Text of speech by former UK Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. David Miliband, delivered on Monday, March 19, at OneVoice Europe's gala dinner in London.
After welcoming everyone to the event, David Miliband had special words of thanks for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who attended the event and has supported OneVoice Europe since it was established in 2006.
The Archbishop [of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams] has not feared to tread into the Middle East, but equally he has not trod without great care; building bridges across religious divides. And, although, it is not our topic tonight, the terrible shootings in Toulouse remind us that building bridges and respect is one of the duties of public leadership, and I think Rowan Williams has discharged those duties with enormous compassion and commitment. And I feel it is important to say that.
You, the supporters of OneVoice, make something that is necessary, that is unique and that is right, possible. You make the dialogue and discussion of Israelis and Palestinians, especially young Israelis and Palestinians, possible. And just because something is necessary and right and unique doesn’t mean it would happen. So it is important to recognize that some of the things that you will hear about tonight in the film and the speeches wouldn’t happen without your commitment.
I first met the young OneVoice leaders with David Levin in 2008 and I immediately saw from that meeting that they were both ordinary, and extraordinary. You have got two remarkable young leaders here tonight and they are going to speak to you from Israel and Palestine. They were ordinary young people because they were idealistic, brave, raw in the way that they expressed themselves, insightful. And I think those are qualities that if you take the time to talk to young people around the world, you actually find in great abundance. But they were also extraordinary, because they were defying conventional opinion in their own communities. By 2008, any notion that there was an inevitability about a two-state solution had disappeared, but more than that, it was no longer fashionable to be talking about a two-state solution in the Middle East. And so these young people were, I think, extraordinary in the way they defied conventional opinion.
What I most liked about them was that they were trying to mobilize something that money can’t buy. That is people-power! They were trying to mobilize opinion and action for a great and vital cause for both of their communities. In that sense they were trying to live out that hackneyed phrase of ‘be the change that is within you.’ They were actually doing it themselves and I have to say they taught me something very, very important. I spent 20 years trying to help the Labour Party become a good government for the people, but what OneVoice amongst others taught me was that you can’t have a good government for the people unless you have a commitment to the government by the people. The emphasis in OneVoice of government by the people and mobilization of the people has a very wide resonance. The achievements are not to be sniffed at, at all. Merely the plan itself sends a tremendous message, I think, to communities right around the world. The individual actions, whether it be reopening the Gaza office, mobilizing to block the recent illegal outposts bill, reaching out to the United States and to universities, doing some tremendous work in Britain, actually, in universities where both Palestinians and Jewish communities have felt under some kind of siege. OneVoice has been able to show in Britain that actually dialogue is the answer to an end of that siege.
So I want to say to you tonight that we are supporting an organization that is doing some important good. And if I only said that, I think you would go away dissatisfied because that is not the whole truth. I think in 2012, it is important to recognize that’s not the whole truth because the wider truth is that OneVoice is doing some good in circumstances that are basically very bad. In fact, the circumstances in many ways have rarely been worse in the last 30 or 40 years. I think it would be dishonest, and I have otherwise said publicly, that the failure to establish a Palestinian state next to Israel is the greatest diplomatic failure in 40 years. It’s the greatest diplomatic failure because, actually, it is one of those international problems to which there is actually a viable solution. There is a young man here from the University of Manchester, he was at the event I did in Manchester last week, where I was asked about Somalia, and the truth is I really don’t know what the answer is in Somalia. But in respect to that small piece of land at the heart of the Middle East, I do think my opinion and that of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, which is that you need two states able to live side by side with each other, is the right answer. It is the greatest failure of diplomacy because diplomacy has failed to bring it about, and there is suffering and injustice and insecurity on both sides as a result. Great suffering, great injustice and great insecurity.
This is a very challenging period because in blunt terms, to speak in basic politics to you, the Israel-Palestine question is probably now fourth or fifth on the Middle East political agenda, nevermind on the global political agenda. I say that to you not to depress you, but to tell you both the truth and also to say to you that the fundraising that is going to be done later tonight is even more important because of that political context. If in fact this was a fashionable cause that was the inevitable product of history, then OneVoice would be worthwhile, but much less necessary. It is because there is a real question about whether the two-state solution will ever be achieved that it is even more necessary than ever. The truth is that the agenda in Israel, in the United States, and I have to say in the large part in the Gulf is not about Israel and Palestine, it is about Iran. The truth is that the Arab Spring has turned regional attention away from the Israel-Palestine question. The Israel Spring, the Tel Aviv Spring that took place last March, was notable for many things, one of which was that the word ‘Palestine’ was not mentioned at all in the demonstrations that took place in the heart of Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Spring has not yet sprung and it’s for those reasons this cause, this cause that I think is vital to the state of Israel and vital to the people of Palestine, has fallen to being fourth or fifth on the regional agenda.
The danger is that the leaders are not leading in the search for the answer, and it is that danger that makes the work of OneVoice especially important. I am saying so for a very particular reason, which is at the heart of something that is very important to me in politics. Some people will tell you that hope leads to action. And I am afraid to tell you that is profoundly wrong. Action leads to hope, and that’s what makes OneVoice important. Action leads to hope because it achieves successes, however small, that inspire confidence in greater successes. Action leads to hope because it requires the building of coalitions that can make change. Action leads to hope because it requires you to persuade people who are not immediately of your frame of mind. Action leads to hope because it allows you to say here are tangible gains as a result of what has been done. And if OneVoice is about anything, it is actually about action first and hope as its product rather than a vain call to hope that one day might produce action. The world frankly is full of people who can make speeches about why things should be better and it is not full enough of people who are making it better. That is essentially what I take the message of OneVoice to be.
My own view about the ultimate negotiations that need to take place, the substantive negotiations, is very much in line with the OneVoice vision in terms of the substance of the settlement, but I would also add, just as an international relations gloss, that my own instinct is that this Israel-Palestine question will only ever be settled in the context of a wider Arab settlement with Israel. In other words, we have to regionalize the political solution. That was, after all, the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 -- the 10th anniversary next month is a very significant moment of reflection. It was the time when every Arab state of the Arab League said it would recognize Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state. So we need to regionalize the solution. In my view, we also need internationalize the diplomatic effort. If we rely only on the United States as the motor of progress in the region, then I am afraid we are going to be waiting a very long time. The United States is a very important actor in promoting international diplomacy to resolve this question, but it can’t be the only actor. It needs to be part of a wider coalition.
This is all not the main point of tonight. The main point of tonight is to say that the flame of hope for a two-state solution is only kept alive by action, and that is what I think OneVoice can do. If you think about it, there is a double meaning in the title of OneVoice. Because on its own, what is just one voice? Nothing. It’s lost into the air. But the double meaning of the organization of OneVoice is of many people speaking with one voice. And when many people speak with one voice, they are not isolated, dissipated, diluted and lost into the atmosphere. They are, rather, magnified into a call that is heard far and wide. I think what the young people have done in joining voices is to reject the pessimism that says ‘my voice is meaningless, I am alone, I can’t do anything.’ There are plenty of people propagating this view about politics, whether in Israel or in Palestine, but instead these youth are recognizing that as part of a bigger coalition, one voice can mean that louder, stronger, and more forceful sense that you are part of something bigger than yourself.
Let me just finish on the following note. I think that it is true, and some of you will know this better than I, that in many people’s hearts and heads, in Israel and in Palestine, the talk of a “peace process” rings hollow. Calls for a new, renewed, integrated “peace process” rings hollow. What isn’t hollow is the notion that human beings need to find a better way of living together than one that is separated by distrust. What OneVoice tries to do is in a way the most difficult thing, but also the most noble thing in politics, which is get people who think they have divergent interests to recognize that they actually have convergent interests. It’s my profound passion that the whole world is more unjust and less safe as a result of our failure in the Middle East, but it is also my conviction that the peoples of the Middle East have some remarkable strengths, and if only the strengths that we know exist amongst both Israelis and Palestinians could be mobilized in common cause, then the future of the Middle East will not be the bloodletting mistrust that has typified so much of the past.
So, if that is the spirit you have come here with tonight, the commitment you want to make, certainly my commitment, then I really hope you will be able to not just raise a glass but get out your checkbook to support an organization in a part of the world that has too few organizations that are flames of hope and really continue to make a difference. Thank you very much.