The process of peace between Palestine and Israel has been long and complex, with many taking entrenched views and adopting their own interpretation of history. But we are now entering a new phase, one that must lead to peace in the region. If not, violence will undoubtedly increase, with the inevitable deaths of many innocent people on both sides of the divide.
Today is the time for strong leadership, strong politicians who must be ready to stand up for their convictions and stand by the words and opinions they have expressed for many years in private but have been reluctant to speak about in public. For too long, politicians have had an eye on future elections and the significant amount of money and votes which follow a move to appease one side over another. The biggest threat to the Middle East process is no longer Israel or Palestine but a short-sighted America and Europe which have not had the strength to compel these two sides in this small region to the table and insist on peace.
It is in this atmosphere that the long awaited speech of President Barack Obama was given last week. His words were bitterly disappointing to many who had expected so much more from this inspirational man, but it was his questioning of Palestine’s attempt for full recognition before the United Nations later this year that has had the most profound impact.
In September, the UN General Assembly will be asked to vote on formal recognition of Palestine. Two thirds will need to vote in favour. Campaigning for recognition of a Palestinian state represents a significant change in tactics by Palestinians. This has come about because of the substantial progress made in recent years towards establishing a government ready for independence with the extensive reform of the necessary infrastructure, primarily financial institutions and the security services in the West Bank. The reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah and the preparation for elections next year has removed another barrier relied on by the Israelis, who have long argued they do not have a partner with whom to negotiate peace and called for the rejection of any unilateral recognition of Palestine.
Despite more than 100 countries having announced recognition of Palestine over the years, there has been a failure to translate this into reality on the ground. It is the hope of Palestinian representatives that seeking recognition in September might convince Israel it is in its own interests to come forward and to re-engage in negotiations. The plea for recognition along 1967 borders may provide a counter to any Israeli plans of annexation in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
The campaign has already achieved significant diplomatic momentum through much of South America in the past few months. In addition, many countries within Western Europe (including Britain) have upgraded the diplomatic status of Palestinian representations to diplomatic levels. It is hoped to build on this foundation, with recognition being sought from Caribbean and Central American states later this year, as well as from Asia (including Thailand and Singapore) considered being next in line.
Undoubtedly, recognition offers a clear statement in support of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination. It would send a timely message to the Palestinian people that the international community is prepared to take strong steps to bring about a two-state settlement.
It is hoped that the United States and Britain will support the Palestinians in September. If they don’t, the least they can do is not stand in the way but act on the clear will of the majority of the countries in the General Assembly that will recognise the state of Palestine in line with international law and UN resolutions.
Mark McDonald is a human rights barrister and one of the founders of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.