Middle East peace: the Balfour project

Summary: a call to action from the Balfour Project in support of reconciliation in the Holy Land.

In the current absence of any Middle East peace process we thank Vincent Fean for the “Call to Action” issued in Edinburgh on 17 March by the Balfour Project, which sets out some of the principles on which a peace process could be based, including recognition of the state of Palestine alongside Israel. He is Chair of trustees of the Balfour Project and was British Consul-General in Jerusalem from 2010 to 2014.

Jeremy Hunt follows the US line in an article today 21 March in the Jewish Chronicle, the UK’s leading Jewish newspaper, arguing that the UN Human Rights Council’s concentration on Israel and the occupied territories strengthens self-righteousness and obstructs the quest for peace in the Middle East; in future the UK will vote against all texts proposed under “Item 7”, which is reserved for Israel and the occupied territories.

Sir Vincent writes:

The Balfour Project is a charity with an educational aim – to raise awareness in Britain of our Government’s historical role (for good and ill) in what is now Israel/Palestine, from before the Balfour Declaration through the Mandate period and to the present. The Project seeks to explore options for a better future for all who live between the Sea and the River, and advocates British Government recognition of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel on pre-June 1967 lines.

In October 2014, the House of Commons voted strongly in favour of recognising Palestine, only for Prime Minister Cameron to reject the recommendation. Since then, the Middle East Peace Process has ceased to have any meaning. The Government of Israel does not consider itself bound by UN Security Council Resolutions, the Quartet Roadmap, or the Arab Peace Initiative. The Palestinian body politic is united only in rejecting President Trump as anything but an honest broker. Against this backdrop, last week the Balfour Project gathered 700 people in Glasgow and Edinburgh to learn of the intolerable living conditions in Gaza and the difficulties of media reporting of the plight of 2 million people.

What emerged from Edinburgh – Balfour’s home university – was the attached Scottish Call to Action – Towards an independent Palestinian State. It will be debated in the Scottish Parliament, and aired at Westminster when MPs come up for air.

It is worth remembering that the United Kingdom recognises states, not governments. Recognition of the state of Palestine does not mean support for any political faction. I believe that UK recognition of Palestine alongside Israel – ideally in concert with other European states – is an essential step towards equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine.

Israel/Palestine: Equal Rights Towards an independent Palestinian state: a Scottish call to action

17 March 2019

From Edinburgh, and the home university of Arthur Balfour, we acknowledge Britain’s historical responsibilities in the Holy Land, from before the Balfour Declaration through the British Mandate to today. Gaza was, is, and always will be, an integral part of Palestine. Past British responsibility for present injustice demands British engagement to work urgently for a better future.

The Jewish people exercised their right to self-determination in the Holy Land more than 70 years ago. To this day, the Palestinian people are denied this sacred right. This is the injustice which must end.

Our focus today is on Scotland’s role in influencing Britain as a whole – its Government and civil society – to act for true equality: a policy based on those universal values which Britain helped enshrine in international law.

Palestinians and Israelis are obliged to share the Holy Land forever. Inequality does not bring safety and well-being. But how to move to peaceful coexistence, to reconciliation? The two peoples, acting alone, cannot resolve this. So, for the good of both, we must help. President Trump is a hindrance, not a help.

Today we have heard of repressive, dehumanising occupation, violent deaths, injuries and trauma. Rockets only add to the fear and mistrust which haunt both sides. Decisive change on the ground is needed, now.

So, we call for these six measures to be taken:

  • First, an end to the closure of Gaza. Twelve years of blockade have blighted lives, increased aid dependency and destroyed hope, especially among the young
  • Second, true freedom of worship for all believers – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – at their holy sites in Jerusalem, which must be the shared capital of two states
  • Third, respect for the rule of law embodied in UN Security Council Resolutions, most recently Resolution 2334. It condemns illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories Israel occupied in 1967, and calls on all states to distinguish between them and the territories of the state of Israel
  • Fourth, accountability and serious consequences for breaking international law;
  • Fifth, recognition by the UK Government and European partners of the state of Palestine alongside Israel
  • Sixth, UK Government commitment to defend the fundamental rights of both peoples, including their right to security. Free movement of persons and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Palestine and the world, is just such a right.

Patrons: Rt Hon Tom Brake MP , Richard Burden MP, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Rt Rev Declan Lang, Baroness Morris of Bolton, Dr Philippa Whitford MP Balfour Project, 30 South Oswald Road, Edinburgh EH9 2HG. email: info@balfourproject.org

Balfour Project is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) Charity number SC047090

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