The Balfour Declaration: 100 Years On

It is exactly 100 years to the day since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, an event that has had profound consequences and which continues to shape the Middle East and the rest of the world today. The Declaration, a product of British design, made two promises. First, it promised a homeland for the Jews, a people facing widespread persecution  and who would go on to face persecution on an abhorrent scale. Second, it promised that the civil and religious rights of those non-Jewish communities already occupying the land would not be prejudiced. Decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians underpins this failure to fulfill that second promise.

Britain must accept responsibility for its role in this, but not shy away from the important role it can play in the future. The U.K. should begin by recognising the state of Palestine as an important first step, and on that basis, lead new efforts at peace and reconciliation which acknowledge the fundamental rights of Palestinians and also the right of Israel to its security. It is no good making further promises. It is time for a new approach.

Balfour Declaration Centenary

This year marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a statement issued by the British government toward the end of the First World War. The Balfour Declaration promised to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, whilst also respecting the civil and religious rights of the Palestinian people. No word, however, was given on the political rights of Palestinian Arabs. Furthermore, the word ‘national home’, as opposed to ‘state’, was deliberately ambiguous, with no precedent in international law. These ambiguities begat confusion and have led to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one of the most insoluble conflicts of the last century.

For the Jewish people, the Balfour Declaration was a watershed moment that paved the way for the creation of the Jewish state of Israel, whose value was highlighted after the tumult of the Holocaust. After mass genocide at the hands of Nazi Germany, Jews had a place to go to, a place to call home after such great geographic and emotional dislocation. And as we enter the centenary year, the achievements of the Declaration have rightly been extolled in certain corners, with Theresa May stating that Britain will mark its anniversary with ‘pride’. However, we should not forget, nor take satisfaction from Britain’s inability to fulfil only one half of the bargain. Five-a-half million Palestinians have been exiled from their own homeland as a result of a problem placed on their own front door by the British government, and a bitter struggle has ensued.

With such a complex and sensitive issue, the perspective of both sides must be acknowledged and engaged with. There is a danger that the Arab world, most crucially Palestinian Arabs, will see the way that Brits, Christians, Jews and other members of the international community celebrate the centenary without any professed sense of regret. We must show them that we condemn the areas in which the Balfour Declaration has failed, and empathise with the concomitant suffering of Palestinian Arabs.

The centenary year of the Balfour Declaration represents a fitting time for reflection, both on its achievements and its failures. And on Tuesday 31 October, the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster will host an exciting, important event. ‘Britain’s Broken Promise: Time For A New Approach’ will seek to lead Britons to a more nuanced perspective on this historic declaration.

Buy Tickets for the Balfour event here

 

Temple Mount crisis: Why is there no peace process?

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On Sunday night, Israeli police officers arrested 33 people in a series of raids on suspicion of involvement in the violent clashes resulting from the Temple Mount crisis.

In response to the shooting of two Druze police officers serving in Israel’s Border Police, a paramilitary force, on July 14th, Israel’s government installed metal detectors and cameras at the entrance to the site which prompted violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israel’s police forces over the past two weeks. Three died as a result.

These arrests highlight the lack of a successful resolution of the spat, despite Israel’s government removing the metal detectors from the site. It was hoped this could have signalled an end to the crisis. With more attention having been given to Syria and Iraq in recent times, this crisis has reminded us of the importance of fostering a peace process in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

It should not require such violence to bring the Israel-Palestine question to the attention of the international community. Steps should be taken to ensure that Jews and Muslims can coexist peacefully. This can only be achieved through dialogue and  negotiation. Acts of violence, police raids and rioting merely encourage retaliation.

Water-Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories

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The right to safe drinking water is recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and an adequate standard of living”. The UN calls upon all states to ensure that every person, “without discrimination”, has access to “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use”.

Yet this is a distant reality for millions of Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip; instead they live with water that is contaminated, overpriced and chronically short in supply.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 95% of groundwater extracted from the Coastal Aquifer is so heavily contaminated it is “unfit for human consumption” according to UNICEF. After decades of over-exploitation by Palestinian and Israeli authorities, Gaza’s only aquifer has become severely depleted and susceptible to seawater and sewage contamination. Water shortages and widespread contamination are compounded by lasting conflict between Israel and Gaza’s de facto Hamas administration: in 2014 this conflict saw crucial water infrastructure targeted and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. Subsequently, Israel’s long-standing blockade on Gaza continues to restrict the entry of specialist materials needed to rebuild and repair this damaged infrastructure.

DESALINATION vs electricity

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the right of Palestinians to safe water is systematically undermined through an unequal water-sharing agreement with Israel: the 1995 Oslo II Accord. This agreement grants Israel exclusive control of roughly four times the Palestinian allocation of ‘shared’ water resources, despite Israelis and Israeli settlers comprising a vastly smaller proportion of the West Bank’s population. The disparity in water consumption is shocking: a 2013 report by local NGO Al-Haq found that 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank collectively consumed over six times as much water as 2.6 million Palestinians.

Moreover, a discriminatory permit regime enables Israel to prevent Palestinians from building and maintaining water infrastructure in the West Bank. Where building work has taken place without Israeli approval, authorities have demolished vital structures including basic latrines, water tanks and piping networks serving Palestinian communities.

Faced with chronic water shortages and widespread contamination, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank spend between 20-30% of their income purchasing overpriced water from Israeli water company Mekorot or other unregulated private vendors.

This is a hugely unjust situation.

 

Trump and US foreign policy in the Middle East

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US foreign interests are, for the most part, bipartisan and both the Democrats and the Republicans have similar views with regard to the US’ main foreign policy objectives. Trump views Israel as a strategic ally in the Middle East as have the Democrats. The major difference is that Trump wishes to adopt a more isolationist approach, which could potentially mean a reduction in military aid to Israel. Donald Trump could challenge the long-standing pro-Israel bias in the US. Although he has promised to protect Israel, he boasts his skills as a negotiator and claims that the negotiations will require a certain level of neutrality.

It is unclear whether Trump’s remarks regarding minorities and Muslims in the United States would translate to any form of foreign policy that would be harmful to the Muslim Middle East. At worst, his disdain could translate into an uncompromising response by Trump to any defiance that threatened US interests in the region (note that earlier this year Trump pledged to send 30,000 US troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS).

Blog post written by Marcus Lomax 19/10/2016

Lord Stone responds to the Queen

Lord Stone of Blackheath spoke in the Queen’s speech debate on the government’s failure to embrace the Middle East peace Process. His remarks are interesting. He promotes the Arab Peace Initiative as well as endorsing the Two States One Homeland concept. He said:

Lord Stone of Blackheath Labour 5:05 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, to continue on that theme, the gracious Speech made no mention of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, perhaps because it seems so intractable. I want to mention two new, ambitious but viable projects for reconciliation and ask Her Majesty’s Government for their involvement in them. The United Kingdom is in a unique position to move things forward, and it would be in our interests to do so.

The first is a movement called Two States One Homeland, which asks for the people of both sides to understand the narrative of the other as their genuine beliefs and accept them with compassion. Many Israelis now accept that the Palestinians believe that the 1947 declaration of the State of Israel was a Nakba to them—a disaster—and that the region is their homeland and they want consideration of their right to return. Many Palestinians are accepting that the Israelis believe that from biblical times the whole area was their homeland and living in parts of the West Bank is precious to them. They each regard the whole region as their homeland, but they know that they cannot live together as one comfortably in one state, so they agree to two states: a state of Israel, a state of Palestine and a confederation of these two sovereign states.

Two States One Homeland is a project currently on the move. The best international lawyers are agreeing to help the people on both sides to work out a constitutional settlement for each of the two sovereign states and jointly to create an overall constitution for the new confederation. International security experts and experts from both sides are deciding how the separate countries can run their own military and police forces and how, in addition, there will be a joint military and policing authority working across the two states.

On trade and investment, finance and currency, there is a team of Palestinians, Israelis and international corporations planning to invest in the region, particularly in the new Palestinian state. On the holy sites, rabbis, bishops and imams are working together with compassion and within their own golden rule to create a system whereby the sites are open for the benefit of all peoples, who are treated with due respect. There are groups working on this project on education, health and welfare and sustainability and ecology.

Secondly, alongside Two States One Homeland, there is a team in Israel and Palestine promoting a regional plan.The Arab peace initiative, the API, of 2002 was at the time an all-in-one, take-it-or-leave-it offer to which Israel did not respond. The new team presented in 2011 an Israeli peace initiative, an IPI, that accepts the API as a framework for Israeli-Palestinian regional negotiations. The IPI team is non-left and non-right—it is the pragmatic centre-thinking in Israel, with 1,800 prominent Israeli signatories, including ex-military and ex-security figures, diplomats, scholars, Middle East experts and business leaders. They have been talking for some time with the 22 Arab countries which we hope would support those projects. Together, they have developed a regional diplomatic proposal to resume negotiations, leveraging the API and the IPI. They are about to begin the development of a regional economic plan to invest tens of billions of dollars building infrastructure projects, agro-industry, water and energy plants, health and education establishments and new cities.

President al-Sisi of Egypt is on board. In a recent speech, he addressed Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation with courage and leadership. I applaud him and call on our Government to lend support. Let me quote a couple of sentences from his historic speech of only last week. He said:

“Egypt will be quite ready to play a sincere and responsible role to help set up a real opportunity for this cause … I say to the Israelis and the Palestinians that there is already a great opportunity for a better life, a better future for greater stability and real cooperation. Shall we seize that opportunity and move forward?”.

He has invited the leaders of both countries to come to speak to him and his people in Cairo.

The IPI team is also connecting Jordan, Palestine and Israel together with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and theUnited Arab Emirates. The aim is that this whole contiguous region, containing one-third of all the people living in the Middle East—150 million people—will benefit from work, welfare, health and education and human rights. We also have media partners who will act responsibly not by talking up war and killing in order to inflate their ratings but by reporting on the processes, described here, in informed, even-handed, compassionate and positive terms.

Would Her Majesty’s Government consider convening a meeting of leaders and experts, with whom we are working on all sides to develop these two concepts; to use our soft power, the British Council, in education at all levels; to help them to build universities with British standards; in health, to plan and build hospitals and systems; and to have UKTI encourage our business community to become involved in these developments and investments?

In 1947, the UN declaration was to form two equal entities; in 1967 there was a war, in which I was a volunteer, which broke that apart. Can we get together and make 2017, the 70th anniversary of the UN declaration and the 50th anniversary of the war of that split it, a year when we begin, collectively, to heal the rift?

New Plans underway to Re-launch talks on Two-state Solution

The following has just come in from a senior Board Member of the NCF:

When the Israelis and the Palestinians are not talking “peace”, the world or at least the Middle Eastern region is a more dangerous place. That may be a bit hard to swallow in view of the wars and civil unrest apparent in many Middle Eastern countries. But it is even true in Israel itself where the beginnings of a new Intifada or uprising have already begun with seemingly unplanned but nearly continuous stabbings or car rammings by Palestinians ranging from their pre-teens to octogenarians which are occuring on an all too regular basis.

While one does not condone these vicious assaults (and the even more brutal counter measures taken by the Israeli security forces as some kind of collective punishment), there is a distinct reason for them — the complete lack of confidence on the part of the vast majority of Palestinians that their dream of independence or even equality of status will ever be realized. Such frustration has turned to anger and resentment, and many of these youngsters are responding with the only weapons at hand — kitchen knives mostly.

Thus, it is heartening to hear that there is still support for a two state solution. Secretary of State John Kerry was certainly found this sentiment wanting when he spent a good deal of his personal energy and political capital on seeking to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis to the table. He failed, of course, but he should be applauded for at least trying to address this issue.

The Next Century Foundation (NCF) launched a new initiative based on application of the 2002 Arab (or Abdallah) peace plan in stages. It looks towards resolving some of the toughest decisions first (I.e., Jerusalem) and then move on to other matters down the road.

This proposal was launched in Washington and in Jerusalem last week. Discussion with the Palestinians and other interested parties including the Quartet are pending. As long as the U.S. will not recognize the value of the Arab Peace Plan, however, chances of a breakthrough appear dim. End Introduction

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“New plans underway to re-launch talks on two-state solution”

AL-MONITOR

By Uri Savir

29 February 2016

The Quartet (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) decision taken on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 12 is a landmark for the efforts of the international community to revitalize an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution process. The Quartet decided to compose a report that will outline the obstacles that today are preventing a renewed peace process as well as recommendations for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The driving force behind the Quartet’s decision was the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. An official close to the High Representative told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that there is a consensus within the EU that without a political horizon, the situation within the Palestinian Authority risks deteriorating, possibly leading to an armed intifada and even to the resignation of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mogherini believes that, similarly to the case of the Iran deal, it is important to create an international consensus of the main powers for the sake of Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. In this way, the Quartet may become a mechanism that will bypass the Security Council and initiatives of individual countries such as the United States and France.

According to the official, the report will be prepared by envoys of the Quartet to the region and presented to the foreign ministers for a decision as to how to proceed. It will include a common analysis of the existing roadblocks for a peace process, and therefore will deal in detail with settlement expansion, land appropriation, incitement to violence and violence, both in regard to the Palestinian sporadic terror attacks in the past three months and to Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians.

The EU official said that the Quartet does not intend to blame any of the parties, but rather to analyze the situation in a balanced way in order to create a better environment for the renewal of a two-state process.

As to a formula on the renewal of negotiations, it will have to be negotiated by the foreign ministers of the Quartet, based on the recommendations in the report. Mogherini herself, according to the official, will consult in advance of the report with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, as well as with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The EU sees the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as a valid basis for future negotiations, but also recognizes the need for mutual land swaps in relation to the 1967 lines and for security arrangements to satisfy Israeli interests within a two-state solution.

While the decision on the report was reached in consensus, there is a diversity of views within the Quartet about the kind of policy platform to set for all future negotiations.

A senior State Department official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Secretary of State John Kerry is very much in support of the Quartet report. The United States will, in view of sharp European criticism of Netanyahu’s settlement policies, attempt to balance in the report what it perceives as excessively critical approaches toward Israel by the EU, Russia and the UN.

In the American view, the Arab Peace Initiative cannot be the main basis for future negotiations as it does not emphasize sufficiently the necessary security and anti-terror arrangements within a permanent status agreement.
The Obama administration, according to the official who is frequently in the region, is interested in creating a policy platform for a two-state solution for the post-Obama era. It will do so both within the Quartet and also in the form of US policy guidelines for a two-state solution. Various expressions of such guidelines are still being considered, including the possibility of an important presidential policy speech.

The Quartet decision is significant both in the short and long term. For the immediate future, it may give Abbas a political horizon to point to.

In regard to Israel, it may start a political debate over the value of the Quartet’s recommendations. In the long term, the mechanism — more than the specific recommendations — is of importance; it may be the beginning of a conflict resolution process on the Israeli-Palestinian issue by international consensus and not merely, as in the past, by the United States.

In all likelihood, a new platform for a two-state solution process can be realized only after the upcoming US presidential elections and after the two parties — Israel and the PA — have exhausted all other alternatives.

Peace: The Andrew Stone formula

The Lord Stone of BlackheathThis is what Lord Stone said on 23rd January 2016 in the Debate in the Lords on the question asked by Lord Grade of Yarmouth who wishes “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase understanding of the Middle East.”.

Lord Stone of Blackheath (Lab): The noble Lord, Lord Grade, is right. Peace will come only when individuals on all sides understand the narrative of the other side and open their hearts to their suffering. This is the route to peace between Palestinians and Israelis and here it is in seven stages in two minutes.

  1. First, Israel accepts the Palestinian belief that the 1948 declaration of the state of Israel was a Nakba—a disaster —and that the region is their homeland and they want consideration of the right to return. The Palestinians accept that the Jews believe that from biblical times the whole area was their homeland. Yes, the settler issue needs settling. Having understood this historical context and agreeing that they cannot live together comfortably as one state, they agree a confederation of two sovereign states—the state of Israel and the state of Palestine; one homeland, two states.
  2. Secondly, we now have the best international lawyers agreeing to help both sides work on a constitution of the two states. Israel already has a constitutional agreement. Palestine needs one. Also, jointly, they create an overall constitution for the new confederation.
  3. Thirdly, security experts on both sides decide how the separate countries run their own military and police force and how, in addition, there will be a joint military and policing authority working together over the two states.
  4. Fourthly, on trade and investment, and finance and currency, there is already a team of Palestinians, Israelis and investors across the world who have been working on a project called ‘Breaking the Impasse’, pledging billions of dollars to invest in the region, particularly in the new Palestinian state, once there is peace.
  5. Fifthly, on the holy sites, we have spoken to rabbis, bishops and Imams about the theocracy of the region and they will work together as they preach, with compassion and within their own golden rule.
  6. Sixthly, the Arab peace initiative, in 2002, was an all-in-one, take-it-or-leave-it offer, and Israel did not respond. A team is now working on a phased implementation of the API. In this way, 22 Arab countries would support the project.
  7. Seventhly and finally, the media, acting responsibly, do not talk up war and killing, but report on the process described here in informed, even-handed, compassionate and positive terms.

There we have it. One homeland, two states and peace, in two minutes.
I ask the Minister if Her Majesty’s Government might consider convening a meeting of leaders and experts with whom we are working from all sides, in each of these seven fields to try to develop this concept.

No Sign of Middle East Peace as Violence Continues

Israeli_soldiers_on_Palestine_street

As tensions grow between Israelis and Palestinians, there are worries that we may be seeing the beginning of a Third Intifada. Some already call the past three months the ‘stabbing intifada.’ Since mid-October there have been near daily stabbings or car rammings, both forms of popular resistance. That these attacks have almost exclusively been in the form of stabbings is itself a consequence of the occupation. Beyond peaceful demonstration, Palestinians have few other resources or means by which to show their frustration at decades of occupation. This is in the face of disproportionate response from Israeli soldiers who instantaneously shoot dead culprits of any attacks. In the past week alone five Palestinians who either stabbed or attempted to stab Israeli soldiers were shot dead. In total 21 Israelis and one US citizen have died as a result of Palestinian attacks, while Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 137 Palestinians in the same period, 87 of whom authorities described as assailants. This is not to deny Israelis the right to defend themselves in the face of attack. However, this uprising represents another call to look beyond what is happening today; to look at the bigger picture, and incur action, not only to stem the flow of these stabbings, but to work towards the promotion of peace.