Whatever your view on the Palestinian UN statehood bid, one thing is certain: it has garnered huge international interest. Following the tumultuous recent years with Iraq, Afghanistan, relations with Iran and most recently the Arab spring, the Israel-Palestine debate has almost entirely fallen off the radar.
This is scandalous if you consider the debilitating impact of ongoing conflict in the region on both Israelis and Palestinians.
Peace talks were initiated some 20 years ago and little concrete progress has been made.
More embarrassingly still, President Obama is faced with exercising the US veto at the UN Security Council despite his support for a two-state solution articulated in May this year.
Having visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as part of a Young Fabian delegation earlier this month, reading the press response has been depressing. Most British reporting focuses on whether the Palestinian bid should be supported or vetoed. Zero sum game politics is not an approach that will bring resolution in this matter.
The Palestinian bid for statehood is innovative and seeks to break the deadlock caused by the cessation of any meaningful peace talks. To respond with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is to miss the point.
There were two individuals we met as part of the delegation who particularly impressed me: one was Gilead Sher, a prominent Israeli negotiator at Camp David and the other was Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah minister. Sher emphasised the urgency of the situation; Fatah are good negotiating partners for peace but in the face of continued Israeli rebuffs cannot maintain legitimacy among their supporters.
The presence of Hamas in Gaza should be a constant reminder of this.
Undermining the Palestinian UN bid, which is essentially an instrument of Fatah, would be a hammer blow to Fatah’s credibility. On the other hand Dr Shtayyeh indicated awareness the UN bid was part of a process.
Both emphasised the need for creative thinking in resolving the process – deferring the Palestinian bid, vetoing it or abstaining is not a long term solution.
For these reasons we should support David Miliband’s calls in the Huffington Post for a creative approach from the Israelis. Complete opposition to Palestinian efforts to pursue peace through peaceful means such as their UN bid could have disastrous repercussions on the ground. It also leaves Israel very isolated.
However, Miliband is correct to point out that without serious discussions being restarted between the two any statehood bid would lack meaning. This must be within a framework set down by the international community and in particular with the involvement of the Arab League.
Palestinians deserve their own state. This can only be obtained if Israel can be satisfied that this new state can peacefully co-exist with Israel. Whilst there are real issues on both sides: security and the right to exist for Israel; refugees and settlements on the other – a permanent solution must be reached.
Peace will require difficult political decisions to be made. At the UN, Israel, the Palestinians and other voting states in the Security Council must show courage. Without this the cause of moderates on both sides will be lost.