The Board of Deputies wrote to me asking me to contact my MP regarding the vote in Parliament on recognising a Palestinian state. So I did. Here is the text of my letter:
10th October 2014
As you know, tomorrow there will be a vote on a motion ‘That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel’.
I have received an e-mail from the Board of Deputies of British Jews asking me to contact you on the following points. I have a different view of the situation from the BoD, which I have inserted after each of their points:
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the UK Jewish community, advocates for a permanent, comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.
Actually, the BoD advocates for a faithful adherence to the policy of the Israeli government, which I would argue is leading in the opposite direction from a “permanent comprehensive” solution that includes a “viable” Palestinian state. While the BoD is formally the representative body of the UK Jewish community, in practice the representation is highly imperfect. In particular, the BoD provides no reflection and gives no voice to the considerable debate and disquiet in the Jewish community about the actions of the Israeli government.
Siding with one party in this conflict does not lead to fruitful negotiations. If the UK endorses the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic campaign for recognition in lieu of settlement, this will discourage both sides from making the necessary compromises.
This is completely hypocritical—the BoD and the Israeli government never make the slightest objection to anyone siding with them, although in fact their argument that supporting one side makes them more intransigent could well be applied to them.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his commitment to two-state solution and Justice Minister and Chief Negotiator Tzipi Livni has called for the resumption of negotiations.
At the end of August, following the latest Gaza war, the Civil Administration (that is, the military government of the West Bank) announced the appropriation of nearly a thousand acres of Palestinian land in the Etzion area for new settlements. Even the US government and prominent US Jewish leaders condemned this move as highly provocative (I can provide links for these statements). This and other settlement expansions run directly counter to the “expressions of commitment” to a two-state solution, in fact they make it impossible. I can’t help quoting Chico Marx: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
Previous unilateral moves, including the recognition of “Palestine” as a UN observer state and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza have not improved the prospects for a negotiated solution.
Nothing has so far improved the prospects for a negotiated solution, including the toleration and frequently the support of the US and the EU for Israel’s continual infractions of international law in respect of many aspects of the Occupation. It is time to try a genuinely balanced approach.
Previous negotiated settlements including the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan have shown that negotiations are the only way forward in this region.
Of course genuine negotiations are the way forward. But for twenty years negotiations have been used by the Israeli government as a delaying tactic while the West Bank continues to disappear under settlements that hem the Palestinians into non-viable disconnected islands. Most recently, the Kerry-led initiative collapsed, leaving no way forward. There is transparently no commitment on the Israeli side to genuine Palestinian statehood. Negotiations between occupier and occupied, one overwhelmingly more powerful than the other, have unsurprisingly gone nowhere.
It’s time to redress the balance. Just last month, at Labour Party Conference, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, reiterated that support for recognition saying ‘recognition of Palestine is not a gift to be given, but a right to be had.’ The amendment that recognition should be awarded “only on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority” clearly negates the motion entirely. Please oppose it.
I realise that backbench debates are not subject to Party discipline, so you will vote according to the wishes of your conscience and your constituents. I trust that you will make the right choice and vote ‘yes’ to the motion and against any amendments.