One way or the other, Germany’s Bundestag is about to make history with the upcoming vote on the issue of recognising Palestinian statehood. The Bundestag has a choice to make. It can continue looking backwards in history on this issue and ignore its leading role in securing peace in the Middle East, or it can courageously look forward, maybe even recognising something it owes history.
By Sam Bahour*
One way or the other, Germany’s Bundestag is about to make history with the upcoming vote on the issue of recognising Palestinian statehood. A positive vote for Palestine would finally strengthen the European Union’s weakest link in contributing to Middle East Peace. A negative vote would leave the Palestinians with no political horizon, which can only lead to more violence and/or a strategic shift where Palestinians drop their bid for statehood and convert their struggle to a total civil rights struggle. This may force a one state reality politically to match the military one state reality that Israel has had the luxury to construct, with nearly 50 years of its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem.
Palestine did not fall into a historic crisis due to a natural disaster. Dispossession, discrimination and prolonged military occupation was the result, to a great extent, of the colossal tragedy that befell Jews in Europe. We Palestinians are still paying the price for those acts today. It is long overdue that this manmade nightmare should end.
If the Bundestag chooses to refuse Palestinian statehood when called to act on it, this would be totally out of synchronization with the long-standing German position for two-states as a model to resolve the conflict. Germany’s political integrity is at stake.
Fear-mongers have unleashed their venom against Palestinian statehood in the discourse in Germany. By now, their mode of operation is well-known, and has failed over and over again. It failed with all 138 countries that voted overwhelmingly in favour of the 2012 Palestinian bid for observer state status in the UN (Germany abstained) and it is failing in country after country, where bilateral recognition (over 130 countries to date) of Palestine is growing by the day. With the newly re-elected Israeli prime minister winning on a campaign rally of no two-states, the burden of action now squarely sits on the lap of the international community.
Allow me to take a brief issue with the arguments made by those who urge Germany not to join the global momentum toward recognising Palestine.
They say Palestinians never missed an opportunity for peace. The fact of the matter is that the boot of Israeli occupation was never, ever removed from the neck of Palestinians to give them a fighting chance to create a new reality—not in Oslo, not in the West Bank, not in East Jerusalem, and surely not in the Gaza Strip. The unrelenting extent of Israel’s effective control over all the occupied territory is no longer an issue for debate; historical record is clear.
They say the Palestinian political body promotes extremism and violence. The fact of the matter is that it is a miracle that the Palestinians have been able to maintain any sense of a political system at all, given Israel’s systematic, forced fragmentation of the Palestinians’ geographic reality, campaign of targeted assassinations and continued policy of imprisoning Palestinian political leadership, including over a dozen democratically elected members of the legislative council.
In light of this reality on the ground, the Palestinians still beg the international community to uphold international law and UN resolutions, themselves bringing the two-state solution to the podium of the UN General Assembly for approval. What is clear is, now that the majority of the world accepts Palestinian statehood, that if key international players, Germany being on the top of the list, drop the ball of bringing Palestine into existence on the ground, no one should complain if the younger generation of Palestinians drop statehood once and for all and we are back in a cycle of never-ending violence.
They say the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and independence is linked to the horrific events unfolding in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The fact of the matter is that even the Israeli security establishment has acknowledged that regional events are very different and detached from what Palestinians are requesting. Actually, it is the Palestinian movement, not to mention the Palestinian refugees stuck for 60 years in the region due to Israel refusing to allow them to return home, who have the most to lose with the region engulfed in domestic and regional chaos.
They say Palestinians must be put through a test to prove our worthiness of freedom. The fact of the matter is that in the world of global governance there are no teachers and classrooms, only international law which applies to all. No excuse under the sun can justify one more day of military occupation, especially one that does not view itself as an occupation and continues to facilitate its citizens’ squatting on Palestinian lands.
In the Oslo Peace Accords, over twenty year ago, Palestinians recognized the state of Israel, in writing. In reply, Israel merely recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people. This lopsided starting point may have contributed to the failure of the entire Oslo exercise. Today’s Germany has the opportunity to correct that historic mismatch and save the region from future violence, let alone saving Israel from itself.
The previous UK Consul General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, addressed his country’s upcoming debate on Palestinian statehood in The Sunday Herald (Scotland) on 19 April 2015 in an article titled, “We can restore hope in a just peace for Palestine and Israel.” He wrote, “Palestinians have the right to statehood, peace with justice and hope. Israelis have the same right to live in safety, with good neighbours and shared hope. We can do what is right for both peoples. Our next Government should recognise the State of Palestine alongside Israel, to preserve the two-state solution. Failure to resolve this conflict fairly remains the best recruiting sergeant for violent extremism. We regain our balance by upholding the international law we helped to write.”
The Bundestag has a choice to make. It can continue looking backwards in history on this issue and ignore its leading role in securing peace in the Middle East, or it can courageously look forward, maybe even recognising something it owes history, and assume leadership in this debate.
(Sam Bahour is a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network)