In a historic vote in Strasbourg this week, the European Parliament voted on a resolution to recognise the State of Palestine, with a large majority of 498 to 88 MEPs in favour.
Although it does not have the power under international law to unilaterally recognise a state in the same way as a national government does, the Parliament's call on "all EU Member States to recognise the State of Palestine" is an important stepping stone, following similar votes by the British, French, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish parliaments, and the government of Sweden, to promote a more active European role towards a peaceful two-state solution regarding the conflict. A potential UN Security Council Resolution recognising Palestine may follow, and would need European support. The Parliament's resolution also includes an affirmation that only non-violent means could bring about peace, deploring recent violence and attacks on civilians.
It is certainly inevitable that a peace agreement to end the conflict will only come about following negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. This Resolution, as with others that have come before and may follow, is aimed at re-establishing such negotiations, to break the deadlock we have seen in recent years. The international community, with the EU a leading actor in it, must take a stand and give cognisance to the rights of the Palestinians to a viable state, and the rights of Israelis to durable peace and security.
The initiative was led by our Socialist and Democratic (S&D) bloc in the Parliament, with Labour's own Richard Howitt MEP as Rapporteur, coordinating the effort. The S&D and the Labour Party believe that a strong call from the EU, together with our work with our sister parties in Fatah in Palestine, and the Labour Party in Israel, can aid in giving context to the negotiations, rather than undermining them, as some have suggested.
Gianni Pitella, President of the S&D said following the vote that "This resolution, most importantly, stressed the overwhelming conviction in Europe that time has come to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Europe, through the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, must now play a decisive role in the peace process, contributing to stopping the endless spiral of violence." Labour's Richard Howitt added that the vote was "not an alternative to either a two-state solution or to peace talks to achieve it, but gives a vital impetus to both."
Julie has been heavily involved in campaigning and speaking out on the Israeli and Palestinian issue in general, and we have received an enormous amount of mail from constituents and a variety of organisations about this Resolution. MEPs have been sent a petition of more than 800 prominent Israelis - writers, scientists, artists, academics, politicians, and former military commanders - all calling on us to vote in favour of the recognition of Palestine in order to promote peace.
These include internationally renowned figures such as writers Amos Oz and David Grossman, Noble Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, and political figures such as Yossi Sarid and Avraham Burg, whose office we have been in touch with. All this shows that there is a significant Israeli voice speaking out, supportive of peace and recognition, and working to end the occupation. This is the voice we seek to work with and strengthen.
Julie has met with Nabil Shaath, Palestinian former Prime Minister and senior negotiator, twice in recent months: in Manchester during the Labour Party Conference in September and at the Parliament in Brussels earlier this month. On both occasions, Julie was impressed by his commitment to peace and social democratic values - his is a voice that ought to be amplified in Palestinian politics. Julie has also met with Israeli politicians and representatives from the Israeli Embassy in the UK, as well as UK and European Jewish community leaders.
In early December, Julie was invited to speak to a group of young Israeli and Palestinian leaders visiting the European Parliament for four days of dialogue and discussion, accompanied by Yariv Oppenheimer, Director of the Israeli NGO Peace Now.
Julie told the group about her conviction that open dialogue is essential to gradually building the peace between individual people. It is this open dialogue that the European Parliament and the S&D Group seek to promote by pointing out a direction for negotiations to continue in.
As a women’s rights activist, Julie understands the role women, and women’s empowerment can play in reconciliation and peace-building. Women oriented NGOs, such as Machsom Watch do important work for human rights and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. In November, the Women’s Rights Committee in the European Parliament organised a conference entitled “Spring Forward for Women” to discuss the effects of the Arab Spring on women’s empowerment in affected countries, together with women leaders, politicians and activists, from throughout the region. The event demonstrated the dynamic role of women leaders in conflict resolution, and there were many lessons to be learnt. Julie will be continuing this work by organising a women’s delegation from the UK to Palestine in November 2015, to meet with women activists, leaders, and NGOs on both sides, who are working towards a better future.