311_ British Ambassador.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
There is still cause for optimism when viewing prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, in
spite of the growing, mutual distrust on both sides, the outgoing UK ambassador
to Israel said Thursday.
Ambassador Tom Phillips – who in two months will
finish his four-year assignment in Israel to become the UK ambassador to Saudi
Arabia – said, at a meeting of British and other European Zionist Federation
leaders in Tel Aviv, that in the 20 years since he was first a UK diplomat in
Israel, there has been great progress in achieving Mideast peace.
look back over the past 20 years, there is good news and bad news. Clearly we do
now have peace with Egypt and Jordan, and Israel does have links to quite a few
other countries in the region.
“Also, compared to when I was first here
in the early 90s, there is a much clearer focus on what a solution could look
like and on the possible shape of a two-state solution.”
said that the demographic realities taking place on the ground mean any
prime minister will have to lean towards a two-state solution, an issue
aided by the fact that the current US administration sees the two-state
as in the strategic interests of the Israelis and Palestinians, as well
Phillips said that improvements in the situation in the
West Bank have been “remarkable,” not only in terms of the economic
also in regard to the sense of security and law and order provided by
Palestinian security forces trained by the EU and the British.”
originally served as consul-general and deputy head of mission in Tel
Speaking to the leadership of the British Zionist Federation
and young Zionist Federation leaders from across Europe, Phillips drew
from his previous time in Israel to illustrate how, along with cause for
optimism, there is still much fodder for pessimists.
“On the pessimism
side of the spectrum, the distrust on both sides is higher than it was
then. It’s a real shock to come back after 20 years and see that
more insecure than they were 20 years ago, and I think the same goes for
And the tragedy is that I think both sides have reason to
distrust the other,” Phillips said.
The ambassador cited Israelis’
feeling that the PA cannot govern or provide security and that
territory were met with rockets instead of peace, while on the
people feel that Israelis merely spoke of peace while continuing to
“It was an enormous shock for me to go around the
settlements in 2006 for the first time and realize the number of
doubled in the time I’d been away, and this is a major, major obstacle
peace,” Phillips said, adding that, like Israelis, Palestinians say they
partner for peace, citing what they see as a right-wing Israeli
Towards the end of his talk, Phillips said that conflicting
narratives may be of only limited importance, as the ability to reach a
solution to the Mideast conflict may not be up to Palestinians and
“It’s my personal conclusion that the two sides can’t do it on
their own, it’s too difficult. The core identity narratives around the
hardest issues – Jerusalem and the right of return – need a third party,
has to be the Americans.
There’s no one else there, and this is cause for
optimism and pessimism.”