On Thursday, the European Parliament will convene in Strasbourg, France, and hold a vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent state. The deliberation comes with a considerable amount of momentum: In recent weeks, a number of European governments have taken steps on their own to recognize Palestine as an independent state. Sweden formally recognized Palestine in October, becoming the most prominent European country to do so. Symbolic votes in the main legislatures of Britain, Spain and Ireland have followed since. France's parliament is set to vote on the issue on Dec. 2.
As WorldViews wrote earlier, it all reflects widespread European frustration with Israel's continued expansion of settlements into the West Bank and East Jersualem, which the Palestinians and the international community regard as the future capital of an independent Palestine. Talks between Israel and its Palestinian interlocutors have collapsed. Tensions between Arabs and Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem have reached a boiling point.
Lack of progress toward a two-state solution -- and the fact that many in Israel's current right-wing government have little interest in seeing it come to fruition -- have led to this wave of symbolic recognitions of Palestine. They don't make a viable Palestinian state any more real: Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and reduced whole swathes of the Gaza Strip to rubble during its summer offensive against the Islamist militant group, Hamas. But it does put the spotlight on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which critics say has pushed the likelihood of a two-state solution further out of sight.
A defiant Netanyahu warned the French parliament on Sunday that it was making a "grave mistake."
Some other Israelis, though, are backing the European initiatives. In an op-ed written for the EUObserver Web site on Friday, former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair made a forceful argument for why the international community should press ahead with its recognition of Palestine, since, he argued, Israel had little interest in changing the current "oppressive" status quo:
The West Bank has remained an occupied territory for over 47 years. During this period we have ignored international treaties; expropriated land; moved Israeli settlers from Israel to the occupied territories; engaged in acts of disinheritance and theft. We have justified all these actions in the name of security.
Over the years, the motives for the occupation have merged into the following: economic exploitation of the occupied territories for the well-being of Israeli settlers and their needs.
In our eagerness to maintain control over the occupied territories, we have developed two separate legal systems: an advanced, liberal system for Israel and Israeli settlers; and a cruel, abusive system for Palestinians in the occupied territories.
In effect, we imposed an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately after their conquest. This oppressive regime exists to this day.
Ben-Yair, who was in government in the mid-1990s and is known for his outspoken views on Israeli settlements, is hardly alone. More than 700 Israelis, including prominent artists and a Nobel laureate, have signed a petition appealing to various European parliaments to follow Sweden's lead.
The petition reads:
We the undersigned, Citizens of Israel who wish it to be a safe and thriving country, are worried by the continued political stalemate and by the occupation and settlements activities which lead to further confrontations with the Palestinians and torpedo the chances for a compromise.
It is clear that the prospects for Israel’s security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Israel should recognize the state of Palestine and Palestine should recognize the state of Israel, based on the June 4 1967 borders.
Your initiative for recognizing the state of Palestine will advance the prospects of peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to their conflict.
What do they want to achieve? According to +972mag, an Israeli news site, the campaigners hope the growing consensus among Europe's lawmakers will add more "policy-oriented teeth" to what's been the international community's "limp rhetoric" on Israeli settlement activity so far. It also could change the conversation in the U.S. on Israel's responsibilities to the Palestinian people.
The new line of thinking in Israel is best captured by Naftali Bennett, a leading minister in Netanyahu's government and a politician who draws his main support from settlers. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Bennett dismissed the two-state solution off-hand and proposed an alternative in which, for the purposes of Israeli security, the Palestinians would be given a highly circumscribed set of autonomous enclaves but no right to mobilize their own military or control their own borders.
It's a solution that would be unacceptable to most Palestinians. And, as Ben-Yair argues, it may not lead to Israel feeling more secure.
The regime of occupation is not only morally unjustifiable, but it also undermines Israel’s security and endangers its existence.
The Palestinian people are entitled to an independent state.
Do not expect them to accept a state that not only lacks territorial contiguity between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but is also dismembered by Israeli settlements and foreign military outposts stuck like thorns in its side.
This will only lead to renewed military conflagrations between Israel and the Palestinians.