Dear Prime Minister,
This month HRH Prince Charles visits Israel and Palestine together for the first time, invited by Presidents Rivlin and Abbas. He will undertake engagements on your behalf in both countries. This is historic, and welcome. For more than a century of reasons, Palestine is a country meriting equal treatment, equal rights and parity of British esteem with its Israeli neighbour - its temporary occupying power.
2020 heralds a new era for British foreign policy. A time to reaffirm our universal values and national interest, and to ensure that they converge. A time for consistency, when that is the right course. The Israel/Palestine conflict is one such issue, where consistency counts. You have long argued for two independent and sovereign states: Israel and Palestine. To safeguard that outcome, which is under severe threat, Britain should now recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel, the state we recognised 70 years ago. Britain recognised a state, not a government – a key distinction, maintained to this day: no factionalism, no favouritism.
Our country respects and needs the rules-based order of international affairs. Britain helped shape that world order, and seeks to comply with those agreed rules governing international relations, be it the UN Charter, WTO rules or the Geneva Conventions. Britain needs others to do the same. Otherwise, the world order doesn’t work, and Britain, a law-abiding open trading nation, suffers more than most from the ensuing disorder. Britain values and upholds international law, in the national interest. Here at home, no individual is exempt from or above the law, applied without fear or favour. Similarly, no state can exempt itself from international law.
As Foreign Secretary, on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, you wrote an article in The Telegraph which stands the test of time. You reaffirm your evident love of Israel and belief in her destiny, and quote from the Declaration: “ HM Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” with the caveat that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.
Today the state of Israel is that established, recognised national home for the Jewish people, but the vital caveat was never realised. You go on to say that the only viable solution to the conflict is two states for two peoples: Israel and Palestine, with borders based on the lines of 4 June 1967, the eve of the Six Day War, with equal land swaps. That war saw Israel acquire and occupy militarily Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – today the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the second state which you envisage. Soon after the June War the UN Security Council unanimously agreed Resolution 242, drafted by Britain. The text “emphasises the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. This enduring principle, applied recently to Russia’s aggression in the Crimea, led to the current sanctions on Russia.
Your most telling point is: “For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state is the only way to secure its demographic future as a Jewish and democratic nation. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government”.
You set out clearly what is consistent British policy: there should be two independent and sovereign states – a secure Israel standing alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people. The holy city of Jerusalem should be a shared capital of the state of Israel and the Palestinian state, with access and religious rights for all who hold it dear. To Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem is sacred. For Muslims the world over, the al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock are the third most holy site in Islam. Many British Muslims dream of pilgrimage to pray there – a dream which deserves to be a reality.
British consistency is needed given recent inconsistencies in US policy, and the fluidity in Israeli politics as Israelis vote for a third time within a year on 2 March. Benjamin Netanyahu, indicted on corruption charges, again promises to annex the occupied Jordan Valley if returned to power. When he made this pledge last September, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain together condemned it. If implemented, it would be “a serious breach of international law”. It is more than that. How can the world call realistically for renewed peace negotiations if Israeli annexation usurps Palestinian sovereignty over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, denying a Palestinian state? The military occupation of 1967 will end only by negotiation – there is no other way. But after Israeli annexation, what would be left to talk about? True friends of Israel need to tell her now that annexation would internalise violence and make it permanent, extinguishing hope.
You are such a friend. As you said to Mr Netanyahu in 2017:
“You have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system”.
That dire outcome harms Israelis, Palestinians, and us. To pre empt it, your Government should now recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel. Where Britain leads, others will follow.
Sir Vincent Fean was Consul-General, Jerusalem (2010-14). He now chairs the Balfour Project.