A Palestinian state can only emerge from negotiations

If my friends Zehava Gal-On, Tal Harris or Avrum Burg think that the Swedish or British parliaments can play the role of the Israeli government, then they are wasting their time.

A Palestinian boy waves a flag in the West Bank (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian boy waves a flag in the West Bank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week’s British Parliament vote in favor of recognition of a Palestinian state did not help Israeli-Palestinian peace or the two-state solution one bit. In my eyes, it obstructed them.
Many of my colleagues from the Left have asked me why I called upon British Labor Party members not to support the vote. A few of them, like Zehava Gal-On, Tal Harris and Avrum Burg (who became completely irrelevant after he became post-Zionist), have even criticized me for the move.
My answer was that I did so precisely because I really want to see a Palestinian state prospering next to a secure Israel. After all, none of those on the Left who criticized me really made more of an effort than I did in order to promote the two-state solution over the past couple of years.
The Israeli Labor Party, and definitely myself, are fully committed to Palestinian statehood, and we call for it from every podium in Israel and abroad. With all due respect, we don’t have prove it to anyone.
Moreover, we do not just say that we want a Palestinian state, we call upon our government to recognize the State of Palestine. Specifically, we think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a mistake when he ordered Israel’s diplomats to vote in the UN General Assembly against granting observer status to the Palestinian state. In the recent party primaries Labor’s current chairperson, MK Isaac Herzog, made precisely this point and said that if he was elected to the position of prime minister he would enact Israeli recognition of Palestinian statehood.
British politicians and citizens who want to see a Palestinian state living in peace and security next to a secure Israel ought to realize that recognition by third states of Palestine is counterproductive.
The argument about this being effective pressure which would positively affect Israeli voting patterns is false. I have yet to meet the Likud voter who chose to vote for Labor because of a purely symbolic vote in a European parliament.
On the contrary, I have met many centrist voters (whose votes we seek) who, as a result of such symbolic actions, are only further entrenched in their view that Europe is with the Palestinians and against Israel, if not the Jews. Such acts empower the Israeli Right, who ask Israelis: If we cannot trust Europe to be sensible when it comes to simple declarative steps then how can we entrust our security to European forces in the context of a peace agreement? The Israeli Right asks Israelis: If Europe makes moves unilaterally, do they really care about Israel’s needs in this crazy region we call the Middle East? Even worse, such acts also empower those Palestinians who advocate internationalization of the conflict even though in their heart of hearts they know that a Palestinian state that actually exercises sovereign power cannot materialize without Israel’s active consent. Thus, such purported signals of support for the two-state solution only end up pushing the two nations to further escalate.
A more constructive approach would have been to encourage Israel’s prime minister to recognize the State of Palestine, as such recognition would actually have consequences on the ground, changing the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. And if the prime minister of Israel were to refuse, we should do everything in order to convince the Israeli public that he should be replaced – it’s our duty. These unilateral moves will not help the peace camp convince the Israeli public that we have a partner and that we can negotiate with this partner.
Those who want a tangible, viable Palestinian state – not a virtual one existing on papers and resolutions – should restrain themselves from engaging in populist acts that do not change the living conditions of Palestinians one bit, and must instead focus on cooperating with both Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to the two-state solution. There are no short cuts. A real Palestinian state, the kind we all want, can only be created by negotiation. Even my friends on the Left know it. Even the Palestinians know it.
Let’s do everything we can to get these negotiations started and make them real, sincere and effective, under this government. Or, even better, let’s convince Israelis that this government cannot do it, and has to be replaced by another one that can.
If my friends Zehava Gal-On, Tal Harris or Avrum Burg think that the Swedish or British parliaments can play the role of the Israeli government, then they are wasting their time. And time is not something we can afford to waste. Not when what’s at stake is this important.
The writer is a Knesset member, deputy Knesset speaker and secretary-general of the Labor Party.