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Tuesday, October 14, 2014 

On recognising Palestine.

In general, the principles for recognising a state outlined by Malcolm "Rockets" Rifkind in yesterday's parliamentary debate on Palestine are good ones.  A state needs "a government, an army, a military capability", the second of which is conspicuous by its absence in Gaza and the West Bank, although Hamas if no longer Fatah most certainly has a military capability.  It also has two governments rather than one, he argued, which while ignoring the recent second unity deal between Hamas and Fatah is probably strictly true.  None of this is the fault of the Palestinians themselves, Rifkind said, and it's also the case that Israel has not previously accepted an eventual Palestinian state having a military at all.

Worth remembering then is how the government acted shortly after the vote at the UN giving Palestine observer status, the first step towards being recognised as a state.  William Hague in his inimitable half-pompous half-bluff style addressed parliament beforehand on how the government needed "assurances" from the Palestinians they wouldn't do anything silly with their new status, like try and pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court, as only Africans and ethnic cleansers can be prosecuted there.  Assurances weren't received, so the government despite fully supporting a two-state solution abstained.

No such assurances were demanded in contrast from the successor organisation to the Syrian National Council, when the government deemed it was the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian peopleThe Syrian National Coalition wasn't a government, didn't have anything like full control of the Free Syrian Army which even then was not an army in a real sense, only having a military capability of sorts, most of which it had but a tenuous connection with.  This hasn't exactly worked out, as we've seen.  Close to irrelevant from the moment it was born, it's now completely irrelevant, with hardly anyone continuing to pretend it has the support of almost any of the groups still fighting.  Except that is for US senators, who've been gullible from the outset.

There are nonetheless problems with recognising Palestine as a state when there is nothing to suggest there will be a peace deal any time soon.  With Hamas still refusing to recognise Israel, and the Netanyahu government now insisting on the Palestinians accepting Israel as the "nation-state of the Jewish people", it's difficult to know whether, even if against all the odds a future Israeli government reached a deal with Fatah it would resolve anything.  John Kerry's Herculean effort to break the impasse foundered principally over the Israeli refusal to release a final tranche of 26 prisoners.  As Mahmoud Abbas or sources close him briefed New Republic, if he couldn't get the Americans to persuade the Israelis to release 26 prisoners, how were they ever going to give him East Jerusalem?  Tzipi Livni, now presented as the member of Netanyahu's coalition most dedicated to reaching a peace deal openly told the Palestinians during the previous round of talks they were right to believe the continued annexation of land in the West Bank and expansion of settlements was designed to make a Palestinian state impossible.  It wasn't official government policy, but it was of some of the Israeli parties.

Perverse as it would be to claim there was never any intention on the part of Netanyahu and his ministers to try and reach a deal, it was on a plan that would have been rejected both by Hamas and the Palestinian street.  As Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat argued with Kerry, the 1967 borders which Israel has done so much to erase were not up for discussion.  Susan Rice, exasperated with the Palestinians quibbling over such minor details, remarked they "could never see the fucking bigger picture", apparently oblivious to how that was precisely what they were thinking about.

Recognising a Palestine not worthy of the name would not be a solution.  In a completely backwards way, the wrecking amendment tabled by the Labour Friends of Israel emphasising recognition should only come after a peace deal almost had it right: difficult as it will be for many to accept, only a deal which includes Hamas is likely to last.  Nor is there much point in engaging in gestures that don't lead anywhere; yesterday's vote was symbolic, as everyone stressed.  Would it however make clear to the Israeli government just how far opinion is turning against it?  To judge by the coverage in Israel itself, as well as the New York Times, the answer on this score at least was yes.

Solidarity is after all next to pointless when you're the one staring down the bullet of a gun, as the Kurds have been discovering the last few weeks.  Palestine is a cause that while always popular, ebbs and flows in the public conciousness: the efforts of apologists for the almost biennial slaughter in Gaza to paint all those who protested as anti-Semites have continued unabated while attention has turned elsewhere.  Nor has public opinion shifted because of Operation Protective Edge; the mood has been heading in this direction for a long time now.  If yesterday's vote further makes clear that "fucking Europe" means what it says, with all the consequences it has for Israeli trade, we might be heading towards the point where the Israeli political class realises it can't go on creating "reality" on the ground and getting away with it.  That will ultimately require American pressure of the kind we've yet to see or are likely to any time soon.  It is however coming.  Whether it will be too late by then for the two state solution remains to be seen.

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