Why Europe Should Vote ‘Yes’ on Palestine

I wrote this article in September, a day before the General Assembly of the UN. It was published by the Atlantic Community and also by Daily News Egypt (the latter without informing me!)

On Friday, 193 UN member states formally received Palestine’s request for statehood. This is a bold move with potential to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and one that will impact future strategic relations in the Arab world. The UN should vote in favor of accession.

Looking at a map of the countries that recognize the state of Palestine, it is evident that only Western Europe and the US remain reluctant to support the Palestinians in their statehood aspirations. As Europe’s weight in world politics is shrinking it is important to side not just with Israel, but with both nations.

Three core reasons underpin the necessity to support the Palestinian bid. The first argument is rooted in the history of the conflict. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel a day before the British left Palestine. He did not wait to negotiate with UN representatives, the Arab Palestinians or superpowers USA and USSR to obtain his goal of a Jewish state.

Ben-Gurion and his fighters proclaimed ownership, for the Jewish people, over the land that they either bought or concurred from the Arab Palestinians and the British colonial rulers. This proved to be a bold and successful strategy. Bold because it unleashed the armies of Arab states on the new state and successful because it not only managed to win the Arab-Israeli war, but also gain support and recognition from both superpowers.

Now, the Palestinian Authority dares to take an equally bold step, grabbing the bull of history by the horns. For its attempt to achieve statehood just as Israel did in 1948, Palestine’s strategy deserves praise.

The second reason the UN should vote in favor of accession is that every past attempt at negotiation between the two sides has failed. Since 1948, the Palestinians have made various attempts to regain the land they consider their homeland. Initially, they relied on certain Arab states – Egypt, Syria and Jordan – to defeat Israel in war. These wars proved unsuccessful for the Arabs, however, and Palestinians increasingly sought to take charge of their own fate. Terrorism increasingly became a primary weapon of choice, as the marginalized, divided and ill-equipped fighters deemed this the only viable strategy to combat a far stronger enemy.

But Palestinian terrorist attacks were met with Israeli retaliation, and only brought the Palestinians more repression as international support for Jerusalem increased. Terrorism, once again, proved to be a counterproductive tactic.

The Palestinian leadership seemed to become increasingly aware that it had to recognize Israel and lay down arms to have any chance of obtaining a Palestinian state. It did so by signing the Oslo accords in 1993, in which the PLO recognized the state of Israel on 78 percent of the former British mandate of Palestine. Israel, however, did not recognize the state of Palestine on the remaining 22 percent.

The agreement’s asymmetric nature proved to be its downfall and, consequently, negotiations over the past two decades have been fruitless. With negotiations deadlocked and settlement construction ‘eating away’ Palestinian land, it is admirable that the Palestinian Authority now chooses a third way: recognition by the UN.

Finally, the Arab Spring – or Arab Awakening – has sent shock waves through the world, and provides new geopolitical impetus for the UN to vote in favor of accession. Arab citizens no longer accept their rights trampled on by dictators. They have risen for freedom and seek to bring an end to endemic corruption and the self-enriching elites that have ruled most of the Middle East for decades.

Just as Europe is rightly proud of the French Revolution, it should also fully support the Arab Bastille moment. This awakening is not just about social justice for the Egyptians or Syrians but also for the Palestinians; to live in freedom and dignity and master their own destiny. Whatever governments will be formed in the ongoing transition, one aspect is set in stone: the new Egypt, Tunisia and Libya (and Syria and Yemen?) will strongly support a Palestinian state.

For Europe, it is time to recognize the Palestinian initiative as not just a bold strategy for peace, but as a momentum-changer that could determine future relations with the Arab world. Europe should choose to build strategic relations with the new Middle East, fostering peace, political liberalization and economic development. A first step in that strategy would be voting ‘yes’ in Friday’s vote, and recognize not just the state of Israel, but also the state of Palestine alongside it.

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