Talk by Sir Vincent Fean, recently retired UK Consul General in Jerusalem, at the Balfour Project annual conference

St Chad’s College, Durham University, 31 October 2015

‘I believe there is a constructive role for the UK in bringing about a just peace. It is good to look back in order to look forward. The Balfour Declaration helped bring about Israel, and Israel is here to stay, and its right to exist in peace and security should not be questioned. However, the second clause of the Balfour Declaration, ‘that the rights of the existing non-Jewish inhabitants should not be prejudiced’, indicates that there is ‘unfinished business’.

The occupation of Palestinian Territories is wrong, as is the oppression which withholds peace and security from the Palestinians. The pendulum had swung too far, and away from peace and justice. What can we do? There is urgency because of the growth of settlements and the closure of Gaza. We should support and sustain the Palestinians, Muslims in general and the ‘living stones of Christianity’. We should encourage elections in the Palestinian Territories, and the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank, and ensure contiguity between them. We should visit them, and pray, pay and play a role in shifting the pendulum.

We need to tell Israel with humility, as friends, where it is going right, and where wrong. The ‘one state solution’ will internalise and perpetuate the conflict. Living by the sword will require controlling the territory for the foreseeable future. The Settlements are a most blatant breach of International Humanitarian Law, which needs to be upheld.

What if it won’t listen? We will need to raise our voices. There needs to be consequences for illegal acts – not just condemnations which are two a penny. Israel’s rebuttal machine is highly effective. The cost-benefit analysis of occupation needs to change. It is hard to do. It needs advocacy plus…

We must not give up on the Israeli people. But we can want a solution more than the parties to this conflict do – or at least one of them. Israel aspires to be a member of the Western ‘club’. But then it should abide by the rules.

The UK is a member of the UN Security Council and the EU. We should work with France on a framework for peace. The United States is essential, but is anything but impartial, and is reluctant to confront Israel when Israel is in the wrong. The UK and France could recognise the State of Palestine, albeit under occupation. That would help to preserve the outcome of two states. Then both states should be held to account for their actions. The UK should be part of a coalition of the willing in Europe to give teeth to International Humanitarian Law, enforcing consequence for violations of it on all sides. People should speak out and lobby their MPs.’

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