Hamas and Islamic State are part of the same Islamist front

Recognising a Palestinian state now will thwart hopes for peace

The Palestinian state doesn’t exist yet and the only structures in place that may resemble a functioning state are controlled by
the internationally designated terrorist group Hamas.

Nonetheless many countries have “recognised” a Palestinian state through formal declarations, and groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization have been granted observer status at the UN general assembly. Europe had been resisting until now the urge to recognise an entity that doesn’t exist in real terms. Unfortunately some Europeans are today indulging in a “recognition now” policy.

On October 3 the new Swedish government announced that it would recognise Palestine as a state to promote a negotiated two-state solution. Also the British parliament voted on October 13 to approve a motion recognising Palestine as a state “alongside Israel”. And though more than half of the MPs did not cast their vote, the
result was overwhelmingly conclusive: 274 to 12.

We should expect more similar moves like these across Europe. No matter how well intentioned these initiatives may be, recognising Palestine as a state now is inappropriate, counterproductive and unwarranted. It will not promote peace, it will not boost a negotiated solution, it will not change the reality on the ground and it will reward Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves.

Furthermore it represents a tacit approval of the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a thoughtless move at a time when jihadist groups such as Islamic State (Isis) are in full expansion. Actually, moving the political and strategic focus away from the threat of jihadism to deal with a fantasy is a grave irresponsibility.

Here is why:

First, recognising Palestine as a state today is detrimental for peace negotiations and premature. It will not promote peace for it will induce the Palestinians to stray from a negotiated solution, given the fact that a hard line and unilateral policies got them this far. It is also premature: Palestine still lacks the fundamental ingredients that a state requires to carry out its international and domestic functions.

Second, feel-good statements, popular as they may be, will not change reality on the ground; they will rather encourage the Authority to continue a static strategy in the negotiations — thereby promoting a continued stalemate of the talks. The Oslo Accords, signed by the two parties, commit s them to negotiation as the way to reach an agreement enabling the existence of two states living side by side in peace with secure borders. Well intentioned but insufficiently thought-out declarations such as these will only turn the path defined by Oslo, which is supported by responsible members of the international community, into a chimera — pre-empting the peace it is supposed to produce.

Third, these initiatives unfairly put pressure only on Israel. The Jewish state, harassed and subjected to constant hostility by
neighbours and terrorist groups, is persistently offering painful concessions to achieve a lasting and fair agreement, only to see the Authority refuse any compromise for the advancement of peace. It was Mahmoud Abbas who failed to accept the recent US framework document already accepted by Israel. It was Mr Abbas who demanded unacceptable concessions from Jerusalem in a clear obstructionist policy; and it was Mr Abbas who reached a unity agreement with Hamas, just three months before the Islamist group started a massive barrage of rockets fired into Israeli cities.

Fourth, Israel is today a bulwark against the expansion of jihadism and other threats in the Middle East. Promoting initiatives to recognise an imagined Palestinian state now ignores the need for compromises from the Authority and represents a huge mistake, considering how much western countries need the support of Israel against jihadism and nuclear proliferation, among other worrying threats to global security. In the current circumstances, recognising Palestine as a state is also an implicit approval of the unity agreement reached by Fatah and Hamas. As Hamas and Isis are parts of the same Islamist front, the western democracies should not legitimise an entity that is going to be formed by one of them.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that on October 12 at a conference in Cairo Palestinians were pledged $5.4 billion by
international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza. Only half of that money will be dedicated to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, according to the Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende who co-chaired the conference. No one knows what the other half will be spent on. If the funds are received by a Hamas-ruled government in Gaza, it is more than likely, as Hamas has repeatedly done in the past, that the funds will be used to consolidate its power, amass more rockets and mortars and build more tunnels to attack Israeli civilians, while promoting radical and undemocratic policies in the street. Failing to track the proper use of funds is irresponsible and will contribute to the deterioration of Israel’s security.

The Friends of Israel Initiative has always claimed that peace can only be reached through negotiations. Recognising Palestine as a state in the face of Mr Abbas’s obstructionist behaviour, Hamas’s attacks on Israel and the present situation in the Middle East, is detrimental for peace since it will reward Palestinian unwillingness to negotiate a true peace with Israel and will encourage unilateral moves and a break with the Oslo Accords. Thus, we call on all responsible leaders of free nations to reject unilateral moves that only reward one side. We call our leaders to urge both parties to resume without pre-conditions direct bilateral talks as the only way to really promote a lasting peace. Actions that only undermine one of the parties will not produce peace, they will obstruct it. If we want to have a democratic, free, peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state alongside Israel, recognising now an entity that is far from democratic, free, peaceful and prosperous will only thwart any possibility that any such state will exist in the future.

Signed by:

José María Aznar, former prime minister of Spain and founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative.
John R Bolton, former US representative to the UN
Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy
Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico
Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru
Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan
George Weigel, senior fellow of the US Ethics and Public Policy Center
Andrew Roberts, British historian
Roberto F Agostinelli, founder of the Rhône Group
Lieutenant-Colonel Allen B West, former US congressman
Carlos Alberto Montaner, exiled Cuban author and journalist
Carlos Bustelo, former industry minister of Spain
Fiamma Nirenstein, journalist, former member of the Italian parliament
Rafael L Bardají, executive director, Friends of Israel Initiative, former strategic adviser, Spain

Letter published in The Times, 25 October 2014