British House of Commons in London..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
British parliament’s decision this week to grant “Palestine” diplomatic recognition is essentially a symbolic move since Britain’s government, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, is not obligated to translate it into actual government policy.
But the very fact that a major Western European nation’s parliament has granted Palestine diplomatic recognition could result in a snowball effect. Had the vote gone the other way, those politicians in Britain and elsewhere, who insist on a negotiated settlement that includes a Palestinian commitment to end the conflict and who believe that unilateral recognition of Palestine only makes Palestinians more intransigent and violent, would have been strengthened.
Passage of the motion, in contrast, legitimates the position that Israel is to blame for the conflict and that Palestinians are the weak side, in need of international support for their cause.
Admittedly, this position – that Israel is the aggressor in this conflict and the Palestinians are its victims – is gaining popularity in Europe. In its news coverage, The New York Times described the British parliamentary vote as coming “against the backdrop of growing impatience across Europe with Israeli policy.”
Use of the word “impatience” is unfortunate because it implies that objectively speaking there is something about Israeli policies which causes impatience. Nevertheless, the Times is right to point out that European politicians are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of Israel, particularly in the wake of Operation Protective Edge and the breakdown of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians orchestrated by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
And the British vote comes after Sweden’s new prime minister, Stefan Löfven pledged during his inaugural speech earlier this month to recognize “Palestine.” If Löfven follows through, Sweden will become the first major European nation since the breakup of the Soviet bloc to do so. What an honor to follow in the footsteps of Soviet foreign policy.
Behind the “impatience” with Israeli policies articulated by British parliamentarians, Löfven and others lurks a somewhat convoluted line of reasoning, but reasoning nonetheless.
It goes something like this: Land lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians – specifically Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza. If Israel were to give up its control over this land, the conflict would come to an end. Therefore, if Britain and other nations were to coerce Israel to retreat by unilaterally recognizing Palestine within the 1949 Armistice Lines, they would bring about an end to the conflict.
However, this reasoning is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.
First, Hamas, perhaps the most popular political movement in Palestinian society today, rejects Israel’s very existence within any borders. Second, both PLO leader Yasser Arafat and his supposedly “moderate” successor, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected outright proposals that would have given Palestinians control over more than 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. Also, violent terrorism ends up being justified as an understandable reaction to “occupation.”
According to this reasoning, when official Palestinian Authority representatives and media outlets glorify terrorists, incite against Israel and refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty over cities such as Jaffa, Haifa and Acre; when Hamas terrorists shoot Kassam rockets at innocent Israeli citizens and when they insist on using materials such as concrete and metal to build terror tunnels from which to launch attacks on Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, they are struggling against “occupation.”
And when Israel attempts to defend itself by putting in place a blockade of Gaza to stop Hamas from smuggling in rockets and building terror tunnels, it is accused of “occupying” Gaza. When Israel sends troops into Gaza to destroy the tunnels and the rockets and Hamas terrorists purposely place themselves and their rockets within civilian populations to maximize civilian casualties, it is the IDF, not Hamas, that is accused of “war crimes.”
The truth is though that if Palestinians had put their support behind leaders because of their ability to build, not because of their reputations as fighters; if they had demanded a government free of corruption that protected the rights of Palestinians, instead of one that glorifies terrorists and incites against Israel; if they had insisted on moving on with their lives instead of dwelling on a narrative of self-victimization, there would have been peace long ago. It is not too late for them to change course.
But by recognizing “Palestine” as it is now, Britain’s parliament is choosing to ignore all of this. It prefers to unfairly place the blame for the conflict on Israel’s shoulders while ignoring the Palestinians’ role in perpetuating it.