The UK must recognise Palestine as a state

AFTER elections in Israel and the UK, we are still looking for peace in the Holy Land. We need urgently to widen and intensify the search, because the fairest, best, and lasting solution – two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and mutual security – is in jeopardy. The best thing we can do is to encourage our Government to recognise the State of Palestine in 2015, alongside the State of Israel as recognised by us in 1950.

There are many reasons why it is right for the UK to recognise both states, on the basis of the borders existing before the 1967 war. One is that the Christian leaders in Jerusalem have been asking us to do so since September 2011, when they issued a joint statement, saying: “Israelis and Palestinians must live each in their own independent states with peace and justice, respecting human rights according to international law.”

Last week, the Church of Scotland General Assembly also urged the British Government and the EU to recognise Palestine “as a contribution to securing lasting peace and justice for all”. The Quakers agree, as do the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang, who speak on foreign relations in their respective Churches.

The two Bishops issued a joint statement last October, saying that “the Palestinians should also have a state that they can at long last call home.” The Vatican’s decision to recognise the State of Palestine confirms this assessment.

THE Israel-Palestine conflict is both a moral and a political issue. We are all equal in the eyes of God, but humankind has foisted a different order on the Holy Land, subordinating one people to another, ostensibly for security reasons. That order cannot and must not last, but be transformed into mutual security between neighbours, leading to mutual esteem.

In a lecture this month for the charity Embrace the Middle East, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams quoted St Anthony of Egypt: “Our life and our death are with our neighbour.” Israelis and Palestinians are each other’s nearest neighbour, and always will be.

They need to choose equality in life, restored land, free movement, and secure justice for all. The current Archbishop of Canterbury summed it up during his visit to the Holy Land in 2013: “Security for Israel, justice for Palestinians, and peace for all.”

TODAY, the political prospects for negotiations between the two parties are bleak. This is dangerous. Extremism grows where fair negotiation fails. There are issues on both sides. The West Bank and Gaza need to find a way to reunite in deed, not just in word. Palestinian elections are long overdue.

That said, Israel’s responsibility to address the conflict equitably is greater, since the Occupying Power is just that – the controlling power in the land. If we undertake to rebuild Gaza, Israel must not knock down what we put up.

Elections in Israel resulted in a government that wishes to build more illegal settlements and prolong the Occupation which began in 1967. Mr Netanyahu has appointed a justice minister whose party seeks illegally to annex all the Palestinian countryside of the West Bank, and to destroy the second state in the Holy Land. For our good, and the long-term good of both parties to the conflict, that is not the way.

The way forward starts with recognising the equal right of both peoples in the Holy Land to their own state, narrative, and culture. We did that, rightly, with Israel, generations ago. We should do the same in 2015 with Palestine, while insisting on the security and well-being of the people of Israel, which is indissolubly linked with the security and rights of the Palestinian people.

The way forward entails Christian prayer for peace, visiting as pilgrims when we can, and supporting those working daily on the ground to keep hope alive and bring peace nearer – including charities such as Friends of the Holy Land and Embrace the Middle East, which are both striving to sustain the dwindling Christian communities there. Their continued presence is vital to the diversity of life – and the mutual support of neighbours – in both states in the Holy Land.

THIS conflict needs to be resolved, not just managed: it is unmanageable. It can be resolved, but that requires more effort than the parties to it themselves can or currently will muster.

With France, the UK is consistently present in those forums where the wider international community addresses the crisis, particularly the UN Security Council, the EU, and NATO.

The UK is also a close ally of the United States, which has tended to monopolise peacemaking efforts, but, I hope, has learned from its failures the need to engage others more, including Europe, the Arab states, and Russia.

The UK has influence in varying degrees with all of the players, and tries hard to put it to good use, often behind the scenes. British government action to recognise the State of Palestine on 1967 lines – ideally with France, Ireland, and other EU partners – is the single best thing we can do now to promote peace with justice, and to preserve the solution of two states.

If you agree, pray, or pay, or lobby – or, best of all, do all three. Christians know the power of prayer, and the healing it brings. But this is a man-made conflict: we cannot just leave God to sort it out. We can give money and our time to charities engaged in mitigating the effects of the conflict, including those working to sustain the Christian living stones in the Holy Land.

We can also make resolving the conflict a priority. As this is both a political and moral issue, our elected representatives and our spiritual leaders need to speak out and act. By recognising Palestine alongside Israel, we regain our balance – politically and morally. There is more to do, but recognition makes us better placed to do it.

Sir Vincent Fean was British Consul‐General in Jerusalem, 2010-14

Church Times