‘How do we define Zionism?’, ‘is conflict an inherently negative thing?’ and ‘what role can the grassroots play in reaching a solution to the conflict?’ were just some of the key issues discussed and debated over the course of our annual student leadership programme, which took place this year from the 5th to the 9th of September. It was immensely encouraging to see students from such diverse backgrounds, with very different (and often clashing) viewpoints come together to broaden their understanding, question their own opinions and above all, listen to the perspectives of others who grew up with very different narratives to their own - something that is so vital when approaching a conflict that so often polarizes and shuts down mutual, constructive engagement.
On the first day, following initial introductions and a brief explanation as to what the coming week would entail, we asked our participants to respond to a series of short statements by indicating whether they ‘agreed’, ‘strongly agreed’, ‘disagreed’, ‘strongly disagreed’ or were simply ‘neutral’. The activity began rather light-heartedly, with participants asked to respond to statements like whether they thought London is the most exciting city in the UK. Moving on to issues more closely related to the week’s discussions, participants were asked whether they thought conflict was inherently a negative thing. One participant, Hannah Radley, who agreed with the statement argued that anything where people are disagreeing in a way that causes harm must be negative, and that constructive change can happen in other ways. Those who disagreed, however, maintained that conflict can always serve as a learning curve for subsequent generations, with one participant, Zain Hussain, arguing that despite conflicting views, we can nonetheless reach a place where we understand each other more. Discussions about the nature of conflict set the stage for the final statement to address, ‘I believe in the power of the grassroots to make a positive change for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’ Tellingly, most participants strongly agreed with this statement, and when asked reasons why they thought that bottom-up approaches could operate constructively, a range of responses were given. Firstly, some said that on a smaller, communal level, Israelis and Palestinians can create better relations, representing a more ‘organic’ way of reaching mutual peace and security. Zain stated that the willingness to create peace is itself a driving force for finding solutions, a sentiment displayed wonderfully by our participants over the course of the week ahead! Discussions on the ‘disagree’ side, however, centered on the importance of larger-scale politics complementing the work of grassroots organisations if true peace is to be achieved. Two hours in, and the participants were already showing a keen awareness of some of the most important issues and a readiness to debate them!
We then showed our participants a short, 20-minute video of Sharon in the region, detailing a brief history of the region and discussing the two different narratives with an ordinary Israeli and Palestinian. This short clip managed to stimulate a very fruitful discussion: with participants displaying an immediate interest in the alternative narratives of ‘Israeli Independence Day’ and the Palestinian ‘Nakba’. Participants soon began discussing amongst themselves how we define a nation’s ‘independence day’, with one participant questioning how appropriate this term really is if there were already people inhabiting the land, and another student outlining the importance of this day in celebrating the fact that Jewish people finally felt like they had somewhere to call ‘home’. Needless to say, it was clear that our students had very different understandings of how to interpret a particular event in history - one of our participants from the University of Exeter, Sarah Schneider, said she was unaware that the two narratives of ‘Nakba’ and ‘Independence’ existed in parallel, making it clear that this conflict is one that resists any easy simplification. Following the video, we also discussed the difference between solutions at a higher level and solutions on the grassroots level, highlighting the disparity between individuals who want to live in peace and governments who often benefit from the continuation of the conflict. Hannah Radley, who described herself as of a liberal Jewish background, said that the video made her appreciate the importance of both ‘Palestinian self-determination and Jewish self-determination’, for if ‘one people has the right to self-determination, so does the other’. Amidst further discussions about the role of religion, ideological settlers and British involvement in the region, our students displayed a remarkable awareness of the core issues of the conflict - touching on many of the topics that would later be expanded on during the week.
Building on the themes discussed, it was particularly instructive to see that participants had very different reasons for joining the programme and wanting to know more about the conflict. Sara El-Kateep, a Palestinian student from the University of Southampton, said that she had been aware of the conflict for a long time, but primarily from one side, and was eager to see what ‘other people [her] age thought of the situation’. Hannah Radley said she felt that this programme would allow her to develop ‘the tools…to come to a more structured solution.’ Speaking to participants over the course of the week, and asking them about aspects of the course that really stood with them, it was quite fascinating to see how our students had changed, or at least re-considered, some of the ideas they came with. In particular, one of our youngest participants, Amina Gaddah, stated that she had previously been unaware that Zionism, just like so many words, means so many different things for different people - a sentiment later echoed by Sara. Secondly, Hannah said that before the discussion with Daniel Levy about Palestinian resistance, she had never thought of BDS as a means towards Palestinian freedom, rather than an end in itself. In her own words, this ‘made me look at BDS in a different way and support [it] in a way that I didn’t before.’ These two examples are a testament to just how the discussions and debates of this week, both between speakers and participants and between participants themselves, introduced new angles of approaching and understanding this conflict.
Two narratives, two histories, and two peoples: a session with Dr Tony Klug
This year’s leadership programme began with a talk by Dr Tony Klug, a veteran analyst of Arab-Israel issues who currently serves as a special advisor on the Middle East to the Oxford Research Group. In describing his experience working with a diverse range of people invested in the conflict, including student unions, Klug introduced us to his personal approach in understanding the past and present situation in Israel-Palestine: the ‘’only way of making sense of the conflict was by realising I couldn’t write one history because there wasn’t one history’’. Rather than eliminating the human, emotional element of the situation, he said that these are two peoples with two histories, with stories that must be seen subjectively through their own eyes. After all, ‘’if you don’t see it as they see it, you cannot understand what this conflict is about or look at solutions.’’
Dr Klug delivered an informative session on the key aspects of each narrative, describing with emotion the two Palestinian Intifadas, the historic Israel-Egypt peace deal, the phenomenon of Israeli triumphalism and the mistaken blame attributed to Yasser Arafat for the failure at Camp David. On the topic of solutions, Dr Tony Klug outlined his own strategy of asking: ‘what are the minimum, absolute, irreducible aspirations of both parties?’ The answer he comes to is the power of ‘self-determination’ in a country that each regards as its own, and it is from this starting point that the idea of a ‘two-state’ solution first arose. Most importantly, he concluded with the statement that the key to any solution is that we must ‘work with local peoples from the inside out, rather than impose from the outside in.’ This stimulated a very interesting discussion, with participants keen to gain an insight into the work of Dr Klug with Israelis and Palestinians, as well his own thoughts on some of the pressing issues of the conflict.
Hannah Radley, one of our most engaging and thoughtful participants, asked Dr Klug whether he thought that ‘Israeli triumphalism’ was still an issue in the conflict. Klug highlighted that the opinion of the Israeli right wing shows that this triumphalism is still present, often manifesting itself in claims that it is not necessary to do a deal with the Palestinians. Questions then became more solutions-oriented, with Daniel St John asking how it would be possible to counteract the current stalemate in negotiations. Tony Klug responded by saying that the basic formula for peace would be that Israel continues to live in a state free of threat, and Palestinians too have their own state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Klug constantly stressed, however, that this solution must be the result of the people’s own free will. Continuing this theme, Sarah Schneider proceeded to ask whether true peace was possible following decades of occupation and Israeli oppression. Tony Klug admitted that the longer the conflict goes on, the greater the hatred and resentment - making it imperative to find a solution that satisfies the needs and rights of both parties concerned. Invoking his own experience of working with Palestinians and Israelis together, he told our participants that there is indeed potential for collaboration and joint ventures, in fact a ‘thirst’ for it, but the structural situation must allow these to flourish. Stating that there can be no ‘normal’ relations between an occupying authority and an occupied people, Klug offered his own idea of what the first step might look like in establishing peace: if Israel says, in principle, that it is willing to withdraw from the West Bank and establish a Palestinian state, much of the animosity that has festered between the two sides would be diluted. These ideas and suggestions provided much scope for thought for the participants, introducing our students to themes that would later be revisited during the week.
Finally, Dr Tony Klug ended with some passionate advice for our young people: we must look at this conflict as one that needs to be resolved, rather than entrenching us into polarising sides - such that we forget that this conflict is about the reality of millions of Palestinians and Israelis, and not ourselves. One of our students, Sarah, said to us after the session that when she first came, she was not convinced that a two-state solution was the best outcome for the region. However, after hearing Dr Tony Klug, she said that she began looking at the prospect of a two-state solution in a new light, believing it to be the most effective agreement if Palestinians are to be guaranteed their human rights. In her view, the only way forward from here is to have a clear objective, and ‘start living as people again’ in moving further to a positive outcome: because ultimately ‘coexistence is a lot easier as a concept if you get ahead around solutions, not emotions.’ (Sarah Schneider)
Our story, our voices: discussions with Saif, Ruba, and Shay
It is not often that we get to hear the voices of ordinary citizens caught up in conflict, discussing their own stories about life in the region and hopes for the future. This year, however, we were incredibly lucky to have Shay Gal from Israel join us for the week of the leadership programme, providing his own perspectives on topics discussed and getting to know our students. We were also joined by Ruba, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Saif Aqel, a Palestinian activist, on Skype.
On the first day, we had a Skype session with Saif, who offered us his own perspective as a Palestinian student. He told us about the current apathy and frustration among Palestinians, the problem of settlement expansion, the moderate voices among Hamas and the daily struggles of living under occupation. We got an insight into how, despite these daily frustrations and obstacles, activists in the region can nonetheless channel their energy in a positive way towards non-violent resistance. A great reminder that all work towards solutions must focus on the needs of Palestinians and Israelis, rather than our own identity politics.
Many of the questions put to Saif were particularly insightful, as participants were keen to know about his own story and perspectives on issues ranging from the effectiveness of BDS and social media as political tools, to the level of hope that Palestinians have in neighbouring Arab countries. Two of the most interesting questions were those put forward by Amina and Sarah, who asked respectively: ‘do you see your human rights compromised as a Palestinian?’ and ‘how do you view individual Israelis, would you blame them or try to understand their perspective?’ In response to the first, Saif stated that the occupation represents the key obstacle to Palestinians being guaranteed their human rights, with common arrests and tough responses to non-violent protests in the region. In response to Sarah’s question about how he views individual Israelis, Saif responded by saying that we should not be focused on the emotional issue of ‘blame’, but should rather direct our energies towards the pragmatic issue of solutions. Drawing on the fact that many Israeli activists too participate in peaceful protests in the West Bank, Saif said: ‘if Israelis are mobilising public opinion towards peace, towards the idea that Palestinians deserve their own state, I will do my best to raise their voices.’ Speaking to Sarah that Monday evening, she remarked that one of the most encouraging things she had heard was that Saif, as a Palestinian, had met Israeli activists who were committed to the same goal that he is - and by doing so, could serve as a living example of the fact that individual Israelis are not to be hated, which Israelis in turn can do for the Palestinian side. She added that despite the gap between politicians who often want to perpetuate the conflict and members of the civil society who are pushing for peace, she remains optimistic about a solution. This is because, in her own words, ‘as soon as you become pessimistic, you start to normalise.’
Later during the week, we spoke to another Palestinian, Ruba from Jerusalem who shared with us her family’s story and her own experiences growing up in the region. Amidst discussions about how we define where ‘home’ is and what it means to feel safe in a particular place, we got onto the topic of the ‘Nakba’ or the Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ of 1948. A key aspect of the Palestinian narrative, it was particularly moving to hear Shay, our Israeli speaker, assert that ‘we, as Israelis have to take responsibility for what happened and be part of the solution to the Nakba’. He went on to say that the ‘first step in being part of the solution is to recognise that it [the catastrophe] happened’, alluding to the problem of ‘Nakba denial’ amongst some sections of Israeli society. In his view, Israel should have a Nakba memorial day, and as a testament to this, he says that every year in his annual Facebook post celebrating Israeli independence, he includes mention of the Nakba and the pain it brought to the people of the land. He summarised it pretty well when he said, ‘as Israelis, we can’t solve the conflict without a recognition of the suffering of Palestinians.’
Shay continued to provide us with perspectives on many of the issues that were discussed over the course of the week. During the discussion about Palestinian nationalism, he expressed clearly that he views himself as both a ‘pro-Palestinian [and] a Zionist’ - because self-determination for one peoples means self-determination for the other - touching on the varying definitions of the term ‘Zionism’ that was a major theme throughout the week. In fact, he said, ‘as Zionists, we should understand Palestinian hopes for independence’, making it clear that the desires and needs of both sides are often closer than we imagine. In his discussion with Atef Alshaer, who delivered a talk on nationalism in Palestine, Shay identified that where the civil society at large wants peace, the problem is that the government tells Israeli civilians that resolving the conflict is not in Israel’s best interests. During his later discussion with our students, Shay stated passionately that it is for this reason he has chosen the route of peaceful activism: he sees it as his duty to tell Israeli citizens about the truth of the situation in the occupied West Bank - ‘I’m proud and I have to work to push people to do the brave and right thing’. (Shay Gal)
In an illuminating and honest discussion about his work, Shay admitted that while a lot of people in Israeli society agree with his activism that seeks to engage the Palestinian side as a ‘partner for peace’, there are still those that disagree - because the left-wing in Israel are commonly viewed as ‘traitors’ to the Zionist cause. However, as a proud Zionist, Shay affirms that the only way to keep Israel truly safe is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The biggest obstacle, in his view, is not the mainstream public, but rather the leaders who choose to misrepresent the realities of the ‘other’ narrative. In a particularly passionate statement, Shay said: ‘I decided to learn Arabic in order to understand the Palestinians, I decided to join the Knesset to make a change, I decided to be a peace activist to provide people with both sides of the narrative.’
With all this week’s discussion about issues ranging from British involvement in Palestine, the two narratives, the economic situation in Gaza and the history of international negotiations, it is easy to forget about the smaller, more intimate ways that dialogue and discussion can have an impact on someone. We were reminded of this, however, during a poignant confession by Sara El Kateep, a Palestinian student, who stated that the most memorable thing for her was talking to Shay - ‘an Israeli living in Israel, [someone] who the entire world told me was my enemy…and I realised that we have so many similar things in common.’ The two later shared a hug, and Shay offered to show Sara around Israel any time she visited. In that instant, the politics didn’t matter - it was the human connection that was truly important. It is perhaps this moment, more than any other, that really encapsulated the power of interaction amongst the grassroots and the importance of ‘humanising’ each side involved. As Ruba so wonderfully expressed, the key to a solutions-based approach is to look at people as people, who have grown up with their own stories and a particular history that is integral to their identity. Rather than focusing on the anger, though it is there, there is a way to actively push for and shape a better future - one that begins, with the recognition that, ‘whatever your opinions are, we must focus on the fact that people don’t always choose where they’re from and by acknowledging this, we can better understand their experience’ (Ruba).
Let’s talk leadership: a workshop with Mohammed Ali Amla
On the third day of the leadership programme, Mohammed Ali Amla, a freelance project manager, trainer and researcher, who delivers training on issues ranging from peace building to interfaith and youth activism, came to deliver a workshop on what we mean by leadership. It began with an open, honest discussion with our participants about their own vision of what it means to be a good leader, with examples ranging from ‘Gandhi’ to ‘my grandfather’. Out of all the sessions this week, this was one where participants really got to know each other, sharing their key motivations for activism, as well as their broader hopes for the future. Amla prompted students to ask themselves how we actually push for peace and build bridges without fostering polemic - Sarah was particularly passionate about the role of the grassroots, saying that we need to fight for empowerment ‘through the people, and see the public as the best way for change.’ We discussed how constructive, long-term solutions cannot arise from a single source, but rather demand different forms of engagement, identifying allies for peace at varying levels. The discussion soon turned to the difficult issue of defining and collaborating with a ‘partner for peace’, as well as what we mean by a democratic state and how we can foster democracy in a ‘natural’ rather than ‘artificial’ form.
If leadership is truly, as Amla stated, about ‘complimenting your weaknesses with the strengths of others’, the key to any successful leader is self-knowledge. Building on this, participants were asked to tell us a bit about their journey and their motivations for joining the programme. Many of our participants and volunteers cited their faith as motivating their activism and desire for change -Sabah Choudhry said that her motivation to seek peace is one fuelled by the stress in Islam on gaining knowledge and putting it to good use. Esther too, told us that her Jewish faith plays a massive part in how she sees the world, inspiring her to strive for further understanding and peaceful action.
Jasper Nagra, one of our participants from Coventry University, said that he particularly appreciated being able to understand each speaker’s viewpoint, with his inspiration for activism being his upbringing which raised him to learn as much as possible, assess every situation and evaluate how best to act on that knowledge. Annisa Khan, who studies at Bristol, said that taking part in the programme really made her realise that ‘although this conflict is in Israel-Palestine, it has wider implications for the rest of the world.’ For many of our participants, the most memorable aspect of the programme was meeting and having conversations with their peers, usually in the informal setting of an evening dinner (as one of our participants, Daniel, reminded us, ‘food is the way to peace’). Hibah told us she had only ever seen and heard the Palestinian viewpoint, and had never actually met a Jewish or Israeli person!
Similarly, for Hannah, the constructive dialogue between her and the other participants was a particularly inspiring part of the entire programme, as she was able to see that even if opinions and narratives differ, we can all ‘find common ground [we] never thought we would find’ (Gemma) and thus pay a positive role in pushing for meaningful change. It was so great to see how much the participants drew on the knowledge and experiences of each other to inform their own understanding - on this point, Helena Rodgers said the most memorable part for her was hearing participants like Amina (who said that one of the key things she had taken away from the programme was that the term ‘Zionism’ has so many different definitions) share how they had re-considered their perspective on a particular issue. All participants reflected on their learning experiences so far, with Sarah expressing her enthusiasm to be part of a forum where she can truly be ‘for the people’. We are grateful to Mohammed Ali Amla, whose interactive workshop provided the participants with a much needed time for reflection and discussion - and above all, a time to share their own personal stories with each other.
This was, however, not the only time where the spotlight was on our students to lead the discussions and engage with each other more informally. In an activity motivated by Sahdia Khan’s session on the dialogue and peace work she does as part of ‘Encompass Trust’, we organised the participants into a circle with four seats in the centre for those that wish to speak on the statement given. This was the famous ‘fishbowl’, and needless to say, things got quite heated - with debates ranging from whether Benjamin Netanyahu is a good prime minister for Israel, to whether the conflict is the manifestation of a more deep-seated rivalry between Muslims and Jews. We also got thinking about what it means for a nation to be more ‘secure’, and how it is that we can push for the security of both sides in this conflict. When participants told us their most memorable moments at the end of the week, most stressed the conversations with other participants and learning from them - despite such different backgrounds and opinions, they were all committed to the conviction that a solution was needed sooner rather than later. It became clear for many of our students, that whilst it is easy to speak about the conflict in Israel-Palestine as a rather distant phenomenon, in fact when we consider how the issues of religion and nationalism are tied to people’s identities, it becomes something much easier to connect with. As Seb so beautifully expressed, ‘what divides us is nothing compared to what we have in common and what we share.’
Some key snippets from Q&A sessions
Here is a snapshot of just some of the questions asked during our leadership programme during different sessions. Have a read to find out what our participants were particularly interested in!
Talk on economics and the conflict with Sebastian Welisiejko
1. Sarah: is the GDP per capita in Palestine growing or declining in past years?
Sebastian: It is stagnating. It dropped in 2014 because of the war. The Palestinian economy felt its first real contraction in more than a decade.
2. Gemma: How can we deal with the issue settlers in any future peace negotiation?
Sebastian: 10% of the population of the West Bank are settlers. Of those, most are in East Jerusalem and some are well inside West Bank. Ariel has 50000 settlers with factories and universities, they are whole cities. Because of this there must be land swaps to give those settlements to Israel. If you swap 3% of land, can give 75% of settlers to Israel, because most live near the border!
3. Nawshin: what is the reason people don’t want to invest in Palestine?
Sebastian: There are a whole range of reasons. There is no doubt that there is talent and human capital all over Palestine. But the whole environment for doing business is very bad. In Palestine, you can’t export goods and fresh produce directly, they either go to Israel or Jordan and military checkpoints prevent this from occurring efficiently and smoothly. In an uncertain climate, there is very little economic activity unfortunately.
4. Sarah: what is the status of natural resources like oil pipelines?
Sebastian: Palestinians cannot fully access their natural resources because of restrictions. In Area C, most of the West Bank is controlled by Israel. In Area B, there is civil control by Palestinians and military control by Israelis. Area A has full Palestinian control. But in Area C, Palestinians are not able to dig wells without Israeli approval, and Israel often refuse requests. Palestinians also have restrained access and there are no generation points for electricity in the West Bank either. Overall, Palestinians are losing about $3.4 billion by not being able to access area C properly.
5. Amina: If Palestinians can’t dig, why won’t Israelis allow them to gain enough money to pay off electricity bills?
Sebastian: This ties into the whole crux of conflict. Israelis will say it is for security reasons that they will not give a gas field to Hamas because they will use it for rockets. Though it would be great for employment.
6. Sara: Palestinians can’t dig and there is rife youth unemployment, so how can they pay electricity bills?
Sebastian: Unless we move from a system of dependence to investment and the economy is allowed to breathe, we are not going anywhere. The Palestinian economy needs to be allowed to flourish, by removing this system of complete dependence on Israel.
7. Leora: does the BDS movement hurt Palestinians?
Sebastian: Considering the recent example where the Sodastream office was shut down, it is true that 600 Palestinians lost their jobs. But equally, they were employed in an illegal settlement. We must decide what comes first - jobs or international law. I want to know your opinions about BDS. Generally, BDS does much more politically than it does economically, unless it comes from big companies. It is true that you are harming Palestinians through BDS, because 85% of Palestinian’s little exports go to Israel, 65% come from Israel - so if you are boycotting Israel, you are boycotting Palestine indirectly (because of the joint economies established during Paris Protocol). BDS does have merit in terms of political pressure, but it is dubious economically because Israeli GDP will not be harmed meaningfully until something big happens i.e. if companies like Microsoft and Google announce a boycott.
8. Hannah: how much of Israeli security concerns are genuine and how much is used to justify consistent oppression?
Sebastian: I think it is a bit of both. There are definitely politicians that push the argument for political purposes. But equally it’s probably not a good idea to give a gas field to Hamas - they might not use it peacefully.
9. Sarah: How does Israel benefit from the occupation economically? What would happen if it lost US foreign aid? Would it put enough pressure on Israel to withdraw occupation?
Sebastian: Israel doesn’t need to occupy another people to be successful. There are many vested interests by some factions to keep the status quo. Lot of people make money out of it - as a Palestinian trader, for example, it is difficult to export goods out of the country so they use an Israeli middle man - and they make money through this. Overall though, it doesn’t make sense to the country to continue this occupation.
Discussion on the history of negotiations with Daniel Levy
1. Hannah: is it true to say that there can be no Palestinian state without recognition of the legitimacy of the Jewish state?
Daniel: Theoretically no – a 2 state outcome demands recognition between 2 states. The problem is that we 2 structures in Palestin: Mahmoud Abbas is head of 2 organisations, the first is the PA which provides basic services for Palestinians (by day) in limited areas of the West Bank, and the second is the PLO (by night) – the irony is that his job in PA depends on the goodwill from the same folks he is trying to liberate himself from!
2. Jasper: is the international community’s lack of resistance to Israel part of the growth of the right?
Daniel: It certainly can be seen as part of it. Likud is a hard-line party of the right, and is openly racist: mainstream right wing politics and the reason things have become so extreme is because Israel has gotten away with it. Palestinian leadership can also be seen as acquiescent in this; no-one ever got freedom because people were happy – people get freedom by making hard choices.
3. Hannah: why hasn’t the international community given Israel a good ‘telling off’?
Daniel: Israel is a state, with state machinery. Palestinians are currently a divided movement (Geographically and politically), so the tools of the parties are drastically different. There is no real translation of sympathies into deliverance e.g. ending relations with companies that give mortgage to settlement houses (BDS on a large scale could work). The problem is people don’t like to do divisive things. The ability to accuse people of anti-Semitism to deflect any criticism is also devastating for Palestinians.
4. Sara: what are the disadvantages of BDS?
Daniel: Strategically it makes more sense to go after the occupation, rather than Israel itself – there needs to be a clearer goal to the BDS movement. A smarter BDS strategy would be targeted against the occupation. BDS should not be the ‘headline’ goal, but should rather be used as a tool or a means, with the goal as Palestinian freedom.
5. Lawrence: what is your opinion on Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza?
Daniel: It was a unilateral disengagement by punishing Palestinians elsewhere. Partial deoccupying and imprisoning another area of population is not a good idea. The goal is 2 states with 2 peoples.
6. Gemma: how much has Palestinian terrorism made Israeli society more right wing, are there other factors involved?
Daniel: Yes, there are two types of armed resistance: legal and illegal. Illegal one targets civilians, which is illegal under international law. Israeli politicians tell the public that this is inherent to Palestinians. The insecurity amongst Palestinians is on a different level - they do not have a police, state or army to defend them. Until both sides can empathise with each other, the conflict will remain at stalemate. Palestinians must recognise that Palestinian indiscriminate killing has done much damage to their cause, and Israelis must realise that they cannot allow people to live in the violence of occupation - there needs to be a mutual recognition.
Talk on the Balfour Declaration with Sir Vincent Fean
1. Amina: why do the UK and Israel not apologise for the things they’ve done when other countries expected to apologise?
Vincent: The British government won’t apologise for what it said 100 years ago, we don’t ask other states to apologise – I am more interested in what we can do now.
Sara: Apology would be more of a symbolic gesture - recognising our responsibility in bringing the current situation about.
2. Hibah: why Britain hasn’t recognised Palestine right now?
Vincent: The reason given is that we think that withholding that recognition makes it more likely that there will be negotiations i.e. recognition should be a reward for good behaviour in the talks. I think this is the reverse of logic.
3. Nawshin: can you describe the shift in your thought process from when you were in Baghdad and then moving to Jerusalem?
Vincent: I would say it was mainly related to matters of my conscience – after all, to make a judgement on something, you have to see it. I think that security for the Israeli state is inconsistent with the occupation. I don’t accept the premise that security for state of Israel is more important than the rights of the Palestinians - both are reconcilable. Sights of checkpoints, walls and sights of enclosure on Gaza, gives you an impression. There is, at the same time, no excuse and justification for bus bombs - these are not the way to solve this conflict.
4. Sarah: who directs the policy on this? Have you heard of any unconventional solutions that might kickstart this with a fresh approach, as opposed to normal cycle of failed negotiations?
Vincent: Mrs May will decide the policy on this, taking advice from Boris Johnson. One unorthodox solution I heard was in Ramallah, who was not keen on Abbas’ idea of going to the UN and was instead keen to build up the institutions of the Palestinian state so that the West and Israel would think it is a safe bet to concede land and security control to Palestinians. The emphasis of that approach was creating a judiciary and other institutions that might be trusted by other side. After all, Israel won’t pull out and leave a vacuum but will only do so when something strong is in place.
5. Jack: If Hamas won elections in the West Bank, how much would that backtrack Western policy towards the West Bank?
Vincent: Really, we don’t know. The West boycotted Hamas’ government in 2006. We don’t know whether Hamas will win, because there are no elections any time soon. I would a prefer conversation between Hamas and the UK government – ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, but talking to them might reveal some way forward.