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Israeli petition to European lawmakers: Recognize Palestine

Prominent Israelis call on European parliamentarians to formally recognize a Palestinian state. But what kind of impact can European votes have when the real power broker in Israel-Palestine relations is still the U.S.?

Hundreds of Palestinians gather to watch the speech by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the bid for Palestine's "nonmember observer state" status at the United Nations, projected on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2012. Hours later, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9 in favor of the upgraded status for Palestine, with 41 nations abstaining. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinians gather to watch the speech by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the bid for Palestine’s “nonmember observer state” status at the United Nations, projected on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2012. Hours later, the UN General Assembly voted 138-9 in favor of the upgraded status for Palestine, with 41 nations abstaining. (Photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Nearly 700 prominent Israelis, including former ambassadors, academics, IDF officers, top playwrights and poets, winners of the Israel Prize and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have signed a letter appealing to the parliaments of various European countries to recognize Palestine in upcoming votes.

We the undersigned, Citizens of Israel who wish it to be a safe and thriving country, are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the occupation and settlements activities which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and torpedo the chances for a compromise.

It is clear that the prospects for Israel’s security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the state of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the state of Israel, based on the June 4 1967 borders.

Your initiative for recognizing the state of Palestine will advance the prospects of peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to their conflict.

The petition was started just days before a discussion and vote over recognition of the State of Palestine in the UK Parliament in October. “From Thursday night to Sunday morning [before the vote on a Monday – DS], we had over 300 signatures,” explains Alon Liel, formerly an ambassador and later the Director General of the Israel Foreign Ministry, who joined with two other Israelis to lead the initiative. With the first critical mass of supporters, he told +972 Magazine, they sent the letter to contacts within the Liberal Democrat party. From there it found its way to others, and made an appearance in the heated discussion in Parliament. Labour MP Grahame Morris said:

…the day will come when the two-state solution, which I believe is supported by all parties on both sides of the house, will collapse and Israel will face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.

At this point, Tory MP Cheryl Gillan added:

May I say that many people support the two-state solution? Will he also confirm that more than 300 Israeli figures signed a letter on Sunday urging this Parliament to vote in favor of the motion, and they included former Ministers, ex-diplomats and activists in Israel?

That vote passed overwhelmingly by MPs who attended, 274 to 12, in favor of the British government recognizing Palestine alongside the State of Israel. With no binding force the UK government is unlikely to take any action. Meanwhile, Israel tried to deride the vote as a “symbolic” gesture.

But the implication that symbolic equals insignificant is belied by developments in Europe since the vote was taken. Just a few weeks later, Sweden became the most important European country so far to formally recognize Palestine. The move prompted Israel to recall its ambassador for consultations.

Read: 100 ex-generals to Bibi: Reach a Palestinian, regional accord now

Other European parliaments have dates set for votes on recognition. Denmark and Ireland are expected to hold parliamentary discussions and vote shortly. Spain will vote on November 18th; and just this week the French legislature decided to hold a vote on November 28th.

While the UK outcome was uncertain even hours beforehand, the strong majority in favor may set a climate for lawmakers in other countries.

The strongly worded letter, signed by both Jews and Arabs of Israel, may contribute to the sense that supporting Palestine is not about rejecting Israel. The version tailored and sent to a Danish Parliamentarian reads:

Denmark has been one of the first states to support the new state of Israel and one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The actions of the Danish people in protecting Jewish lives during the war are well known and recognized.

The Parliament of Denmark is now confronted with an opportunity to continue its traditional support to Israel, by voting to call upon its government to recognize the state of Palestine side by side with Israel.

Towards this vote, we wish to convey to you the strong feelings of many Israelis, who signed a letter requesting your support to that recognition.

Alon Liel explained that these international networks support Israel. “They love Israel just as we love Israel. They’ve just been waiting for a sign like this from us,” – a sign indicating that Israelis also see a Palestinian state as a positive step for all.

He dismisses criticism that claims that asking for foreign communities to take a position is somehow non-democratic or disloyal. “The two-state process is being destroyed,” he argues, and it needs to be resurrected, but the sides are apparently unable to do so alone. “Just like Gaza. Who is going to reconstruct Gaza? The international community. The diplomatic process – we can’t rebuild it without help from abroad.”

As to the ubiquitous claim that criticism of Israeli policy is fueled by anti-Semitism, Liel scoffs. “You can’t pull one over on me. I’ve lived abroad for too many years, I know these people personally.” It is hard to imagine a more veteran actor in the international scene. Liel served the government for 31 years, was an ambassador in South Africa and several other African countries, held the top diplomatic post in Turkey, served as consulate in Atlanta and Chicago before becoming Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

It’s ignorance to say criticism is anti-Semitism. The criticism of our policy comes from the left, and classic anti-Semitism is from the right. I can distinguish between those who hate me because I crucified Jesus and those who hate me because of the occupation. They’re not together at the same cocktail parties, they don’t even speak the same language.

His insistence that ignorance causes the conflation of criticism and anti-Semitism is somewhat forgiving, when such tropes are often consciously manipulated.

Still, the question remains what impact these European votes and recognitions can have when the real power broker in Israel-Palestine relations is the U.S. Symbolic gestures can indeed be empty – they become important when they have enough emotional resonance to galvanize critical masses from grassroots and elites, and when they spark action that gives flesh to skeletal ideas.

Palestinian statehood could be harder to ignore should those countries not only name Palestine but begin treating it as a sovereign state – politically, culturally, as well as in terms of trade and international relations. Should those countries treat Israel as the violator of sovereign territory of a recognized state, the limp rhetoric of settlement condemnation could grow policy-oriented teeth.

Liel has another vision. In South Africa, he says, pressure against apartheid spread primarily from Europe, catching fire among Western European countries between the 1970s and 80s. “After Europe got involved,  and after there was a consensus, just weeks afterward the U.S. got in. Otherwise, it would have been just the U.S., left alone with apartheid.”

How long can America really hold out if, one by one, European countries tip the scales in favor of Palestine? Does it want to be ‘just the U.S., alone with the occupation?’

100 ex-generals to Bibi: Reach a Palestinian, regional accord now
In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are a sideshow
Netanyahu’s status quo strategy: Thwarting a Palestinian state

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    1. “How long can America really hold out if, one by one, European countries tip the scales in favor of Palestine? Does it want to be ‘just the U.S., alone with the occupation?'”

      The US was birthed in occupation. Slavery existed in the US from 1619 until emancipation in 1864. Europe had abandoned slavery first. The European countries will lead on this issue too. The US is not a moral beacon and it’s politicians, bought and paid for by special interests, have made it clear they side with the occupation. They have no shame in their game.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Human

      It is funny, cuz the US was the last country to withdraw its support from Apartheid South Africa as well. Israel was also a major supporter.

      I am not sure if this two-state solution would really work, since thousands of settlements and many arable lands have been stolen by Israel up to now. Is it wiling to return them all?

      Reply to Comment
      • saracen

        This is why a ONE state solution is best. Let there be a single democratic state where all people are equal … like the South African solution.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Sure, let the Palestinians go to Jordan and they can have a single Palestinian majority state. Leave the Jews out of it. Of course, the Jordanians would probably kick their behinds out like they did in 1970 or like the Kuwaitis did.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      1. The state of “Palestine” was declared on the 15th November 1988 in Algiers and was recognized immediately by over 83 countries. Currently about 135 of the 189 of UN members have recognized “Palestine”. The UNGA has granted “statehood” to “Palestine”. But, behold, it’s all a storm in a tea-cup! We are still at square ‘zero’.

      2. Palestinians have on several occasions been offered a State “BASED on the June 4 1967 borders”! They rejected it. Here: Olmert in his own words.

      Watch. And weep! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V2tkOizXBs

      3. “Recognition” (by a bunch of European States) or lack thereof is not the reason for the absence of peace/solution. Go look for the reasons elsewhere – if you are honest.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      Israelis have three times elected Netanyahu and the Likud party to lead Israel. This includes the right and responsibility for speaking on behalf of Israel and Israelis in the international community. Who elected the almost 700 fringe leftists to speak on behalf of Israelis? Who appointed them to urge the international community to call upon Israel to recognize a Palestinian state without a conflict ending agreement?

      And here is the big lie of this group:

      “Your initiative for recognizing the state of Palestine will advance the prospects of peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to their conflict.”

      The recognition of a Palestinian state before a final conflict ending agreement is signed will only lead to more attacks on Israel and Israelis by Palestinians and invite more and more bloodshed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        No one elected the 700 people to speak on behalf of Israel; no one claims they were elected to speak on behalf of Israel; they are stating their opinion and giving their recomendations – this kind of thing happens all the time in all countries.

        There is onee dimension of all this ‘negotiation’ thing that rarely gets mentioned: ‘negotiations’ do not work very well when one party has all the power and the other doesn’t. The idea of a state with an army that has advanced weapons ‘negotiating’ with stateless people is absurd. It also should be mentioned that the Likud charter states its opposition to the existence of a Palestinian state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          “this kind of thing happens all the time in all countries.”

          No. Groups lobby their own country’s government and opposition parties. They do not go to other countries to request that foreign countries act against the interests of their home country.

          “negotiations’ do not work very well when one party has all the power and the other doesn’t.”

          Not true. Olmert met with Abbas some 36 times not to mention all the times the negotiation teams met. During that time Olmert told Abbas all issues were on the table. Olmert made a gold plated offer to Abbas which Abbas could not bring himself to answer. Olmert offered to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians. He offered to pull every Israeli soldier out of the new Palestinian state. He did not request a presence in the Jordan Valley. He prepared a map delineating the borders. He offered to settle the refugee problem based on the Arab initiative. He offered to swap equal land in Israel for the settlement blocks he proposed that Israel would keep. He offered Palestinians so much that Rice and Bush could not believe that Abbas did not grab the deal.

          Olmert said to Abbas that in the next 50 years no Israeli prime minister would make as good an offer which was made to him. Abbas promised to come back the next day to discuss the matter with Netanyahu and never came back.

          Olmert proposed ot use his power as prime minister to take the offer first to the UN. then to the United States Administration, then to United States Congress, to the European Union and then to the Israeli and Palestinian people. Olmert knew that Israelis would accept the deal if everyone wqas on board.

          But Abbas did not get on the peace train. Palestinians did not want two states for two people, but two more Arab states and the destruction of the Israeli state. There is no other reasonable explanation for Abbas’s failure to accept Olmert’s offer.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            If this is the Jerusalem Post article then folks should read it more closely. Enough: start the negotiations again and make them public – it’s 50 years of military occupation. Yesh gvul.


            But Olmert also lays the blame for the breakdown in negotiations at the feet of then foreign minister Tzipi Livni and then defense minister Ehud Barak. Olmert cites former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s book No Higher Honor in which she says that Livni came to her and Abbas separately asking them that they not “enshrine” Olmert’s peace proposal. Olmert also said to Sof Hashavua that Barak sent representatives to Abbas to tell the Palestinian leader not to accept his proposal.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Listen to Olmert in his own words. He offered Palestinians everything including resolving the refugee issue based on the Arab Peace Initiative.


            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            Three reasons not to believe everything Olmert says about the supposedly great offer he made to Abbas (or about anything else): 1. He’s a career politician; 2. He’s a convicted criminal (for corruption); 3. His statements are obviously self-serving.

            Reply to Comment
    5. tomer

      Fakestine will never be recognised because there is no such country to recognise.

      Who was its first King?
      What was its official religion?
      What was its offical languaage?
      What was its currency called?

      These questions are unanswerable because the alleged phantom state never existed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        You see, Bruce, you are just a little noise making mouse whose copy-pasted garbage and rants regard the State Of Israel not! You definitely may copy-paste and rant until you turn black. Nobody cares – certainly neither Israel nor the United States and there is nothing, and I mean nothing YOU can do about it. Are we clear?!

        Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            I am not unaware, Bruce, that folks like yourself are desperate to distort and attach the worst meaning anything they do not like to gain sympathy. Maybe “chicken” would have been better than “mouse”? Ok then, switch the words. End of story.

            Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Bruce, thank you very much for this pivotal essay by Bernard Avishai, which I’d read in a somewhat different form but is even better stated here. This authoritative statement, wonderfully clarifying, by a true insider, someone who knows Ehud Olmert personally and over many years, should finally put to rest all the “Olmert offered Abbas everything and Abbas rejected it!” subterfuges put forth here. (When they are not crudely calling us rodents, that is. Isn’t that the base technique the Nazis used against the Jews? Yes it is.)

          Reply to Comment
    6. Baladi Akka 1948

      “Sweden became the most important country in Europe so far to formally recognize Palestine”
      So Sweden is more important than Russia ?
      Sweden is the first State within the European Union to recognize Palestine (the Eastern European countries recognized Palestine prior to their entry to the EU). Iceland which is not a member of the EU (but of NATO) recognized Palestine back in 2011.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Brian

      Oh my. How touching. Lieberman is worried about the peace process.


      Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that European Union’s decision to link its bilateral relations with Israel to the developments in Israeli-Palestinian was wrong and unbeneficial to the peace process.

      Lieberman was responding to Haaretz’s report revealing that the European Union had secretly drafted new sanctions against Israel ahead of possible diplomatic steps it might take….

      Reply to Comment
    8. Laouali

      I am asking myself: what is the solution really? You can’t possibly maintain these people jailed in their own land forever.Can’t you see that a one state solution is the end of Israël as a jewish state. Either a palestinian state or Israël Will be an apartheid state. Suicidal!

      Reply to Comment
    9. Steve B of Potomac MD

      Too bad that reality keeps pushing aside the dreams and hopes of the messianics who mean well. Though he/she tarries, I fervently believe in and look forward to the arrival of Moshiach!

      Reply to Comment
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