Read my blog at Huffington Post

I also blog at Huffington Post's new UK site; please click here to read my posts there.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Peace moves in Tel Aviv, Washington, Paris, London - what about Ramallah?

I am not a conventional peace campaigner. When it comes to Israel's right to take tough action in its defence, I am sometimes fairly hawkish. Groups like J Street, "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans", whose 2009 Washington launch conference I had the privilege to attend as a British observer, are some way to the left of me. That said, I am a passionate supporter of all sensible efforts to achieve peace between Israel, the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours, including the latest French effort based on the concept of "two states for two peoples"; the Americans (contrary to some earlier expectations) are clearly not explicitly opposed to what the French are doing, whatever differences remain over whether or not to have an Israeli/Palestinian peace conference in Paris (and I'd love to know what British role there might be in this French initiative, given how closely London and Paris have been working on foreign policy).

'Peace' is not a magic wand that will wave away all problems, but it is surely possible to envisage a scenario in which two states, Israel and Palestine, co-exist, and that has to be an improvement on where we are today. The question, obviously, is how we get there, given how close we have come before, and given how many obstacles remain. I don't know the answer to that question. Neither, it must be said, does the Israeli peace movement, for all its undoubted benevolence, passion and tenacity.

Believing that as I do, it is, nonetheless, possible for me to commend them for shouting their message of peace from the rooftops, as who but the most cynical can oppose a sincere, impassioned call for peace? At the weekend in Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis marched for peace. Whether they represent many people beyond Israel's increasingly beleaguered, divided left-wing minority (which is perhaps showing some unexpected signs of life), I don't know, but an Israel that has such a peace movement is, for me, preferable to one that doesn't. 

I was interested to read this account of the weekend's march by Alexander Bodin Saphir, a board member of Yachad, the UK's own new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" movement. Yachad is basically the much-mooted, long-awaited British take on where J Street is coming from, and a lot of what it says will chime strongly with many Liberal Democrats. Again, I would say that Yachad is some way to the left of where I stand personally, although I liked this particular piece by its chair, Daniel Reisel, last week.

Where, meanwhile, is the Palestinian peace movement? Not only among the Palestinians themselves, but also among their proclaimed supporters in countries including the UK? At a time when British local authorities are passing inane motions that mention Palestinian suffering without even pretending to mention the threats faced by Israelis, where, among the Palestinians' most vocal supposed friends, are the voices calling for the sort of compromises that would bring about peace, justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike? As opposed, that is, to these people who happily support Hamas, despite Hamas' barbaric mistreatment of the Palestinian people of Gaza. Where, also, for that matter, is a Palestinian equivalent of Meir Dagan?

UPDATE on Wednesday 15 June: Germany's liberal Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, has come out strongly against a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at the UN in September, adding to a growing chorus of voices saying that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will be best-solved by negotiations, not by unilateral action.


  1. Most Palestinians would like peace more than anything else. But what do you expect them to do, march through the streets of Ramallah demanding a peace agreement that provides justice and security to the state of Israel?

    In the last few weeks there have been plenty of marches by Palestinians demanding a Palestinian state and it is great to see so many Israelis calling for exactly the same. There is still a big division between the different sides, not between Israelis and Palestians, but between those that are willing to negotiate a peace agreement now, and those on both sides that find excuses not to sit down together.

  2. Thank you. Yes, I would indeed like to see Palestinian people marching through the streets of Ramallah demanding a peace agreement that provides justice and security to the State of Israel and a viable state of Palestine.

    Just as I am pleased to see Israeli people marching through the streets of Tel Aviv demanding exactly the same thing.