A chance for peace
‘Establishing facts on the ground” has been a cardinal feature of Israeli policy towards the territories it captured in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Since then the Palestinian populations of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been subject to gradual annexations, confiscations and expulsions intended to extend Israeli control and facilitate Israeli settlements. This has happened in spite of repeated affirmations by the United Nations and most of its member states declaring that these are occupied territories and that only the prewar borders are valid in international law.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition have sought to make these established facts and not the pre-1967 Israeli borders the starting point of resumed negotiations on a two-state peace settlement. US Secretary of State John Kerry has not made public the details of the agreement reached last week to resume negotiations but the 1967 borders have been put back centre stage by Palestinian negotiators fearful of losing advantage in the talks. And they form the basis of the European Commission’s guidelines published last week governing the use of EU grants, prizes and financial instruments to Israeli companies, public authorities and other entities in the next budget period 2014-2020. These will not be available to any of them operating in the occupied territories. Because of their now deep entanglement with those in Israel proper, many participants in research, development and investment projects could be hit hard by the new restrictions.
Strenuous Israeli lobbying to delay them failed. Their symbolic importance was rapidly visible in the furious reaction of Israeli ministers who said the restrictions would derail the peace talks. On the contrary, they provided the spur Mr Netanyahu needed to enter talks on agreed terms and put the negotiations on a sounder and fairer footing, based on a potential new international alignment between the US and the EU against Israel’s creeping occupation. They echo the wider discussion and movements in favour of boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions to rebalance the highly unequal power relationship between the parties to the talks. Most Israelis still favour a two-state outcome and have little deep commitment to the occupations. Mr Netanyahu’s willingness to enter peace talks on the basis negotiated by Mr Kerry suggests he is beginning to absorb the lessons – and costs – of these two developments. He has acknowledged that a sustainable peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution is “an essential strategic interest”for Israel. Now he has a chance to achieve it.