
    December 17, 2014 at 11:49

    These various parliaments votes maybe symbolic, but consider what got this whole Israeli thing started. The Balfour Declaration wasn’t much more than a letter. Yet, this document was enough to propel the Zionist onward, and upward, to achieve their goals. Watching the world turn on the Zionist maybe a preview of their changing attitude towards the US. There are over seven billion people on this planet, and they do have a say so.

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