Time is running out for a two-state solution

Progress recently published an article by Luke Akehurst about the Co-operative Group’s policy towards illegal Israeli settlements, which means that it does not stock their products. The author urged readers to use a customer survey that the Co-op is running to call for the organisation to overturn its boycott.

I believe that anyone who sees themselves as a progressive supporter of Israel and wants to see a two-state solution should do precisely the opposite. We should use the Co-op survey to express our support for their current policy because applying pressure to settlements is one of the only things likely to lead to the advent of a two-state solution.

First, I want to tackle one of the tactics that the article uses – the deliberate conflation of criticism of the policy and practice of the Israeli government with delegitimisation of the state of Israel. In my view this is a tactic increasingly used to shut moderate voices out of the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with deeply damaging results. It leads to a polarisation of the debate about the conflict, and a dialogue devoid of nuance – something that is reflected in UK political debates about the subject. We must find a way to do better than this.

Let’s remind ourselves of the rightwing, sometimes extremist nature of Netanyahu’s government. As a progressive, a Labour activist and a cooperator, I have zero desire to defend such a government or its behaviour. Instead, I support the progressive voices in Israel doing their best to work for peace and for a two-state solution. Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Ta’ayush and former Israeli soldiers Breaking the Silence are often highly critical of the Israeli government. This is because their work exposes the damaging nature of the 47-year-old military occupation of Palestinian territory and settlement enterprise, and the accompanying human rights violations – in 2012, one Palestinian was killed and about 1,300 injured by Israeli settlers or security forces in incidents directly or indirectly related to settlements. These organisations are also often and rightly clear about the unacceptability of the terrorism that Israel has experienced from some extremist Palestinian groups.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. There is no possible scenario where a two-state solution is achievable without dismantling the vast majority of these settlements. They are widely recognised as the greatest obstacle to peace. Douglas Alexander says, ‘Building settlements on other people’s land is both illegal and wrong’ and describes their expansion as, ‘a body blow to hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.’ In this he is in agreement with William Hague, hardly a radical on this subject – he oversaw a British abstention on the UN vote to recognise a Palestinian state – who says, ‘We and our EU partners are clear: systematic, illegal Israeli settlement activity poses the most significant and live threat to the viability of the two-state solution.’

There is a consensus among most mainstream political actors that the time when a two-state solution will be achievable is fast running out. John Kerry has said there is about a year left, with Douglas Alexander and William Hague in broad agreement. Yachad, which describes itself as the ‘home of pro-Israel pro-peace British Jews’ believes that ‘the two-state solution is now in peril, apparently slipping out of reach … it is imperilled by the pretence that “time is on our side” when, in fact, time is running out.’ The reason for this is that Israel is continuing to build settlements at such a rate that there soon will not be enough land left for a Palestinian state to be viable. We are approaching the precipice – if two states become unachievable, then what?

Equipped with these facts that: 1. We can support Israel but be critical of its government’s action; 2. Israeli settlements are the biggest barrier to a two-state situation; and 3. We are approaching the precipice – if we reach it in a year’s time then all hope of a two-state solution will be lost, then what conclusion should we progressives draw?

In such situations, the application of economic pressure has been shown, time and time again, to make a difference. This is where the Co-op’s policy not to sell produce from the settlements is eminently sensible, entirely in line with its values of justice and fairness, and something that we should support. The Co-op buys from Israeli companies that don’t source from settlements; it doesn’t buy from Israeli companies that do source from settlements. As Luke Akehurst’s article notes, it also applies this policy to Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara.

Israeli member of the Knesset and chair of political party Meretz recently explained why she boycotts products from Israeli settlements but opposes a boycott of Israel as a whole. This is a policy that makes a two-state solution more achievable. Settlements in the Jordan Valley – deep inside occupied Palestinian territory, and one of the most fertile parts of any viable future Palestinian state – are feeling the economic pinch as more and more consumers across Europe decide they will buy their veg from sellers who aren’t a blockage to peace.

So, I support Israel but not its right wing government. I support progressive voices and organisations in Israel who love their country but badly want peace and know that change is needed to bring this about. And rather than trying to silence criticism, I believe that we need to act in the year or so that remains where a two-state solution is possible. Join me in responding to the Co-op survey to tell them why their settlement policy is right, and why it makes it easier to put your progressive values into practice.

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Melanie Ward has visited Israel with the Union of Jewish Students and Labour Friends of Israel, has travelled extensively in the occupied Palestinian territory and worked there as a Human Rights Observer

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Photo: harrypope

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Comments: 3...

  1. On February 26, 2014 at 7:24 pm Anonymous responded with... #

    I find the timing of these renewed
    calls to boycott settlements and support for other punitive measures quite peculiar,
    considering both sides are sitting face-to-face for talks and negotiating over
    all the core issues. I wonder what is likely to
    have the most beneficial impact on those talks, and the willingness of both
    sides to make painful concessions. I assume the aim of a campaign targeting settlements
    & their long-term financial viability will make the Israeli negotiators
    more willing to make a deal. Perhaps, but it has a series
    of other ramifications- it shows many Palestinians (particularly in the PA
    & PLO) that they might be able to get their political goals outside of
    negotiations, which significantly weakens Abbas’ position internally and his
    ability to reach a deal. It may serve as a wake-up call to Israelis, but many
    felt that Europeans abandoned them during the second intifada, and boycotts
    confirm their worst fears that Europeans have always hated them and always
    will. I’m completely unconvinced that Israel makes a deal from a position of
    fear, which I think shows a profound misunderstanding of Israeli society &
    politics & history. Renewed calls for boycotts give people on Netanyahu’s
    right, such as Naftali Bennett or Danny Dayan, ammunition to hurt Netanyahu and
    his commitment to peace talks (it fits in well with an anti-european,
    anti-concession narrative).

    If we are really, truly interested in helping peace
    and making sure the two sides make a deal, let’s develop the promise of peace
    for both nations- let’s talk about the financial & economic & political
    advantages and how we’re going to help them create more prosperous, peaceful,
    and happy countries. And lets engage mass movement organisations that will need
    to mobilise to make peace a reality- the NGOs mentioned do important work, but
    they lack mass support and the ability to mobilise- the Israeli Labour party
    does. Lets do something positive to help people on both sides end this
    conflict.

    • On February 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm Dan Judelson responded with... #

      It would have been interesting to discuss these views at Dagenham CLP as planned last night Alex. I agree Israel is unlikely to negotiate from a position of fear, but who is ramping that fear up amongst the Israeli public, settlement boycotters or those even further right than Netanyahu?

      Back in June last year you wrote a piece for Left Foot Forward in which
      you seemed to back the idea of settlement boycotts
      (http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/06/boycotting-israel-moderate-voices-drowned-out/)
      . I’m assuming it is the existence of talks which have – perhaps
      temporarily – changed your outlook. If that is the case, then those
      talks need to be more evenly balanced than they seem to be at the
      moment.

      Reports of Kerry’s framework agreement (from Palestinians, confirming a significant amount of what has been “leaked” to media) suggest Abbas is hampered not by non governmental actions such as these, but a skewed playing field that no serious Palestinian negotiator could accept. A capital in Beit Hanina? When were the Clinton parameters – still vague, but with a equitable core principle – abandoned without
      protest?

      When I take UK Labour Party members to Israel and Palestine we spend time discussing issues with the Israeli Labor Party, we think that is crucial. But where is their mobilisation against the fear merchants I mention above? Much of that actually seems to come from the groups you discount in your comment. I would love it if the Israeli Labor Party acted as you suggested they should. They have a huge hill of distrust amongst voters and Palestinians to overcome: it lost support in the last elections partly for not addressing the Palestinian question at all. More significantly (in the overall context) they need to repair the massive damage done by Ehud Barak in declaring that the Palestinians were no partner for peace back in 2000. I think Hillik Bar is going some way to doing that but I don’t think we can watch and wait either.

      • On February 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm Anonymous responded with... #

        Sorry there’s been a mixup on Dagenham CLP- I left TUFI two months ago and passed on all the details to the organisation, not sure what’s happened there. I saw the leaks about Beit Hanina, but am skeptical about the contents of the talks until we hear more clearly about them in the framework agreement. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about 2000, you focus on Barak saying he didn’t have a partner for peace, I’d focus on the reaction of Americans & Saudis to Arafat walking away and supporting the second intifada. As far as the Israeli Labor party, I think the work of Hilik & the two-state caucus is beginning that mobilisation, but mobilisation on both sides will always be difficult in light of recent history, and shouldn’t be a criticism of either group. I also imagine mobilisation will pick up if talks get a lot further down the line and people know what’s happening in them.

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