The Israeli Ambassador to the UK discusses The Two State Solution

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“By moving embassies you are helping peace” Mark Regev stated after being asked for a response to Trump’s controversial intent to transfer United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mark Regev is the current ambassador of Israel in the UK, with an extensive number of years in the Israeli diplomacy, including being the former spokesmen of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is known for his defence of Israel’s position in international media during the Second Lebanon War and recent military conflicts with Gaza. He was invited to a talk in Cambridge hosted by Clare Politics and the Middle Eastern and North Africa Forum, to take part in a discussion under the name “The Future of the Two State Solution in the era of Trump”. It became clear that the attendants were in the presence of an important figure in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when we had to undergo rigorous checks to attend the event, from a prohibition to bring in bags or to record the event to physical checks and the presence of a band of body guards.

Regev continued by praising Trump and his actions, saying he is very appreciated in the Middle East. In the spirit of Trump’s relations with Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel builds contact with the Arab world and is engaging in diplomatic relations with them like never before. The common belief used to be that after Palestine achieves peace with Israel, the world will follow. Now there is an understanding that relationships with Arab countries are essential for the peace process, he argues.

After a polite exchange between Regev and his interviewer, Chris Doyle, Director of The Council for Arab-British Understanding, the conversation quickly heated up when Doyle raised the issue of the settlements. With Israel continuously building new settlements in the West Bank, with 600,000 Jews currently living illegally in Palestinian territory according to international law, Doyle is skeptical that a two state solution is feasible.

Regev answered that “the issue of settlements is not the most difficult”, instead claiming that this is a dual national struggle.  He further argues that if it is accepted that Israel can have an Arab minority, why cannot Palestine have a Jewish minority? He goes as far as to call the attempt to prohibit the Jewish settlements in the West Bank ethnic cleansing. 

Doyle refuted it by saying that the problem that underlines the settlements is the ongoing occupation and the deprivation of human rights for the Palestinian population. “I don’t believe it is about human rights”, argued Regev, because the Palestinians who live in A areas and Gaza under Palestinian control of Abu Mazen and Hamas, respectively, have no democratic rights whatsoever. “The only Arab community in the Middle East that enjoys democracy is the Israeli Arab community.” As a response, Doyle said that the legal system in Israel violates international law and that the legal processes are so long and expensive that Palestinians cannot enjoy the benefits of democracy. Interestingly, this conversation was conducted between two white men regarding what is best for the Palestinians and it was not once raised the question of what do the Palestinians think is best for themselves. 

Netanyahu has endorsed a two state solution for years in which he has two conditions for peace agreement: one is a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the other is the demilitarization of Palestine. However, his government has tried to strengthen its hold in the Palestinian territory with the recent “Regulation Law” which legalizes a pecuniary compensation of property illegally annexed from Palestinians. Furthermore, many members of Netanyahu’s party and his coalition have opposed a two state solution such as the MKs Zohar and Bennett. In light of these late developments, I asked during the Q & A what has Netanyahu done in the last decade as Israel’s prime minister to promote a two state solution. But instead of answering my question, Regev elaborated on Netanyahu’s conditions for a peace treaty.

Regev argued that the peace has to be based on mutual recognition. Israel has an equal right to self-determination, like the Palestinian people or any other country. He argues that the refusal of the Palestinians to recognise a Jewish state is the reason why the peace negotiations were unsuccessful up to now. Saying it is more important for them to prevent a Jewish state than establish a Palestinian country, he calls it a “the tragedy of the Palestinians.”  For the second condition he said that demilitarization is essential for guaranteeing the stabilization of the peace. Without demilitarization, hostile organizations like Hezbollah or ISIS can collaborate with Palestine and risk Israel’s safety. “If you can’t defend the peace the peace won’t last”.

Regev finished the talk by answering a question regarding Israel’s financial growth, claiming that although Israel does not have oil resources, unlike its Arab neighbours, it was able to increase its GDP over the last 30 years. In fact, he said, Israel has been such an economic force that nowadays it attracts illegal immigrant workers from Africa through the border with Egypt. It raised a lot of issues in Israel regarding the current laws, he continues, since they are all claiming to be asylum seekers and Israel cannot recognise every person coming from a dictatorship as an asylum seeker. Of course he is right to say that not every citizen who lives in a dictatorship is entitled to be an asylum seeker. However, taking into account that 92% of 38,540 illegal immigrants arrive from Sudan and Eritrea, countries whose citizens are recognized refuges in most western countries, that they are not entitled to refugee status is simply incorrect. Of all the demands, less than 1% have been recognized as asylum seekers in Israel.

Mark Regev eloquently presented Israel’s position while guarding its interests, using every rhetoric tool he possesses, but we have come out of this conversation knowing very little of the future of the two state solution and very little of Trump’s involvement in achieving it.  

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