Friday, February 21, 2020

Palestinians must bring more to table than a sympathy plea - British MP - Tovah Lazaroff

by Tovah Lazaroff

“I came away thinking that they [the Palestinians] are absolutely not going to let this be a moment of opportunity, – that is what was frustrating and disappointing to me," Crabb said.

British Conservative MP Stephen Crabb is seen near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)
British Conservative MP Stephen Crabb is seen near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain

The Palestinians must show they are serious about peace by seizing the “Deal of the Century” as a vehicle for progress rather than rejecting it on the presumption that the international community has endless patience for their plight, visiting British Member of Parliament Stephen Crabb told The Jerusalem Post.

“The understanding we are coming to is that the Palestinians have to bring something more to the table than just a plea for sympathy and cash. There has to be a pragmatic decision to talk the language of peace and to engage in a genuine and real process,” said Crabb who chairs the British parliamentary group Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

“Patience is running out,”  Crabb added.

He visited the region with a small delegation of CFI parliamentarians to meet with Israelis and Palestinians as a way of furthering their knowledge of the conflict.

On Wednesday the group visited Ramallah, Rawabi and Jericho, where they met with PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat. They discussed US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which was unveiled in January. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, which offers Israel 30% of the West Bank and most of Jerusalem. They want a plan based on the pre-1967 lines, which would place all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem within the final borders of their future state.

The United Kingdom has welcomed Trump’s efforts while holding to its acceptance of a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines. 

After meeting with CFI parliamentarians, Erekat tweeted: "We discussed the prospects of peace and security, [and] regional developments, in light of [the] Trump/Netanyahu annexation plan. I have reiterated State of Palestine's firm position towards the Two State Solution (Palestine and Israel) on 1967 line.”

In an interview with the Post on Wednesday night at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Crabb said he was disappointed by the meeting.

“I went there wanting to see if there was a glimmer of opportunity: a glimmer of hope from Dr. Erekat,” Crabb said. 

Irrespective of whether the Palestinian Authority agrees or disagrees with Trump, it should “at least recognize that there is a moment here not to be missed, which is a moment to begin another round of serious discussions,” Crabb claimed. 

Instead, “I came away thinking that they [the Palestinians] are absolutely not going to let this be a moment of opportunity, that is what was frustrating and disappointing to me," he said.

THIS IS Crabb’s sixth trip to Israel since becoming an MP in 2005, and he has met with Erekat three or four times already. 

“For some of my delegation it was their first experience with Saeb Erekat; it was a cold blast of what the default Palestinian position is, really,” Crabb said.

“It underscored to me just how dug in the Palestinian leadership is when it comes to not just the Trump plan, but any talk of a serious peace negotiation,” he said.

“I remember Saeb saying to me three years ago: the same analysis of the problem, the same blame being apportioned to different international actors and of course to the Israelis,” the MP said.

Erekat played “very strongly the card of wanting the sympathy of the international community to the plight of Palestinians,” Crabb recalled of the meeting. 

"Back home in the British parliament, there is no shortage of sympathy for the Palestinians... There is broad understanding of the humanitarian problems that Palestinians face in the West Bank and especially so in Gaza,” Crabb explained.

Still, he said, “talking from the perspective of a British politician that wants to be good friends with Israelis and good friends with the Palestinians” – and as “a politician that believes in the two-state solution” – something more is needed. 

British politicians “have become quite frustrated with the lack of progress,” Crabb said.

“I was thoroughly expecting Dr. Erekat to reject the Trump proposals. My own government has not endorsed those proposals per se – that is in line with many members of the international community,” he said. But “whether Erekat likes it or not, President Trump is president of the United States, and the US is a big stake holder in this,” he explained.

"We don’t want this opportunity to be missed. The plan that was published: It’s not perfect and it’s not going to be the final document, but at least let it be something that brings the players around the same table for a discussion,” he said.

The British parliamentarian said he was particularly moved by the young Palestinian entrepreneurs he met in Ramallah who are missing out on the economic opportunities that peace would offer them. 

“They want what is rightfully theirs, which is a place in the 21st Century and the 21st Century economy,” he said.

Crabb explained that he had not considered the possibility that Israeli plans to annex settlements would come to fruition in their entirety, if at all. He was clear in his opposition to new Israeli settlement activity.

“The British government’s position has remained consistent on this," the MP said. "They regard settlements as illegal and have consistently spoken out against the creation of new settlements. That is the official top-line position of the British government.” 

Certain politicians, officials and ambassador privately accept that when it comes down to a final deal, “there will need to be a lot of pragmatism around where the lines get drawn,” he said, adding that some of the settlements would likely become part of Israel’s final borders in a final-status arrangement.

THE CFI delegation arrived on Sunday and leaves on Friday. It also took time to explore Israel’s security situation, including taking a trip to the Golan.

Crabb tweeted a video statement from the Golan Heights against Hezbollah's actions on the Lebanese and Syrian borders with Israel.

“We are hearing about [Hezbollah’s] objective of trying to create a second front on the Syrian border. That can only mean bad things for Israel and bad things for the people of Syria." 

Hezbollah is “a threat to the people of Israel. And right under the nose of the international community, they have embedded themselves hundreds of thousands of rockets on the Lebanese border," Crabb said in his video message. "You can see they are trying to do the same on the Syrian border.” 

In his conversation with the Post, he also expanded on his belief that Iran posed a regional threat. 

The United Kingdom is one of six signatories to the 2015 Iran deal, which the US abandoned in 2018. The UK, along with France and Germany, has worked to salvage the deal.

Crabb said he disagreed with his government’s position on Tehran, which holds that “rapprochement with Iran and reestablishing diplomatic ties would lead to Iran becoming a more responsible international player.”

This has not proven to be true, as Iran only really responds to significant pressure, he said. The Iran deal gave Tehran a “free pass” to carry on with damaging activities in the region.

“The nuclear deal did nothing to encourage Iran to desist from encouraging terrorist movements and undermining legitimate governments across the region,” Crabb said. “If we are going to revive any kind of nuclear deal, I would want to see a much broader deal that locks Iran into commitments to dial down those [regional destabilizing] activities.”

Tovah Lazaroff


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