'Only Americans can bring peace'

Outgoing UK envoy says both sides have reasons to distrust each other.

311_ British Ambassador (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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.
“When I 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.”
Phillips also said that the demographic realities taking place on the ground mean any Israeli prime minister will have to lean towards a two-state solution, an issue that is aided by the fact that the current US administration sees the two-state solution as in the strategic interests of the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the United States.
Phillips said that improvements in the situation in the West Bank have been “remarkable,” not only in terms of the economic revival, but also in regard to the sense of security and law and order provided by “competent Palestinian security forces trained by the EU and the British.”
Phillips originally served as consul-general and deputy head of mission in Tel Aviv in 1990-1993.
Speaking to the leadership of the British Zionist Federation and young Zionist Federation leaders from across Europe, Phillips drew parallels 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 back then. It’s a real shock to come back after 20 years and see that Israelis are more insecure than they were 20 years ago, and I think the same goes for Palestinians.
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 withdrawals from territory were met with rockets instead of peace, while on the Palestinian side, people feel that Israelis merely spoke of peace while continuing to build settlements.
“It was an enormous shock for me to go around the settlements in 2006 for the first time and realize the number of settlers had doubled in the time I’d been away, and this is a major, major obstacle to peace,” Phillips said, adding that, like Israelis, Palestinians say they have no partner for peace, citing what they see as a right-wing Israeli government.
Towards the end of his talk, Phillips said that conflicting narratives may be of only limited importance, as the ability to reach a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict may not be up to Palestinians and Israelis on their own.
“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 two hardest issues – Jerusalem and the right of return – need a third party, and it has to be the Americans.
There’s no one else there, and this is cause for optimism and pessimism.”