A European yellow card for Israel

Israelis and Palestinians cannot unravel the diplomatic impasse on their own

A pro-Palestine demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, London, October 13 (photo credit: LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS,LUCIO LECCE,LUDWIG LOECKINGER)
A pro-Palestine demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, London, October 13
IF A BASKETBALL coach anywhere in the world led his team to a 274-12 debacle he would surely be fired or resign himself.
That was precisely the result of the October 13 vote in the British Parliament calling for the UK to recognize Palestine, despite the Israeli government’s best efforts to block it.
For Israeli foreign policy, the one-sided nature of the vote was a devastating setback.
Even the leading supporters of recognition in the House of Commons never anticipated such an overwhelming majority.
Two weeks earlier, it was Sweden. In his first official statement the new Prime Minister Stefan Lofven declared that his government would recognize Palestine irrespective of the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
It is clear that Britain and Sweden are harbingers of things to come. Many more states in Western Europe are about to make decisions on the recognition issue. As for Eastern Europe, most countries recognized Palestine over 20 years ago.
The rising tide of West European recognition gathered momentum with the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in April. The deadlock seems to be proving a catalyst for recognition. The speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas at the UN General Assembly in late September were particularly disheartening for peace advocates. Both leaders made it abundantly clear that a peaceful settlement is not on the agenda.
Now, however, the international community is moving into the diplomatic vacuum looking for ways to break the impasse. Given this new, more assertive international mood, Abbas’s impending appeal to the UN Security Council for recognition of Palestine within the 1967 borders and a November 2016 deadline for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank could gain traction.
The composition of the Security Council, which from January 1 will include Venezuela and Malaysia, both strong supporters of Palestinian statehood, will pose a serious challenge for the Netanyahu government.
Another potentially significant development is the fact that Israeli leftwingers have come out squarely behind international moves to recognize Palestine as part of a push toward a two-state solution.
On the eve of the British vote, 363 Israeli left-wingers signed a petition urging the House of Commons to vote for recognition of Palestine, adding their weight to the international pressure on Netanyahu. “The long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long- term existence and security of a Palestinian State,” they declared.
Twenty percent of the signatories are residents of the Gaza border area, which bore the brunt of Hamas rocket and mortar fire in the war this summer. Other signatories included a Nobel Prize laureate, four winners of the Israel Prize, ex-politicians, ex- diplomats and intellectuals.
The fact that these people felt a need to back international pressure on the government to reengage and negotiate seriously should not be taken lightly. It reflects the profound frustration, if not the unmitigated despair, of the extra- parliamentary left in Israel at the current state of relations between their country and the Palestinian people.
Their action has much in common with the plea to the international community to help in the reconstruction of Gaza. The wide - spread physical damage in Gaza was the result of another round of violence between Israel and Hamas – but there is no way Israel and the Palestinians could deal with it on their own. Similarly, there is no way Israel and the Palestinians would be able to repair the diplomatic destruction of the past few years on their own.
Only determined international intervention will be able to force the parties to face up to the consequences of their mistakes and restore widespread public support for the two-state model that seems to be disappearing before our very eyes.
Alon Liel, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, was one of the initiators of the Israeli petition to the UK House of Commons