In conversation with Ambassador (rtd.), State of Israel Ilan Baruch and Former Director of Israeli Affairs, State of Palestine Ashraf Al-Ajrami

with Balfour Project chair Andrew Whitley

8 March 2023

Ambassador (ret.) Ilan Baruch is chairperson of the Policy Working Group (PWG), an Israeli advocacy team focusing on policy issues pertaining to the achievement of peace between Israel and Palestine based on the two-state paradigm. PWG members are all volunteers and come from senior diplomatic, academic, political, media and human rights backgrounds.

On March 1st 2011, Baruch resigned from the Israeli Foreign Ministry on grounds of principle after a 36-year diplomatic career. In multiple media interviews, Baruch explained that his resignation came in the wake of Israel’s departure from its decade-long commitment to the two- state solution.

Baruch’s last posting overseas was Ambassador of Israel in South Africa (2005-2008) as well as in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Ashraf Al-Ajrami is the Director of Damour Company for Community Development; head of the Damour Advocacy team, seeking to increase the resilience of deprived Palestinian communities and build a just peace. Born 1961.

He is the former Minister of Prisoners Affairs in the Palestinian Authority (PA), 2007-09, and former Director of Israeli Affairs, PA Information Ministry. Imprisoned in Israel, 1984-96. He is a member of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society and a peace activist.




Andrew Whitley:

We’re really very pleased to be able to have Ilan and Ashraf. old friends of mine, people I respect enormously, being able to join us today, especially ahead of the visit to the United Kingdom in a few days time. I think it’s not difficult for us to become so bowed down by all the bad news these days. These are difficult times that we’re living through in Israel and in Palestine. And I don’t need to go through all the details of that. But there are a lot of fears of increased violence, of a descent into chaos, possibly even a return to another Intifada.

Now, at this particular time, I think having two such experienced and committed individuals as Ilan and Ashraf to be able to talk to us about what are the prospects for a peaceful resolution is perhaps a worthwhile thing for us to be able to do, to at least try and see whether there are grounds for hope. And if so, what we should be doing as concerned individuals to be able to do it, particularly here in the United Kingdom.

I’m going to turn first to you, Ashraf, and ask you what, if anything these days, gives you grounds for hope? Do you have any reasons to be positive about the outlook in Palestine?

Ashraf Al-Ajrami:

Good afternoon. I think we should be all the time hopeful of having a change in this situation, although we are experiencing a very hard situation, especially because the Palestinian young generation mainly lose the hope of having a two-state solution, or any kind of peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people, especially after establishing the new government in Israel. And its agenda to maybe precede the de facto annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories, which destroys the ability to have a two-state solution and to have agreement between the two sides.

Now the Palestinian young generation started to lose confidence in the Palestinian leadership, because the Palestinian leadership didn’t succeed to bring peace for Palestinians. And the situation, which was interim between the Israelis and Palestinians, became permanent status. And also because lack of democracy and lack of elections and corruption and many things, and also because having this coordination between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government or the Palestinian Authority, and security issues and others without having any change on the ground.

Now we feel urgency in this situation. And we also worry that the international community, especially Western countries, mainly the UK, should act immediately to save the two-state solution and to save our situation from being in a chaos and very violent clashes between the two sides. We are in a situation of everyday clashes and yesterday, six Palestinians were killed by the Israeli soldiers. And few days ago, 10s here and there, Nablus, Jenin and Jericho. We are speaking about a huge number of Palestinian people who were killed within a few months.


What exactly would you like the international community to do to save the two-state solution?


First of all, we should have an immediate recognition of Palestine as a full state on 1967 borders. It should be sure the Israeli government that the issue of two-states solution is not negotiable. It is a fact. From this point, we should enter the negotiations to solve problems between two states. Israel is recognised as a stable state and Palestine is under occupation and should have sovereignty and its freedom. So this is the main issue that can be done, and a first step from United Kingdom and other Western countries, Europe and maybe USA.

And the second issue, it should stop the Israeli violation of human rights, especially the Palestinian rights, the invasion of Palestinian Territories, and also the provocations of settlers and the continuing of settlements activities in the Palestinian Area C, and also to stop demolishing the Palestinian structures in Area C, which were donated by European countries mainly. And we want to see at least calmness of the situation on the ground, and to improve immediately the conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to show that something can move and can go through to reach a settlement by the end of the day.


Thank you know, those key points that you mentioned just now, recognition of Palestine by Britain, and obviously other countries as well, ideally, is one of the main goals of the Balfour Project itself. We believe in its importance too, not just symbolically but practically also, we think that now is the right time to be able to do it.

And the second important point you mentioned about accountability for human rights abuses is also something that we have been campaigning on. We have certainly been pressing for the British government to take a stronger, more principled position on accountability for human rights abuses. In fact, you might be interested to know that the Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council, headed by Navi Pillay, the former Human Rights Commissioner from the UN, is going to be in London next week while you’re here, also.

So certainly this is going to be a good time to be able to raise these particular issues and to try and get a stronger position from the British government on a principled position, not just talking about Ukraine, but about Palestine in the same right.

So let me turn to you Ilan, because we’ve heard the views of Ashraf, which are really very clear for everyone. With yourself as a Peace campaigner with a long record in this regard in Israel, is there anything that you feel positive about or encouraged about in this very difficult political climate that you face in Israel?

Ilan Baruch:

I must say that I’m very worried about any chance to move forward on peace in the foreseeable future. And that is for one reason, if we do a zoom out and look at the architecture of our conflict, a two-state solution requires a process of negotiations. And the two sides are not ready to move into the negotiations room because of disparity. The Palestinians are far too weak, and they have nothing to offer to Israel. And they cannot push Israel into the negotiations room short of one issue, and that is violence on magnitude, similar to what has happened in the Second and in the First Intifada. Israel is extremely sensitive to loss of life. And when I say that, sadly, to the loss of life of Jews, and Israelis. And in the case of violence, it becomes even more violent in its response. And so violence is an engine of change of the situation here. And none of us wants to go there.

The other way to make to make a difference comes to the international community, Israel cannot be forced into the negotiations room because it simply doesn’t want to. It can get anything it wants, unilaterally, because of the huge disparity in power, in influence, in its position, internationally, in technology, with the military, and so on. And that can change once the international community takes a position.

And I came to the conclusion that the international community looks at the Israel/Palestine conflict as a bilateral issue between Israel and the Palestinians. But we need to change the trajectory, we need to see it as a trilateral conflict, where the international community is part, not as a facilitator, but as a party that has its principles and its code of conduct and its interests.

This conversation has been heavily influenced since February 24th, when the Russians started the war in Ukraine, which turned into a disastrous destruction of Ukraine, destruction of Russian position in the world, and the destruction of life and rights. We cannot take a conclusion that the language used in the case of Ukraine should have been used long time ago, in the case of Israel/Palestine. The key word is equality. And in my advocacy, I speak of the core issue of rights for self-determination. In Israel, the Israeli government and a large majority of Israelis do not believe the Palestinians have any right for self-determination in the land of Israel, which is Palestine, it equates with Palestine when it comes to the territory between the River Jordan and the coastline of the Mediterranean. And we think that the basic for a two-state solution is an international recognition that will be stated straightaway – there is no time to waste on that -that the world believes in the equality of the right of self-determination of two nations in the same piece of land, however small, the Palestinians and the Israelis or the Jewish people.

And the only solution available to us to allow self-determination equally to the Palestinians and to the Israelis is territorial partition. That has been the conclusion of the Peel Commission of Inquiry in the year 1936/37, and nothing has changed since. We need to recognise each other. This will take time. But the third party, the international community, could do that immediately, and pave the way for negotiations over the partition of the land, and making it possible for each nation to exercise self-determination in part of the land, not in its entirety.

And I think that the people on the ground, when it comes to Palestine, I think there is a high level of readiness to look into such an idea. On the side of Israel, we need the international community to convince the Israelis that this is actually in the service of the interests of both sides.


So Ilan, you’ve mentioned the role of the international community. And I’d like to put this question to both of you, you and Ashraf. When we talk about the international community, who really are we talking about here? Because it’s often a euphemism that defies a precise definition of who actually has influence on the parties, in order to be able to bring about a real solution here.

I would suggest that in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as some people call it, or at least the struggle of the Palestinians for their own freedom and their end of occupation, that there are certain groups of countries that have more influence than others. The Biden administration in the United States, for example, clearly the biggest, most important defining power to be able to bring about a difference. And it is the case that many countries, including the United Kingdom, are waiting and seeing what the United States is going to do about it. In the case of the Palestinians, they had long relied upon the Arab brothers, Jordan and Egypt, obviously, but also the wealthy States of the Gulf, several of which have recently signed bilateral peace agreements, or at least diplomatic recognition agreements with Israel.

You, Ilan, as an Israeli, know perfectly well that several recent Israeli Governments, starting with the previous Netanyahu government, and then with Naftali Bennett, and Yair Lapid, and now Netanyahu again, are actually putting much more emphasis on strengthening bilateral relations with the Gulf countries. And that is their main objective, because they don’t see the need to be able to do anything for the Palestinians.

Now, what could you expect that they should be doing, because it’s not just a matter of the bilateral countries themselves, whether it is the UAE or Bahrain, or whoever else has recognised Israel recently, taking actions but the rule of others, for example, the Biden administration, to be able to say, ‘Look, you are in a position of influence to be able to restrain Israeli settlement building or to restrain abuses of human rights.’

So, how can we think about how to make more real, more concrete, the role of the international community which we often appeal to in general terms? Who would like to comment on this?


I think if we speak about the international community, we speak about the western countries like USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, the main the stronger countries, more than the weak countries. But we know that there is no ability to have such consensus in between these countries immediately. Because of that, we call for individual or small groups actions, like for example, when we call the United Kingdom to recognise Palestine. It will be very effective, if it does it alone as a first country, it will also encourage United States of America and other European countries to go ahead in such a step.

We want also to see like-minded states in Europe to have such kind of recognition. Some steps should be initiated by individual countries or small groups of countries. We don’t speak about the whole international community, we know that it is not possible nowadays to have this collective decision. But we want to start with some steps ahead and may encourage others and to have this collective position from the international community.

We know that the Arab countries support the two-state solution and support the independence of Palestinian state, although some of them went to normalisation with Israel and neglected the Arab Peace Initiative, which says that first of all Israel should withdraw from the Palestinian occupied territories and have a settlement for the conflict. And after that normalisation and cooperation between Israel the Arab countries, unfortunately they did that on the opposite direction.

Why is the United Kingdom very important? Because of the historic responsibility. The Balfour Declaration and the establishing of the Jewish state in Palestine and also neglecting the Palestinian rights of having self-determination and equal rights in Palestine. This is very important to maybe remove the unjust situation that Palestinians live under in the occupied territories.


Ilan, the Arab Peace Initiative, when it was first launched over 20 years ago, was largely ignored in Israel, you will remember this well.


The government intentionally ignored it, yes.


But now that the diplomatic agreements have been signed with several of the Arab Gulf countries, we also have a possible revival of the Arab Peace Initiative. Saudi Arabia, at last year’s UN General Assembly in New York in September, actually revived the plan to general surprise. Is this just rhetoric? Or do you think that there is something serious that can be built upon here? And will Israeli Governments listen to them knowing how important recognition by Saudi Arabia is to Israel?


Well, it remains to be seen. I was a participant in the last Munich Security Conference where I joined in in a small round table with the Saudi foreign minister, and the Kuwaiti foreign minister. And both countries are not members of the Abraham Accords. And they were clearly referring to the Arab Peace Initiative as the way forward. And at the same time, there was also another round table with the Bahraini foreign minister, who was claiming that the Abraham Accords is a leverage to improve the situation in Palestine.

The bottom line is, in spite of the Israeli government’s desire to see the Palestinian issue removed from the international agenda, it’s not going to be removed. And that the only difference between the two is what is the pace? If we want to see a critical mass put together by the international community, to shift the point of gravity in Israel/Palestine, it needs to not only look at incentives to both parties, but also to disincentives.

I think that we see less and less patience in the United States with Israel. And the same goes for Europe. We see statements are being issued now on high level jointly by different countries, UK included. And that is very, very important.

The Israeli constituency that is allowing this policy of denial towards the Palestinians, and not only territorially but also the narrative, the attempt to defeat the Palestinian narrative by this ultra extremist Nationalist government, that needs a very swift and effective response, not from the Palestinians, because this will be violence. It needs the alternative – diplomatic pressure from the world at large.

And this has to do also with very concrete interests in Europe and in the UK. Because if violence erupts in Israel/Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem, particularly in Haram al Sharif, in the Temple Mount, the esplanade, that can a cascade regionally, and then internationally. Everywhere in Europe, in every large city, you have Muslim communities that take care of what’s going on here. And you might face another wave of refugees seeking to find somewhere, to search for security. And the UK could become the address for lots and lots of people who want to flee from the Middle East that is burning. So preempt this, take it to your attention, and move forward to make sure that the two parties close their disparities to the point where they are both ready to move into a negotiations room. Right now it’s not there.


Ilan, you spoke about disincentives, which is a polite diplomatic word, you also mentioned the word pressure. And indeed, there are many, probably including many of the people who are watching this particular webinar, who would feel that there needs to be actual pressure and not just words, that there needs to be serious consequences for serious breaches of human rights.

We at the Balfour Project, certainly push that and we would like to see the British government putting some muscle behind its words and saying that if you do this, there will be actual consequences for our relationships. Of course, we know that internationally, Israel is often treated with kid gloves, it is treated rather gently for historic reasons that we don’t need to get into now. But therefore, it has been able to get away with a great deal and feel that there are no consequences for its particular actions.

So let me put the question to both you and to Ashraf, what are the appropriate forms of pressure of actual consequences? For example, the BDS movement, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, is that something that you feel would be appropriate? And should we be all encouraging that to be actual consequences for Israel, if it continues with its settlement policies, and its abusive Palestinian human rights?


I think that Europe started a movement towards the Israeli settlements. But unfortunately, it didn’t follow up this decision for labelling, for example, the goods of settlements of products or products of settlements, they didn’t do that. But for example, if there are some kind of sanctions against the settlements in the West Bank in Area C and other places, which belong to the Palestinian side, I think it will be a very active pressure on the Israeli side.

Also to receive the Israeli leaders in Europe with open arms, it is encouraging the Israeli government to go ahead in its policy. We should have some kind of way of preventing them to be received in a warm way or in a positive way in Europe.

There are many steps. I don’t want to speak about total sanctions, but it is needed to start something that the Israeli government and the Israeli people should feel that there is a price for violating the human rights, violating the Palestinian rights of self-determination and freedom.

I think if the international community wants to start these steps, for example, settlements and others, I think it may affect the Israeli side to withdraw or at least to stop continuing its policy towards Palestinian people, especially the danger of the de facto annexation that this government intends to implement in the Palestinian territories. There are many things we can think of. But I just mentioned the models of sanctions that can impose on the Israeli government.


We’ll come back to the situation in the holy places and the threat to the status quo, indeed, the dangers of violence in Jerusalem itself, because that clearly is a huge flashpoint which could have global repercussions in the entire region and beyond.

But I want to ask you, Ilan, as a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, who has first-hand experience of the situation there, you saw how effective cultural and sporting boycotts were of South Africa, in helping to change opinions and to increase the isolation of South Africans so it realised it had to end the apartheid system there. How would you feel as an Israeli if that was applied to Israel?


First of all, I want to make a reference to the BDS that you mentioned earlier on. I’m not for BDS. I can’t support it. That’s a non-violent form of resistance. And I don’t think we have the right to declare BDS as as a form of terrorism. Not at all. I think the BDS is doing harm to the cause of the Palestinian side, because it does not differentiate between Israel and the future Palestinian territory. And so if everyone is to be blamed, then no one is to be blamed. And I think it would be very important for the Palestinian struggle to change the attitude towards BDS.

But about South Africa, I must tell you that we Israelis, and the Jewish people, we are very, very sensitive to what we are being fought about internationally. I keep telling my friends, you know, maybe we are the most neurotic nation on Earth unfortunately And people in Israel care a great deal if they’re being liked, or disliked or criticised.

And I think the world doesn’t need to go into action, the form of boycotting or sanctioning or whatever, simply tell Israel what they think about us, and in the Hebrew language, so that everyone knows, not only through diplomatic channels, and so on.

So if you have any criticism of Israel, speak out, tell the world because we Israelis, we are very, very sensitive to this. And right now, the society in Israel is detached from what is going on in the occupied territories, by and large, unless there are cases of violence and fatalities and tragedy. And mostly Israelis run a very, very European-like life with a very high quality with a huge disparity in GDP per capita between us and the Palestinians. Enormous. And everyone has it very nicely, unless either there is violence, because we care so much about life, or if we have criticism coming from outdoors. And diplomacy offers a whole toolbox of how to express dissatisfaction with policies.

Now, I want to tell you all, whoever is listening to us, the case of Smotrich is not just an extreme and  lunacy. Smotrich is actually in his political vision is articulating the vision of the entire government. Now, he wrote a manifest five years ago, in which he says there is only one nation that is entitled to self-determination. The Palestinians are classified into three. Either they are prepared to live in Israel as natives, not citizens, without votes, or being voted or emigration assisted by the Government of Israel, or those who resist and refuse to move, the only way to deal with them is to kill them. Now, it sounds horrific, but this is who he is. So if it comes to him visiting the UK, my desire is to see resistance making him the pariah, because he is destroying us, he is destroying any chance for the future.

Unfortunately, the Ambassador of Israel to to the UK comes from a nationalist movement that is not very far from that kind of thinking. Well, I hope she is listening to us and might want to respond to me. But I don’t know how the UK and how the UK Jewish community is looking at all of this. Definitely, we need to move on with our relations with the Palestinians. And we are stuck because international community is not prepared to move in the right direction.


So Ilan, let’s just pursue this line of discussion for one more minute. If for example, and I’m going to give you a very concrete example, the Eurovision Song Contest was to say that due to Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel was no longer eligible to be a participant in the Eurovision Song Contest, something that’s very popular, is that going to have a positive or a negative effect. Is it going to simply put up people’s backs in in Israel, and have them ‘say we don’t care about it’? Or is it going to actually make people wake up and say, ‘oh, there are actual consequences.’ And they might think again, or put pressure on the government.


The first reaction would be ‘they’re all anti-Semites, and they hate us because we are Jews’. And the leadership in Israel will encourage this kind of stuff. But then when the artists are not invited, and the whole system is shut down, people start to think that’s very powerful shift.

The same goes for sports. The same goes for science, for academia, for everything. If the world decides that as much as Russia needs to be a punished for what is done in Ukraine, the world needs to come to Israel and say, ‘hang on, you entertained impunity for so many years, not because of who you are, but because of the Jewish history and the Holocaust and this and that. Now it’s over, start behaving, because we cannot run the world with players who are refusing to play by the book, equality, human rights rule of law. Israel is not playing by the book on all three of them.


So let’s come back to the issue of maintaining the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories along the 1967 Green Line, which Israel has been busily trying to obliterate for decades, I would say, even to the extent of writing it out of your school textbooks. Now, you Ashraf mentioned earlier on about the very mild measure of labeling of goods that comes from settlements, what we call differentiation in legal terms here, making sure there is a recognised difference between goods produced in the occupied territories, from Jewish settlements, and goods produced from Israel itself, which is a fairly weak and mild measure.

Now, could you imagine going further than that, for example, of saying that Jewish residents of the occupied territories should be required to get visas to enter Europe or the United Kingdom in future, not just travel on visa-free arrangements made for people who live in Israel proper? What do you feel about that?


This is a very positive step, if taken by Europe or the international community, because this is one of my suggestions, many years ago, after labeling the products of settlements, we should deal with the settlers as the same category of Palestinians under occupation, although the settlers are violating the international law, it is not like Palestinians who are under occupation, but at least to deal with them or any situation that they are in a special case.

I think it may affect very positively and strongly on the Israeli policy and also on the settlers behaviour. Some of them immediately will leave settlements, or at least to behave like normal citizens and not like gangs of criminals, as they did in Hawara and other places in the West Bank.

I think sanctions should be imposed on some kinds of Israelis or types of citizens, because it also affects the Israeli policy and maybe the whole Israeli community to see that they are in an abnormal situation, that they live in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and other places, and don’t feel the occupation and don’t feel the suffering over Palestinian people. People should behave as though there is an occupation and there is a huge number of human beings, Palestinians under unjust conditions and in very bad situation, their lives controlled by the Israeli side in every detail.

We are stuck under occupation for more than 55 years. And nothing was done to remove this occupation. And if we compare the situation between us and what happened in Ukraine, the Palestinian people feel upset totally and very angry at the international community. Why aren’t Palestinian people treated like Ukrainian people? The international community, Europe and United States of America and other western countries started to participate in this way or another in this war because of the occupation, human rights violation and violating the international law. These are the main claims of the Western countries towards Russia. What happens with Israel?


Well, it’s a very powerful message Ashraf, and one that resonates here in the United Kingdom,= among many people. So let me turn to the visit that the Policy Working Group delegation is going to be making to the UK in the coming days. Tell me in a short nutshell, what is your key message? What are you going to try to achieve from this visit? What you’re going to be saying to politicians?


We want to introduce a voice from within the Israeli social fabric that is worried, deeply worried. We are in an acute crisis in Israel/Palestine. It can erupt into a major wave of violence on a magnitude that we have been experiencing in the Second Intifada and beyond, and with possible regional consequences, and maybe international consequences. It’s tsunami, and we want to suggest that, however central and urgent other matters are, that our conflict should not be left unattended. That is our main message.

And we need to approach our conflict, rather, on issues of shared values, than interests. Israel is flourishing when it comes to interest. If you look at the Ukraine war, that has had a steep impact on Israel as a producer of a whole arsenal of weapons and so on, that will make us rich, in a way, soon. And I’m sure that any politicians who go to their constituencies and hear from their constituents, ‘don’t touch Israel/Palestine’, because we are now in the in the process of taking advantage of situations. But I say to you all, and this is what I’m going to say to all whoever is listening to us, by the end of the day, it is about justice. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, they will stay. And we will have to change the trajectory. And Israel and Palestine need to be ushered into negotiations. And preparations, political preparations must be made for an Israeli very, very confident constituency, that everything is okay.

And if the Palestinians engage in terrorism, too bad for them, we will follow them and deal with them. And no one is prepared to speak about a political solution. And I think that’s where the international community needs to come in. And that is what we want to do.

Ashraf and I were in Brussels. We are going to Germany. We were in Luxembourg. And this time around, we have been offered to come to London. And we are taking advantage of this opportunity to speak to the Brits about our plight, in our frustration, and our situation that is just on the brink of collapse.


Well, I must say your moral voice is a very powerful one, Ilan, and we thank you for that. It is something that resonates with all of us.

I want to ask you, Ashraf in particular, about the threat to the holy places, to the status quo, which we all refer to we think we know what is the status quo, but there may be different views about how actually it’s being respected. And I’m talking, of course, about the holy places for Jews, for Muslims and for Christians, and about the changing demography of Jerusalem and about the threats to these places that are so precious for all of the major faiths. What is your own sense about the extent of the risk to the Haram al Sharif, to the Temple Mount?


I think what this government, the Israeli government tends to do is to change the status of these places to make it under the total control of the Jews, and not allowing Palestinians freedom of prayer in these places and to control this by a way that it belongs to Israel, not to Palestine or Palestinian people. They try to change the facts on the ground, and the Old City and the neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem to make sure that they cannot withdraw from these territories and give any part of these territories to the future Palestinian state, if it will be established someday. This is the main idea. And I think they are very wrong if they think that Palestinians will sit calmly to see what the Israeli government does in these places. It is the most sensitive issue within the Palestinian people. It brings us to violence immediately. It brings us to war. There’s not just a war between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a war in the Middle East. And it may be a war in Europe, and maybe aa war everywhere, as a result of this policy of this government.

I think the Israeli government doesn’t care what happens between Palestinians and Israelis in the region, and also maybe consequences in the whole world, because Muslims and many extremist groups in the whole world will act immediately if something will happen in the these places. I think it’s a very dangerous policy, and it endangers the whole region. And it brings us to maybe a wide circle of violence and clashes between the two sides. And we saw within the last few years, what happens when the Israeli government tries to change some things in these places. I think there’s some kind of playing with fire.


That’s exactly the expression that I was going to use, Ashraf, playing with fire and the arsonists, unfortunately, are free to act as they wish. Now, we’re coming up to the end of our first hour, and we’re going to turn to the questions from our audience.

Diana Safieh:

I’m going to start on a topic that’s been raised by a few of the questioners but I’m going to read the question from Matthew Gothill. Please could speakers comment on the possibility of establishing some form of confederacy. There’s a theme that has come up more and more, perhaps even including Jordan with guaranteed equal rights and security for all. Any thoughts on that?


Ilan, do you want to start with that, because it’s been proposed by a fellow Israeli?


Yes. I have a big argument with Dr Yossi Beilin, who is now moving around in Europe, maybe came to the UK as well, together with a Palestinian partner Heba Husseini, and they are advocating for confederation in the Holy Land. My counter argument is that the Palestinians are entitled to a generational phase of full independence, full sovereignty, full independence. No country entertains full independence. We do not. We have no illusions. But any measure the country gives up on its own sovereignty is through negotiations, and for something in return. And if a confederation that comes in ahead of statehood and independence, not just as a political and diplomatic entity, but as a generational self-image, self-confidence, it is doomed to fail. And then the Palestinians need first to gain the weight of a player. And then I see no other way they are the countries are too small and too in proximity to effective to each other, that they must come to terms in the form of a confederation. But we have 50 years to wait for that. And Jordan coming in as a third party, that makes it even more complicated because it is such a large share of the society that is originally Palestinian and descendants of Palestinian refugees. And so it’s very complicated.

And I think that had I been a Palestinian, I would have asked everyone else to forgive me for my desire to first have my house in order, and then start thinking about structures of neighbourhood like confederation.


So would you agree with me, then Ilan, that, in essence, this comes down to an issue of sequencing, that the first the Palestinian right to self-determination has to be allowed to exercise? It’s their determination politically, and then the legal consequences will flow from that in terms of political arrangements?


Andrew, you got it.


Thank you. Diana, next question.

Right. We’ve got a question from Flora Brennan. She says, I’m a member of Amnesty International. And I’m interested in your view of the AI report, naming Israel as an apartheid state. How useful is this? And how can it best be used?


Ashraf, you want to comment on that and the apartheid issue?


I think is very important report was by this international organisation. But it was also by B’tselem, an Israeli organisation, also this description of what the Israeli government does in the occupied territories as an apartheid policy. And I think it also should pay attention to what happens with Palestinians in these territories, especially in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Because with this description of what the Israelis do in the occupied territories, I think the international community will put all its weight to change the situation, because an apartheid policy is unacceptable by the international community.

If we put it under this topic, I think it makes the human rights organisations, the governments, parliaments everywhere see what happens in in the Palestinian territories, the occupied territories, and no one can accept it.

Also, many of the Israelis don’t accept to see their country practice an apartheid regime in the occupied territories, and they are very sensitive to this expression, the apartheid regime. So it is important to put this in this frame to show what happens there, because people and the whole world don’t know what happens with Palestinians. What are the conditions that Palestinians live under, in this in these territories by the occupation and by the settlers provocation? I think it is important and I see it is positive way to enlightening the situation and the occupied territories.


So Ilan, let me follow up with you on that, because as an Israeli, how do you feel when the word apartheid has been used to describe Israeli actions. And what should be the consequences? Because it is a legal term, which calls for accountability.


Yes, exactly. Well, in the last year, there were a few reports that were issued. Amnesty International was one of them. And the most extreme. Yesh Din issued the report composed by the advocate Michael Sfard, known to everyone in the field. And they came to the conclusion that occupation comes with apartheid, from a legal point of view. And our group also issued a paper. So there’s B’tselem that was mentioned already by Ashraf. B’tselem comes to the conclusion that apartheid goes horizontally from the River Jordan to the sea, but also forms of Jewish hegemony that is secured legally. And so, for them, Israel, in the occupied territories, are under apartheid.

Our report was making a difference. None of us is a lawyer. So we are more observers of the history of Israel and Palestine. Our conclusion was that apartheid comes with occupation, because in the occupied territories, there is an ethnic seamline where the Jews are privileged and dominate. And the Arabs are not privileged, being subjected to an entirely different set of laws, set of judicial system, and so on.

So, if you go to South Africa, no, we don’t have benches where it says, For Jews Only, or Palestinians only also and so on the petty apartheid, no, it doesn’t exist. But there is a fundamental structural difference in life where I go back to Smotrich, and he says it’s quite normal. That is also a form of democracy, that there will be citizens with voting rights, and there will be natives who have no voting rights. That is apartheid. That is apartheid. He not prepared to admit it. But that is what it is.

Now, to conclude. When we wrote this report, we were more confident that apartheid comes with occupation. And once the occupation is removed, apartheid will be removed. With the new government and with its guidelines saying that there is an overriding privilege for the Jewish people in the entire land over the Palestinians. I feel so uncomfortable with it. I dare say. And this leads me to another conclusion. The international community, the UK included, is very cautious about applying the ICC and the ICJ when it comes to Israel. And I think that this attitude needs to change. Israel needs to be examined by the ICC, and if there were cases of war crimes, it must be investigated.

There is no way a country is leaning its security requirements on the abuse of human rights. No, the world should not accept it. The world should not accept that Israel abuses human rights of Palestinians, for the sake of its own security. No country in the world is allowed to infringe on the rights of others for its own security, not even Israel. And that has to be examined, researched, investigated by the prosecutor, Karim Khan of the ICC, and the latest move towards the ICJ, when the UN General Assembly was a requesting advice of the ICJ on the nature of the occupation. And I think that no country in the world is allowed to deny this to happen. We need to have this advice. And we need to help Israel into the fold of the international game.

Now, the UK had a huge role played when the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of 23rd of December ‘16, days before Obama left office and a Trump moved in. The UK had a lot to do with phrasing this. And it is a pearl. It is a very interesting and important document. And I think that had I been in charge, I would have taken this one as a blueprint, as a roadmap for where we go, and then infringement on human rights, violation of international law, would not have happened.


Thank you very much, Ilan, powerful words, which we’ve all felt. Thanks. Thank you. Sincerely. I think we’ve got time for one more question.


I’m going to go with a question from David Cannon, who is the chair of a UK organisation called Jewish Ntwork for Palestine. And I think that this question might be something that they debate quite often in his network. Is it possible for Israel to be both a Jewish state and a democratic state? Or are the two concepts incompatible? So must Israel choose one or the other?


I think there is a problem in this definition of Israel, what is the Jewish state, this is very important. I didn’t understand the Jewish state that the Jewish citizens has the same rights of the Palestinian citizens in Israel. But even if they say on the Israeli doors, that it is Jewish and democratic, it says, and also expresses the rights of all citizens. But it mainly didn’t do that, because of the Jewish system. I think, from my point of view, it should be Israel, a democratic state, with this Jewish component, domination of the cultural or the identity of the state, but without violating or discriminating between Jews and Arabs within the State of Israel.

And I think now, the religious, Zionist movements don’t accept Jewish and democratic state, they accept the other definition of Israel to be for Jews only.The National Law, which was adopted by the Benjamin government, the latest one before this one, to change the law that the rights are guaranteed already for only for Jews. But Palestinian citizens in Israel are not guaranteed to have equal rights. And there are discriminations between Jews and Palestinians. And also the Israeli human rights organisation mentioned these discrimination in their records. So it is problematic to have the Jewish as identity without mentioning the equal rights. This is my point of view.


If we were to come back to the Green Line, to Israel per se, Jewish and democratic can reconcile be reconciled. With the occupied territory and with a population that is about half half, Palestinian and Jewish, there is no way. So it becomes mayhem. That is what we are living through right now.


That is the reality and it makes things very clear to everybody. Well, look, I wanted to thank everybody, all the interested participants, so many questions have come in for it, but in particular to thank our two guests, Ilan and Ashraf, I want to thank you for your honesty, your personal integrity and your courage, and wishing you a very successful visit to the United Kingdom.

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