Mose Apelblat

The peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is suspended until further notice because both sides are obstructing it. The Israeli government, pressed by the settlement lobby, is continuing announcing new construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinian authority, afraid of its own extremists, refuses to continue the peace talks until a mutual acceptable agreement has been reached.

No wonder that the outside word becomes exasperated by the deadlock in the conflict and thinks that it can promote the restart of the peace process by recognizing the state of Palestine. It started with the new Swedish government, a minority coalition made up by the social democratic party and the green environment party, that recently recognized Palestine in the hope that it would send a signal to the moderate forces among the Palestinians and level the playing field in future negotiations.

The Swedish government also hoped that its recognition of Palestine would be followed by other EU member states but until now no other states have followed in its steps, not even other Scandinavian countries. The British parliament has adopted a non-binding resolution in favor of recognition. As EurActiv reported last week, the socialist group in the French parliament has drafted its own non-binding proposal for recognition.

This hardly indicates any momentum in Europe for the recognition of Palestine. After all the official EU position is that recognition today of Palestine would be premature. The European Council has often declared that EU will only recognize those borders that have been agreed by the parties to the conflict as the result of direct peace negotiations. To recognize Palestine today would mean to recognize an entity that doesn’t control its territory and part of which still is bent on war.

The Swedish government has been claiming that already more than 130 countries around the world have recognized Palestine, among them some EU member states. It forgot however to mention that many of these countries haven’t recognized Israel, including several of the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The EU member states that have recognized Palestine did it before they joined EU and before there was any common EU foreign policy.

There is nothing in international law that prohibits the Palestinian authority to unilaterally declare independence but to the outside world it’s a political issue that needs careful consideration. There are so many issues that remain unresolved. The future state’s borders, security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem, water – all are difficult questions that require mutually acceptable and agreed solutions.

Fortunately, there are already good ideas on how these issues could be solved, for example, in the so-called Geneva Accords of 2003. The parties have also already come quite far in previous negotiations and been close to a peace settlement.

However, there is one remaining stumbling block and this is the Palestinian refugee problem. It would be unreasonable and dangerous to recognize a Palestinian state that would not end the conflict but continue to pursue the issue of the refugees’ right to return to Israel. A premature and unconditional recognition of Palestine could therefore have an adverse impact on the prospects for a lasting settlement of the conflict.

While I can understand the rational for the Swedish recognition of Palestine, I’m also afraid that it has been influenced by domestic political concerns. Sweden has a tradition of carefully examining new political initiatives but in this case the new government decided to act at once on its own. The recognition issue also diverted the attention from burning problems in Swedish society and the need to achieve consensus in riksdagen (the Swedish parliament) on the new state budget.

I was also concerned when the new Swedish foreign minister entered into a “word war” with her Israeli counterpart as to whether achieving a peace agreement is as easy as assembling pieces of IKEA furniture. No, it isn’t. Solving the conflict is complicated – if it weren’t we would already have peace. Assembling IKEA furniture doesn’t require ”partners” but can be done by a single person who can read the instructions.

Premature recognition of Palestine might make the Palestinian government believe that it can achieve statehood without having to negotiate with Israel. In his speech some time ago in the UN general assembly, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas seems to have lost all faith in bilateral peace talks with Israel. While he during the first days of the Gaza war seemed to criticize Hamas for inflicting civilian casualties, he now accused Israel for war crimes and even genocide in Gaza.

The current Israeli government, on the other hand, seems to do everything to play into the hands of the Palestinians and to antagonize the outside world with its pro-settlement policy. Naftali Bennet, the minister of economy, recently wrote an article where he argued that the two-state solution isn’t feasible (INYT, 6 November). We already knew that this was his position but the article enables us to understand the flaws.

He makes an issue of that previous Israeli withdrawals from occupied territories haven’t resulted in peace but in terror attacks against Israel. Maybe it was because they were unilateral without any agreement with the other side?

He also outlines a plan for a “bottom-up approach” with focus on economic cooperation. It makes some sense. Economic cooperation is necessary and will serve as “bridges of peace” – as is the case in the EU. But it’s more than naïve to believe that the Palestinians would accept unilateral Israeli annexation of a big part of the West Bank – without even any land swaps – as Bennet proposes in his article.

The risk is that it may become a self-fulfilling prophesy if construction in the West Bank is allowed. It will not only obstruct the restart of the peace process but might also result in more people settling in the West Bank and voting for Bennet’s party and other pro-settlement parties who don’t care that the status quo is unsustainable. In such a situation the whole of Israel would be held hostage by a minority of its inhabitants and their vested interests groups.

To conclude: Both the Swedish and Israeli policies as described above are counterproductive. Unfortunately they also have a tendency to nourish each-other.

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