When the editors of the Palestine-Israel Journal asked me to contribute to this special issue, I was both flattered and frustrated. Flattered because of the recognition of what such an invitation entails, given that I gave up writing on Palestine-Israel matters a long time ago, and frustrated because I didn’t have the time to do the research needed to address the subject in a fair and comprehensive manner and to give justice to the details of possible developments that I may be unaware of in the official position of the German Government or the positions of the disparate German political parties. So, the editors and I agreed that I would write a brief viewpoint. The following is just that.
I have done my share of writing and contributed extensively and intensively to the effort to show that a solution to the conflict between
Palestine and Israel -- namely, the two-state solution -- exists. I went through the exercise as part of a group of experts from both sides and showed how it can be done, and I took part in the efforts to convince the people on both sides of the uniqueness and workability of this solution. I also talked to the international community on many occasions about what it takes to implement such a solution and how international political actors can help. I thought, and still think, that all that needs to be said has already been said, especially when dealing with the German role, which is problematic for historical reasons and is almost as intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself.
I stopped writing but did not stop reading, and it is fair to state that had something substantive of practical consequence taken place in the German stance, I would be aware of it. I am aware of how helpful and important Germany’s role has been in sustaining Palestinian institution-building, and I know that Germany supports the two-state solution and views Israel’s building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal and the transfer of part of the Israeli population to settle in the occupied territory as an unlawful act that goes against international law. I know all that based on statements made by German officials and policy makers. But I also know that Germany does not recognize the state of Palestine. This position is strange, because it is totally at odds with the support for the two-state solution, which has been enshrined in United Nations resolutions and is accepted by all countries, except for the United States, its appendages in
the South Pacific, and Israel, as the only solution that offers a semblance of justice and, therefore, could satisfy the requisites of durability and stability.
Resolution Starts With Recognition
The two-state solution is essentially about creating and recognizing a Palestinian state because the other state, Israel, has already been established and recognized. Therefore, any effort to resolve the conflict starts with recognition of Palestinian rights and of the State of Palestine, pure and simple. Yet the international community at large - Germany included - has not done anything of consequence to censure Israel for its illegal acts that jeopardize – some say kill - the two-state solution. In particular, when all states, with the mentioned few exceptions, agree that the cessation of the illegal Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the only telling signal that Israel indeed seeks a peace settlement as opposed to expansion, they have done nothing to stop Israel from its violations of
international law. Even a peaceful, popular movement like BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), which tries to act where states have failed - namely, to pressure Israel to abide by the requirements of international law - has been declared anti-Semitic and, therefore, illegal by the German Bundestag. It was not the illegal Israeli settlement activity but the movement to sanction it that was confronted with a practical measure. Compare this measure with the vacillations on the move to label, let alone ban, the products of the illegal Israeli settlements in the German market so that the consumer can make an informed choice and possibly act in accordance with the declared German policy regarding the Israeli settlements.
Germany presumably wishes to maintain a balanced relationship with both Palestine and Israel and seeks to identify what role it can play to revive the political process. I don’t know how it can balance its relationship with a country that practices belligerent occupation with its relationship with the country under that occupation and whether this is morally the right thing to do. Indeed, I have been arguing recently against a “balanced” view on the subject of Palestine and Israel. Rather, I think all state actors should take a principled position that is biased toward international law and human rights, oppose occupation and expansion, support the right of self-determination of nations, and do that without discrimination. One should not be neutral vis-a-vis transgressions such as those committed blatantly by Israel. Can
Germany do that? So far, no European nation has been able to take part in the enforcement of any resolution that runs contrary to Israeli expansionism. On the contrary, Germany has been providing Israel with advanced weapon systems that are not all for defensive purposes. It is difficult to balance such weapons sales with development aid, but in any event, this sort of balance should not be the purpose of the German role. Rather, the balance should be in contributing to peace and prosperity for both sides. For Palestine, it is the end of the occupation and the accordance of statehood. For Israel, it is weaning itself off the greed for territory and rolling back its expansion into the occupied territories of its neighbors.
Peace Is a German Self-Interest
I think that Germany can and should play a role based on principled positions commensurate with its present stature as a strong democracy that has been contributing to the good of the world for the longest peaceful period in its recent history, and it should not be held back by a tarnished history for which it has already paid so dearly. The last three generations of German politicians may look over their shoulders and see only the atrocities of the Nazi era and the need to atone for them. We see them as well, but that is a phase in German history that has passed, and the more enduring picture from the outside is that of a great nation with great contributions to
the advancement of world civilization… and to European unity. Germany should assess its self-interest in peace in the Middle East and act accordingly, including playing a leading European role in bringing about peace in our area.
Leading the efforts to bring peace to the Middle East need not be about challenging the United States, which is hopelessly biased and unqualified and is geographically far away, except for its military presence in the region. It is more about self-interest and safeguarding European security. The United States is already looking west, across the Pacific. Europe should not be looking only west across the Atlantic but also east across the immediate landmass. No one can argue anymore that war in our area is a local affair. It is not, and the spillover into Europe is not only about refugees. Germany and Europe can help bridge the development gap between Europe and Middle East and, in the process, help the region resolve its exploding unemployment problem. The solution for the millions of desperate youth
is not to send them into battle as cannon fodder but to give them hope of a better future. This starts with correcting the injustice that started at the end of World War I, or just after World War II, or in 1967. It is ultimately a cheaper and more humane investment.
A semi-permanent international conference on peace in the Middle East that brings together all parties with something at stake, including possible spoilers, is arguably the only way forward. Europe can lead, but Europe should first show a balanced approached. Israel has been recognized. Now, recognize the State of Palestine! The principle of inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war resolves the borders issue. Border adjustments that are absolutely necessary can be negotiated between the two states, along with other outstanding issues that address the legitimate concerns of the two sides. Can Germany lead or jump-start this effort within Europe? This is, of course, for Germany to decide, but I think that it is well positioned to do that. Since Germany seeks to exercise balanced relations with both Palestine and Israel, it should recognize Palestine now, just as it recognized Israel.