By Julie Elliott MP
Europe is neighbour, friend and trading partner to both Israel and Palestine. Economically, the EU/Israel Association Agreement matters greatly to Israel, affording free access to its biggest market. The same terms apply to the UK/Israel Trade Agreement, post-Brexit. Trade between Europe and the Occupied Palestinian Territory – I call it Palestine – is twenty times less. I attribute this mainly to the negative impact of the occupation, with Gaza blockaded and West Bank businesses hamstrung by costly Israeli controls. But Europe is an indispensable source of development assistance to Palestine, and will be asked to contribute to rebuilding Gaza, yet again.
All this to say that Europe, Israel and Palestine are inextricably linked – not just economically, but culturally, educationally, strategically… And politically. 41 years ago, what was then the nine member EEC produced the Venice Declaration, expressing “the two principles universally accepted by the international community: the right to existence and security of all States in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of legitimate rights of the Palestinian people”. The Declaration called upon Israel to “put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967”. 22 years ago, in 1999 the 15 member Berlin European Council reaffirmed “the continuing and unqualified Palestinian right to self-determination including the option of a state and looks forward to the early fulfilment of this right… which is not subject to any veto”.
Where are we today? As Tessa Blackstone and Layla Moran have written, the British Government has full discretion to recognise the state of Palestine on pre-June 1967 lines, and should do so. In the EU, the picture is mixed: Sweden was the last European state to recognise Palestine, in 2014. Recognition is purely a national government decision – it is not a matter within EU competence.
More broadly, the 27 member EU is politically divided over Israel/Palestine, which makes the valiant efforts of High Representative Josep Borrell both arduous and frustrating: herding cats.
Yet there is a shared concern across the Parliaments of Europe, from Oslo to Dublin and Rome and beyond, that European states should come together to work for peace with justice in Israel/Palestine, complementing and supplementing the efforts needed from the United States.
That is why my friend and colleague Stephen Kinnock MP convened a meeting last July of Parliamentarians from France, the UK, Ireland and Belgium – to “preserve the prospect of Palestinian self-determination and equal rights for both peoples within a two-state framework: a secure, sovereign Palestine alongside a secure, sovereign Israel”. I succeeded Stephen as convener in September. The network he created has grown to fourteen national Parliaments plus the European Parliament, with more on the horizon. All Parliamentarians in Europe are welcome.
We have a name: European Parliamentarians for Israeli-Palestinian Equality. We have a vision:
Working for European policies that advance peaceful solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on equality, human rights and international law, ensuring respect for the individual and collective rights of Palestinians and Israelis.
The network advocates consistent, clear European policies and actions for Israeli/Palestinian peace and mutual respect; a distinct, proportionate European role alongside the United States; holding all parties to account for progress/regress on the ground, and concerted action to this end in Parliaments across Europe. We seek to develop a coalition of the willing, and to overcome that sense of powerlessness which pervades Government thinking. We have political and economic power, if we have the will to use it to advance peace with justice. Over time, the network will connect further with like-minded Parliamentarians in democracies beyond Europe – first and foremost, in the United States – working together to influence Government policy in the right direction – towards Equality.
Julie Elliott MP, Chair of the Britain Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group and of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, MP for Sunderland Central