Supporting Upgrade in Palestine's Status

26/09/2011 00:06 BST | Updated 25/11/2011 10:12 GMT

In a world of 20 years ago, the Palestinian application for statehood at the United Nations would have presented a clear dividing line. Those that were 'friends' of Palestine would have voted in support, and those that were 'friends' of Israel, would have voted against. However, over past 10 years or so the dividing-line has become somewhat blurred. Concerned by a lack of movement in the peace-process between the Israelis and Palestinians, and a growing sense that it might just be too late for the long-awaited two-state solution, those who have always understood supporting Israel to mean both supporting both the state and the government of Israel (regardless of its political bent), with little or no distinction, are beginning to change course. And no-where is this more apparent than within Jewish communities outside of Israel who make up half world's Jewish population.

Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities have a symbiotic relationship and the Jewish state is perceived by the majority of Jews to be the national project of the Jewish people at large. A poll conducted within the UK Jewish community in 2010 revealed that 90% believe that Israel is the 'ancestral homeland of the Jewish people' and 87% agree that Jews are responsible for ensuring 'the survival of Israel'. However the nature of support for Israel is beginning to shift amongst Jewish communities, not least in the UK, for two reasons. Firstly, there is a major concern in relation to Israel's longevity as the Jewish state. Estimates suggest we are approximately 10 years away from population parity between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. It is not clear whether there will be any motivation on the part of the Palestinians to pursue a two-state solution when we reach this point. A request for annexation and one-person-one-vote would compromise both the democratic foundations on which the State of Israel was built and its Jewish character. There is a growing consensus that a Palestinian state is within Israel's, and the global Jewish community's, self-interest. Secondly many Jews, particularly (although not exclusively) of a younger generation, feel neither the obligation to defend Israel's every move and nor do they buy the premise that they must support a policy of occupation that they believe to be unjust. As Peter Beinart wrote in the New York Review of Books last year in relation to young American Jews: 'For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism's door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.'

Consequently, the past 3 years has witnessed the springing up of new 'pro-Israel' movements that seek to advocate both for Israel and the safety of her citizens against the threat from extremists, and an urgent resolution to the conflict, which of course must at times mean being critical of Israeli government policy that may damage the possibility of peace (ongoing settlement expansion being a prime example). One way or another, these movements work on the premise that galvanising large numbers of Diaspora Jews to speak out in support of a two-state solution could help to shift the stalemate in the region. It began with JStreet in the USA and was followed across the Atlantic with JCall, a continental European movement emanating from Paris, and Yachad, a UK based movement.

The bid for statehood at the United Nations presents a major challenge to those movements walking this tightrope - whilst it offers the possibility of injecting the peace process with new life blood, it also makes the assumption that the starting point for peace does not have to be negotiations and does not require the consent of both parties. Furthermore there is the very legitimate concern that a unilateral declaration of statehood, which does not actually change the reality on the ground, could result in renewed violence, destroying lives and making the possibility of peace less likely. On this basis, for an organisation that aims to bring large numbers of people behind it, to support the bid is a major challenge not least because it sets it apart from both the policy of the Israeli government of the day, and established Jewish communities outside of Israel who largely see their role as advocating and 'explaining' Israeli government policy.

Given the stalemate in the current peace-process, the political reality of the General Assembly (i.e. that it appears to be a fait accompli that the upgrade at the General Assembly will take place), and in spite of the challenges, Yachad has chosen to support an upgrade on the basis that it represents an historic opportunity to advance and expedite the peace process, which will guarantee Israel's survival as a Jewish and democratic state. To be recognised as a state will require the Palestinian leadership to take on the obligations of behaving like a state. This is clearly in Israel's long-term interest.

To break from a mould of support that was created 63 years ago with the advent of the State of Israel represents a paradigm shift within not just Jewish communities, but also the wider international community. It is not yet clear what impact this will have on the region. However in the face of a failed peace process, a change of tactics is clearly required by all interested parties and brokers if the status-quo is to shift. Yachad's support for an upgrade in Palestinian status is just one aspect of the urgently needed imaginative thinking that is required to break the stalemate.