First, I am very excited to be here at the British Parliament to actually discuss peace. I am not saying this just for nothing, because it’s not very popular to discuss peace; not in our region, in the Middle East and in Israel between us and the Palestinians, and definitely not in parliament. What we are doing here, UPF at the British parliament, is amazing; it is to put peace at the top of the priorities.
I also bless from the bottom of my heart the founding of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace, because if there is a group that can actually work really for peace, legislate it, promote it, and encourage people in government to do something about peace in their own country or elsewhere, it is the parliamentarians.
This is why myself together with my colleagues in the caucus for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, worked for over 2 years to launch last year a diplomatic outline that would suggest how will we solve our own problem of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Between the Israelis and the Palestinians, people gave up on trying to solve this problem. However, we didn’t give up. We proved ourselves as Israelis that we could solve conflicts with even greater and much bigger enemies than the Palestinians, such as Jordan and Egypt, who are now at peace with Israel, which means that achieving peace is not only desirable, but it is possible.
I cannot pitch all of my diplomatic outline to you, because it is 30 pages long. However, we decided to do something, because doing nothing is not a working assumption. However, I would like to share with you 5 short working assumptions about the Israeli peace resolution, so you will know that we are very optimistic about achieving peace in the Middle East and that achieving peace with the Palestinians can be a key to solving other problems.
There are people in Israel and Palestine who say that this conflict is not solvable, so let’s manage the conflict. We object to this assumption. We have managed this conflict for too long and if managing the conflict means thousands of rockets in the South of Israel every summer, bombing Gaza and destroying it every summer, kids going and stabbing others and terrorists at every street corner, if this is the good management of the conflict, then those managing it should be fired! I believe that we as leaders should speak out loudly and say to the whole world that conflicts shouldn’t be managed; they should be solved. Period. And this is the first assumption.
The second working assumption is that the 2 state-solution between Israel and the Palestinians is the only possible solution. Don’t be fooled. You will hear from the extreme elements both in Israel and in the Palestinian society that maybe the one state solution is possible. It is not. The one state solution would kill the Palestinians’ desire for their own state and also the Zionist dream to have a home state for the Jewish people in Israel. This is why I am glad that still the majority (70-80%) of Israelis and Palestinians are still advocating for and believe in a 2 state-solution. We have to leave it alive, on the table, all the time.
The third point is that people in Palestine and Israel tend to say that, yes, we should solve the problem, but we don’t have a viable partner. This claim exists on both sides. I guess for Israelis, the Palestinians are not the perfect partner and vice-versa, but I ask Prime Minister Netanyahu and others in the Palestinian authority, “Why are you waiting for a perfect partner”? We are enemies and, usually, in war, in conflict, you will never find a perfect partner, neither Egypt nor Jordan was a perfect partner for Israel, but we do have peace [with them]. I asked Prime Minister Netanyahu, “Are you expecting to have a Palestinian president that will be a great Zionist and have an Israeli flag behind his desk”? You will never have this. We have a problematic partner and one that doesn’t like us, but that is exactly why we want to have peace with him. We don’t need to have peace with President Walsh, because we don’t have any problem with him! But with the Palestinians, we have problems and they are problematic partners, and I suggest, or think at least, that we are also problematic partners for them. So, there is a partner, and the partner for Israel is the Palestinian leadership headed by Mahmoud Abbas, because he is the elected leader and, for the Palestinians, it is the elected Israeli government, although I am part of the Israeli opposition as a member of the Knesset and its deputy speaker.
The fourth point, and this is a very hurting assumption, is that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is not only possible, but most of its parameters are known. 90% of the future Israeli-Palestinian agreement is already written in endless amounts of accords and plans and papers; American papers, Arab papers, Israeli papers. There is a need to make a fine tuning for the 5-10% of problems and disputes that still exist. But, for this, we need a strong and courageous leadership and, knowing that most of the future agreement is already written, but we just need to have the force to implement it, is very painful, at least for me.
The fifth assumption is that we have to create a positive momentum toward the 2 state-solution agreement and not just wait for it to happen. This is why, President Walsh, Mrs Moon, I salute what you are doing, because, in our conflict, we are usually either speaking for a month or two, and then it fails and then we are doing nothing for a year or two, and in this freeze there is no vacuum: the excitement increases, the demonization increases. What you are doing here is generating positive momentum toward peace, and I wrote it in my plan and salute you for this.
My last point is that we shouldn’t dance only the Israeli-Palestinian tango for peace. The dance has to be much broader, with the Arab world. There is an Arab peace initiative that was offered to Israel 13 years ago by 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries. Israel never replied and I think that is a poor mistake. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, “You can say yes or even say no or you can yes but we have a problem, let’s revise and change it a bit, but not replying to such an Arab peace initiative by so many countries is not only a mistake, it’s also not very polite”.
What I suggested is to split the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world into main parts. The first part consists of those who want to live next to us. With them, we have an obligation to talk about peace. The other part consists of those who want to live here instead of us, and with them, not only Israel, but the entire free world, including England, France, Malta, Italy and Arab states have to create together a united front because, as one of our speakers said, there are two options, either to fight for peace or to surrender to evil. And there are dark and barbaric forces that are threatening not only Israel and Europe, but also a lot of Arab and Muslim countries that want to live in their own way, but peacefully next to each other and not instead of the other, and we should promote this agenda.
President Walsh, I have one last request before I conclude. I want you to really strengthen this forum that you are launching here today. I wish you to come and visit us in our region, so you can learn our desires and wishes, and problems and obstacles, to help us. And I want you as parliamentarians and leaders to work in your parliaments and in the diverse circles to put peace on the agenda and make it stay there all the time, because peace is not a privilege, it’s a necessity and it’s in our hands. Thank you very much.
Author: Hon. Hilik Bar
Member of the Knesset, Israel
MK Bar is Secretary General of the Labor Party and a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. He is the founder and chair of the caucus for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict (two-state solution caucus). He previously served as a member of the Jerusalem City Council holding the Tourism and Foreign Relations portfolios. Actively involved in pro-Israel advocacy, he has taken part in advocacy and coexistence missions around the world, in the course of which he met with US President George W. Bush and senior officials in the Arab world and the West. In 2003 he was involved in the establishment of the “Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation” (YIFC), an organization that was awarded a special prize by the EU’s Minister of Education. He holds a MA in political science and international relations from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Married to Edit and father of two.