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The Israeli-Palestinian dispute

250. Prospects for progress on the Middle East Peace Process are bleak. The Foreign Secretary judged it to have been “bogged down, static, [and] paralysed for some years now”.335 The Rt Hon Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary (2001–06), was “very pessimistic about the prospect of any resolution”.336 The “important thing is not the exact shape” of the outcome, suggested Dr Alterman, but that there is a process so that “Palestinians feel that something is happening [towards] accomplishing some of their needs” and that “Israelis feel there is some prospect of becoming a more normal state with a more normal set of security concerns”. “The problem is that we do not have that process” he added.337

251. Witnesses were also clear that neglect of the issue would be myopic. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from the only conflict in the region, nor is it the most deadly, but it does occupy a special place in the region’s political life and in the psyche of the Arab people. Mr Daniel Levy, President, US-Middle East Project, explained its “iconic” meaning: “Palestine is still a rallying cry” and is “pointed to as a very important and legitimate grievance in how the Middle East is treated by the West”.338 Mr Nicholas Pelham, Middle East Affairs correspondent for The Economist, saw the conflict as a “black stain on western efficacy in the region” and judged that the “knock-on effect [of a resolution] would be quite considerable”.339

252. prospects for progress on a two-state solution have, however, dimmed considerably in the last year on two fronts: the US and Israel.

253. In February 2017, President Trump dropped the US commitment to a two-state solution, surrendering the decision to whatever “both parties like”.340 Second, his continued threat to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, remains an inflammatory option. Third, his choice of David Friedman—an opponent of the two-state solution and advocate of Israeli settlements—as ambassador to Israel may raise tensions.

254. The politics and policies of Israel diminish the possibilities of peace, specifically the rapid expansion of settlements beyond the agreed 1967 borders of Israel.341 Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the extent and geography of settlements have increased. Since his return to power in 2009 and 2014, the settler population has increased by over 80,000, including at least 16,000 in the West Bank itself. Between 2009 and 2014, construction began on 9,000 new settlement units in the West Bank and 3,000 more in East Jerusalem. This brings the total settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to at least 570,000.342 Mr Levy drew our attention to a recent bill, passed in the Israeli Knesset on 6 February, which would allow the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land, “legalising essentially the theft of Palestinian private property”.343

255. The rate and location of these settlements, specifically chosen to make a contiguous Palestinian state an impossibility, makes Israeli policy very problematic. The building and legalisation of settlements “makes the potential operation of a separate Palestinian state incredibly difficult” said Mr Straw.344 The Minister, Mr Ellwood, said that the “growth of settlements is coming perilously close to making [the two-state solution] an impossibility”.345 Mr Netanyahu’s tactic, said Mr Levy, was to suggest the Israelis are “ready for peace while making the conditions impossible and making the realities on the ground ever less amenable to two states”.346

256. The Israelis are treated with kid-gloves by the international community. They “can do anything” said Mr Straw, and “they suffer no penalty at all”.347 Mr Levy explained the perception in Israel that:

“while the rhetoric escalated, the practical upshot of that international opprobrium was almost zero … those who condemned settlements on Mondays and Wednesdays were expanding their trade, scientific, military intelligence, technology and sport co-operation with Israel on Tuesdays and Fridays”.348

257. There has also been a “rare … confluence of interests” between some Arab states and Israel. Upheavals in the Middle East have led “moderate Arab countries … to see Israel, as a strategic asset, a countervailing force to regional threats, an ally in promoting stability and prosperity.”349 Egypt and Jordan for some considerable time have had constructive relationships with Israel, with the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty dating to 1979. Mr Crompton was “pleased that Turkey has made efforts to improve relations with Israel”.350 There is a shared antipathy between Saudi Arabia and Israel towards Iran. In August 2016, a Saudi delegation visited Israel and met with senior officials.351The “game that is really in play here”, feared Mr Levy, is that the Israelis are testing “the hypothesis of how far they can go in their relations with certain Arab states without having to concede anything on the Palestinians”.352

British policy options

258. Successive British Governments have reaffirmed their commitment to the two-state solution. In November 2015, the UK National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review said the UK would

“take every opportunity to promote a peaceful two-state solution through the Middle East Peace Process, as the only way to secure lasting peace”.353
The Minister, Mr Ellwood, reiterated that the UK remained “absolutely focused on saying that the two-state solution is what we want to achieve”.354

259. Previous UK Governments have also been clear that the expansion of Israeli settlements beyond the agreed 1967 borders is a breach of international law and an impediment to peace. The 23 December 2016 UNSC Resolution 2333, of which the UK is a signatory, said that:
“the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.355

260. Witnesses suggested a series of measures to strengthen the long-standing UK policy of advancing the two-state solution.

261. First, advised Lord Williams, a “little more political robustness is required with the government of Israel”.356 Israel, said Mr Pelham, “pretty much holds all the cards”. If Israel is not willing to negotiate on a two-state solution, it should be recognised that it is a “single jurisdiction … controlling not just the Israeli population but the Palestinian population”, added Mr Pelham.357

262. The UK Government has shown no such increase in robustness. In December 2016, despite co-sponsoring the UN Resolution condemning settlements, the Prime Minister distanced the UK from the outgoing Obama administration’s criticism of the Israeli government and its policy of settlements. On 29 December, the outgoing Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that the rapid expansion of settlements in the occupied territories meant that the “status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”.358 A statement by the Prime Minister’s office criticised Mr Kerry’s language and said that while settlements are “illegal” they are “far from the only problem”, and stressed that the people of “Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”359

263. Second, a functioning Palestinian Authority is critical to delivering peace. To date, attempts to build up the Palestinian Authority have made slow progress, or even stalled and need to be rethought. The UK, Mr Levy judged, could “constructively be part of that rethink”.360 Lord Williams agreed that anything the UK could “do now to invest politically in the Palestinian Authority” would be a “very positive step forward”.361 Brexit makes it more challenging for the UK to play a significant role as the UK may not have the leverage of the EU, which is the largest multilateral donor to the Palestinian Authority.362

264. Third, the UK Government could support EU diplomacy, including the French-led initiative to revive the peace process. Lord Williams explained that were “an initiative to be brought forward by the UK, France and Germany, that would certainly be noted”.363

265. In fact, the UK has recently weakened its support of EU diplomacy on this issue. The UK is the “key player in blocking Council conclusions”, said Mr Levy, which is empowering other EU countries to break the EU line.364 In January 2017, the French hosted a conference, bringing together 70 countries, which reaffirmed their commitment to the two-state solution.365 The UK took what Mr Levy described as a “very degrading, dismissive attitude to the Paris conference”, by refusing to align itself with the subsequent Paris Declaration (15 February 2017).366 Mr Levy saw the UK’s approach as part of “a post-Trump phenomenon”—an “ingratiation initiative” with the new US administration.367 The Foreign Secretary dismissed the international conference as “diplomatic ventures” not really aimed at producing a resolution but “domestic political posturing in the run-up to various elections”.368

266. A negotiated two-state outcome remains the only way to achieve an enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues. We condemn the continuing Israeli policy of the expansion of settlements as illegal and an impediment to peace.

267. On its current trajectory, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is on the verge of moving into a phase where the two-state solution becomes an impossibility and is considered no longer viable by either side. The consequences would be grave for the region. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must remain high amongst British foreign policy priorities. The Government should be more forthright in stating its views on these issues despite the views of the US administration.

268. The aim at this juncture is to ensure that the climate for diplomacy does not degrade any further.

269. In the absence of US leadership, it is time for the Europeans to play a more active role. The UK should support European diplomacy, including the French-led initiative. The International Conference intends to meet again at the end of 2017 and the UK should undertake to support it meaningfully, both politically and financially. It is also an opportunity to bring moderate states of the region on board to build a broad coalition of international support.

270. The balance of power in the delivery of peace lies with Israel. If Israel continues to reduce the possibilities of a two-state solution, the UK should be ready to support UNSC resolutions condemning those actions in no uncertain terms. The Government should give serious consideration to now recognising Palestine as a state, as the best way to show its determined attachment to the two-state solution.369
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335 Q 142 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)
336 Q 90 (Rt Hon Jack Hon Straw)
337 Q 220 (Jon B Alterman)
338 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
339 Q 66 (Nicholas Pelham)
340 ‘Donald Trump says US not committed to two-state Israel-Palestine solution’, The Guardian, 16 February 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/15/trump-says-us-not-committed-to-two-state-israel-palestine-solution [accessed 31 March 2017]
341 The “Green Line” or 1967 borders are the demarcated lines setting out the internationally agreed borders of the State of Israel.
342 Report of the Middle East Quartet, Foundation for Middle East Peace, July 2016: http://fmep.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Quartet-Report-2016.pdf [accessed 25 April 2017]
343 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
344 Q 90 (Rt Hon Jack Straw)
345 Q 190 (Tobias Ellwood MP)
346 Q 172 (Daniel Levy)
347 Q 92 (Rr Hon Jack Straw MP)
348 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
349 Tamir Pardo, former Mossad Chief, Speech at the Meir Dagan Conference on Security and Strategy at Netanya College, 21 March 2017: http://en.cis.org.il/2017/03/26/the-time-has-come-to-make-a-choice/ [accessed 26 April 2017]
350 Q 24 (Neil Crompton)
351 ‘Can Israel and the Arab States Be Friends?’, The New York Times, 27 August 2016: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/opinion/sunday/can-israel-and-the-arab-states-be-friends.html?_r=0 [accessed 26 April 2017]
352 Q 172 (Daniel Levy)
353 HM Government, National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, Cm 9161, November 2015, para 5.63: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/555607/2015_Strategic_Defence_and_Security_Review.pdf [accessed 24 April 2017]
354 Q 190 (Tobias Ellwood MP)
355 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2334 (2016), 23 December 2016, S/RES/2334/2016: http://www.un.org/webcast/pdfs/SRES2334–2016.pdf [accessed 24 April 2017]
356 Q 37 (Lord Williams of Baglan)
357 Q 66 (Nicholas Pelham)
358 ‘Kerry rebukes Israel, calling settlements a threat to peace’, New York Times, 28 December 2016: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/28/us/politics/john-kerry-israel-palestine-peace.html?_r=0 [accessed 16 March 2017]
359 ‘Theresa May’s criticism of John Kerry Israel sparks blunt US reply’, The Guardian, 29 December 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/29/theresa-may-john-kerry-comments-israel-palestine-un-resolution [accessed 26 April 2017]
360 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
361 Q 37 (Lord Williams of Baglan)
362 European Commission website, ‘European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations’: https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/countries/palestine_en[accessed 25 March 2017]
363 Q 40 (Lord Williams of Baglan)
364 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
365 France Diplomatie, ‘Conference for peace in the Middle East’ 15 January 2017: http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/israel-palestinian-territories/peace-process/initiative-for-the-middle-east-peace-process/article/conference-for-peace-in-the-middle-east-15-01-17 [accessed 16 March 2017]
366 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)
367 Q 174 (Daniel Levy)
368 Q 142 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)
369 This would follow the House of Commons vote (October 2014) which supported the recognition of the state of Palestine.

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