Spreading ripples of hope from Europe to Palestine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Israel's West Bank separation barrier

Israel's West Bank separation barrier [Montecruz Foto/Flickr]

Four national European parliaments have already voted to recognize Palestinian statehood. It’s time the European Parliament does the same, Ilan Baruch writes.

Ilan Baruch was formerly the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Last week, a Palestinian minister was killed by Israeli soldiers during a non-violent protest in the West Bank. Ziad Abu Ein was committing no crime, just helping his fellow citizens plant olive trees to mark International Human Rights Day.

It was the latest tragedy in a year of heartbreak, one that saw peace talks fall to pieces, unspeakable destruction in Gaza, and a recent spree of gruesome killings. It is enough to make anyone give up in despair – to believe that this really is a crisis without a solution. But, remarkably, out of this wave of tragedies has come new hope, and a new urgency to get things right.

Since October, four European parliaments have voted to recognize Palestinian statehood. One EU government, Sweden, has formally done so. These votes, each overwhelming, are clear expressions of the popular will across Europe and would have seemed impossible just years ago. But momentum is building and now Europe’s politicians have the chance to make an even more significant splash. On Wednesday, the European Parliament will consider a resolution on Palestinian statehood and, in doing so, a new leadership role for Europe in driving a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict.

The key question facing the European Parliament is not whether to endorse statehood (something the UN, including a majority of member states, did in 2012), but rather the terms upon which recognition should be established.

Many MEPs believe a clear call on EU member states to recognize Palestine will help to restart serious negotiations for a real peace, and establish a more credible framework to end the occupation and stop settlement expansion. Others, notably leaders in the European People’s Party, have been pushing to strictly condition any call for recognition to the completion of bilateral peace talks. They worry that a clear vote to recognize Palestine will somehow jeopardize negotiations — which have been failing for decades — or even endanger Israel.

Of course the opposite is true. Clear, unconditioned recognition of Palestine will push the parties toward a final status agreement and help to rescue them from perpetual conflict. For this very reason, 800 prominent Israelis, including a Nobel laureate, a former Knesset Speaker, and a list of some of its finest public intellectuals, recently issued a public letter calling on European governments to recognize Palestine.

“It is clear to us that the chances of Israel’s survival and its security depend upon the creation of the State of Palestine, based on the 1967 borders as well as Israel’s recognition of Palestine and Palestine’s recognition of Israel,” the group wrote.

But there is more at stake than Israel’s security. There are the legitimate, decades-old demands of the Palestinian people. Statehood is not a reward to be bestowed on Palestinians, it is their right. Too often the international community, to its shame, has deferred the dream of Palestine, turned away from naked colonization, violence and the micro-aggressions of occupation. Now that legacy must and can come to an end.

A clear call on member-states to recognize Palestine would mark a historic moment. And this vote in the EP comes at a critical time. With habitual violence, unrestrained settlements growth and palpable anger over the daily indignities of occupation, the situation in Palestine has become unsustainable and the opportunity to achieve a just and secure peace grows less likely by the day. That’s why Europe’s leadership is so important. The parliament has the power to  amplify the call for freedom and peace, and accelerate the hopeful momentum building across Europe. The alternative is to resign Israelis and Palestinians to indefinite occupation and violence.

The American politician Robert F. Kennedy once said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Each of these parliamentary votes has been one such ripple —  propelling the Palestinians, Israelis, and our global community closer to peace. Let us hope the European Parliament follows suit.

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