Palestinian-Israeli peace was once close – we must get there again

It is great to start off an article on the Middle East on a positive note. On Friday, we learned that the father and mother of Councillor Nadia El-Nakla – the parents-in-law of First Minister Humza Yousaf – had safely made it out of Gaza and yesterday they arrived back in Scotland.

We can only imagine the stress and worry they have been under over the past month. On behalf of the Alba Party, I send my warmest well wishes to them and hope that everyone in similar circumstances is able to return to the company of their loved ones again soon.

Of course, because of the high-profile nature of this situation, we received regular updates through the press. But sadly many, many more people remain in a perilous situation.

Gaza right now is a place where the innocents are being slaughtered with, in some cases, death certificates being issued before birth certificates.

It is depressing the extent to which this human tragedy unfolding in the Middle East has become a matter of mere political posturing in UK politics.

The Tory Government decided early on to back the Israeli government come what may and to try to expose Keir Starmer to the charge of antisemitism which had so bedevilled his predecessor as Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer’s response was what the Blairites used to term “triangulation” ie to leave so little room between his position and that of the government that he could not be criticised.

Starmer overcooked this caution and is now facing a widespread rebellion within his own party by people who cannot understand why he is being equivocal on the issue of peace and justice when so many women and children are dying.

The problem with all this posturing is that Britain’s voice once mattered in these grave affairs, as the former colonial power.

Two generations ago, the bloody activities of terrorist faction the Stern Gang shocked the world. They no more represented the majority of Zionists than Hamas do the majority of Palestinians but they made peaceful resolution extraordinarily difficult which, of course, is the terrorists’ shared intent, then and now.

But the UK is not regarded as even-handed, or even important, in this latest crisis.

Alba believe that the perpetrators, such as Hamas, of terrorist atrocities against innocent civilians and children should be condemned without caveat and prosecuted as criminals. But even such appalling terror cannot justify a disproportionate military response which is resulting in the death of thousands more innocent civilians – in this case Palestinians.

Very soon the death toll of the innocents in Palestine in just a few weeks will surpass that of Ukraine in 18 bloody months.

Hamas should be treated as a terrorist organisation not the representatives of a state or a territory.

That’s why our party has been very supportive of the wise counsel of President Michael Higgins of Ireland in seeking an immediate ceasefire, justice for the Palestinian people and the provisioning and safe evacuation of Israeli hostages and civilians from a war zone.

The international community must now dedicate all its influence to urging all combatants to choose the path of de-escalation and ceasefire. Given the rejection by the Israeli leadership of even the “humanitarian pauses” proposed by the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, this may seem impossible.

But all wars come to an end and the more of us who argue for peace, the sooner the killing stops.

Furthermore, we must never be afraid of championing peace when the prize is a long-lasting settlement and political security in the Middle East and the alternative is an ever-present danger of escalation and total conflagration. We need to secure a ceasefire so that the killing stops. No rational person thinks otherwise.

Following which it is time for those in the world whom wield influence to bring to bear long-standing United Nations resolutions and to redirect resources dedicated to weapons of war to resourcing the difficult path to peace. After all we have been tantalisingly close before.

It is now more than 30 years since the first Oslo Accord was officially signed at a public ceremony in Washington DC. Many of us remember the historic moment when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat outside the White House with US President Bill Clinton. Rabin, of course, paid with his life for his vision of a lasting peace.

In essence, the accords called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and affirmed a Palestinian right of self-government within those areas through the creation of a Palestinian Interim Government Authority.

The founding principles of these Accords remain sound but until the killing stops there is no realistic prospect of having parties sit together to agree a lasting settlement. That is why pressure from the international community to demand a ceasefire and then ensure it is adhered to is vital.

Three decades ago the aim of Israeli–Palestinian negotiations was to establish a Palestinian Self-Governing Authority, an elected Council for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and a transition towards a permanent settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 – this was an integral part of the whole peace process.

This didn’t happen and sadly, over the decades the Palestinian Authority has failed in its key role of governance. It is widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, which is the key reason it was supplanted by Hamas in Gaza. However, the Palestinian Authority does remain willing to negotiate a settlement and carries UN recognition.

Where hope is suppressed there will always be opportunity for those who turn their backs on peaceful settlement to flourish. This does nothing but fan the flames of a vicious cycle of retaliation and escalation.
A short-term peace will eventually be achieved. We can only hope that when it does come it has not come too late for the lives of many more innocents. Lasting peace will only come with lasting liberty for the Palestinian people and the lasting security of the Israeli people – which in turn will only come from a successful and democratic Palestinian Authority.

It is in everyone’s interest to ensure Palestine does not fail. American interests would be better served if it concentrated its resources on the establishment of a successful Palestinian state, perhaps initially with the Gaza run as a UN protectorate, in conjunction with Sunni Muslim states.

In 1993 a path to peace was established and was indeed within reach but sadly the effort to see this through ended in the Rose Garden when what was needed was a mission that transcended a single US administration.

We cannot go back in time but we can try again.


(This article was first published in The National on 06/11/2023)

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