An introduction by Andrew Whitley
When Nelson Mandela convened the group of distinguished, retired global figures who became the first Elders, he gave them a daunting mission: tackle the most intractable of conflicts and pursue their resolution with courage and determination. The Palestinian question was at the top of his mind. He often compared Palestinians’ struggle for an end to occupation and for self-determination to South Africans’ own fight to end apartheid, so that all peoples could enjoy equality and freedom. At the same time, Mandela was no Israel-hater. He empathised fully with the tragic history of the Jewish people and supported the need for a secure Israeli state in which Jews could live in peace with their Arab neighbours.
Over the 13 years since the group first met, despite the steady fading of hope, The Elders have consistently called for the two-state solution to this conflict to be realised. On visits to Israel and Palestine, whenever they meet leaders, they call upon both sides to make the compromises needed. A delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter met John Kerry, then US Secretary of State, on the day he launched his peace initiative in July 2013 – lending support to what was the last attempt by a US Administration to act in an even-handed way.
The latest statement issued by The Elders marks their recognition that an historical, critical moment is in the offing. If the new Israeli government proceeds to implement the Trump Plan and annexes parts of the West Bank, as promised, the prospect of “a viable, sovereign and contiguous” Palestinian state emerging alongside Israel may be over. The alternatives will be the perpetuation of an apartheid-like legal system in the occupied territories or a struggle by Palestinians for equal rights in a single state. In Britain, the Johnson Government cannot avoid using its influence with Israel and the United States to prevent this outcome.
Not only does the UK have an historical responsibility to uphold and protect Palestinian rights, as the Balfour Project argues, it must also take the lead today – at the United Nations and elsewhere – to champion viable alternative strategies capable of commanding support.
Andrew Whitley, a Trustee of the Balfour Project, was Policy Director and later CEO at The Elders from 2011 – 16. He remains a Senior Advisor to the London-based organisation.