Israel and Palestine

Guest speaker yesterday at Daphna Wizo – a branch of the hugely important Wizo – the modern Jewish women’s organisation that supports Israel. Hosted by Stephanie and Simon Kester in Highpoint (a block of flats in Highgate) – where I grew up! It was hugely well attended – I suspect more for the lovely buffet luncheon than coming to hear me – but it was a real pleasure and honour to be invited.

After greetings and luncheon I was there to speak about the Liberal Democrat policy on Israel and Palestine. For those who know me of old – they will know I stick firm to the belief that the only way is forward, taking sides is pointless and counter-productive, and blaming each side for sins and wrongs gets us nowhere. My experience is that both pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis can get cross with me!

That having been said – I am very pleased to go into even the most pro-Israel or pro-Palesinian gathering and make the case for moving forward – not looking backwards. As part of the solution – my belief (and Liberal Democrat policy) is that we need to add the Arab League to the Quartet table (i.e. make it a Quintet)- as we believe that any solution has to be strategically safeguarded and facilitated by a regional and super-power body – leaving Israel and Palestine to negotiate between them as to who moves on what on the key issues of settlements, Jerusalem, right of return and all the very, very difficult issues involved in the Middle East.

Too long to go into here – but it is a reasoned way forward that puts the players together to take it forward.

Not sure that everyone totally agreed with me. There were clearly a few who thought that inviting the Arab League to the table was not the way to move forward and clearly some concern about whether the politics in America were going to change. Given Obama and McCain have both pledged allegiance to Israel – I doubt whether America is likely to change. Of course, the Liberal Democrat proposals take the lead away from America – as we see it as part of the problem rather than the solution. It needs neutral leadership and representatives of the two nations at the table along with funders like the EU.

If no one ever changes their position on the Israeli or the Palestinian side – particularly no negotiation before recognition – then nothing will change. That is why the Liberal Democrat proposals give a framework which allows both sides to move without losing face on that stand-off which has long stood in the way of peace in the Middle East.

As I was leaving, one of the women came up to me and said – thank you for such a well-balanced approach and ‘I’m totally with you’. So – clearly audience weren’t all sceptical!