Rediscovering Palestinian statehood

The western world and Arab States are pinning their hopes on Israel’s ‘good sense’ even as they all struggle to control an uncontrollable situation in Gaza

February 26, 2024 12:16 am | Updated 08:31 am IST

‘Over the last decade or more, Israelis have increasingly been insulated from developments in the Occupied Territories, thereby eroding support in Israel for a two-state solution’

‘Over the last decade or more, Israelis have increasingly been insulated from developments in the Occupied Territories, thereby eroding support in Israel for a two-state solution’ | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The cat is out of the bag. Well, it has been out of the bag all the time but no one noticed it till now.

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not only declared publicly that for years he has been working against a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but he has also gone on to say that Israel needs “control over the entire area west of Jordan”. Does this sound familiar? Yes, that was the line which the world condemned Hamas for chanting — from the Jordan river to the sea. Those chanting it have been dubbed anti-Semitic and have been met with an iron fist. But now, such a plan for total Israeli control is reported to have been presented by Mr. Netanyahu to his cabinet. It is kosher now.

There was soon another bombshell, this time for Israel. The British Foreign Secretary, David Cameron said that the United Kingdom was willing to recognise a Palestinian state before a deal with Israel since the outcome of talks to arrive at a two-state solution could take years. This has set the cat among the pigeons — not the same cat but a different one. France has also joined the U.K. in this. Will the United States be far behind then? Unnerved, Mr. Netanyahu spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden. He later said that Israel “rejects international dictates”, and that it will “continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state” as it would be a “huge reward to unprecedented terrorism”. What was left unsaid was that it would also jeopardise his prime ministership and his far-right ruling coalition.

The global response

The reactions of the world to a Palestinian state have been one of collective amnesia. States that have ignored the Palestinians for the last decade or more — the entire period when Mr. Netanyahu was in power in Israel, and some Gulf and Arab States, which went ahead normalising relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords without even a fig leaf of an assurance of a two-state solution — have all of a sudden discovered the virtue of a two-state solution; one that has rapidly eroded before our eyes since the failure of the Barak-Clinton-Arafat summit in July 2000.

Editorial | Two states: On the Palestine question and the U.K. 

The U.S., which has pledged unconditional support to Israel’s war in Gaza, recently rediscovered the two-state solution, declaring that Israel’s ‘long-term and short-term security challenges in Gaza’ cannot be solved without the establishment of a Palestinian state — one of the rare admissions of how Israel can get the elusive security it is searching for. Mr. Biden even offered a de-militarised state of Palestine, which Mr. Netanyahu dismissed outright. But what one hand gives the other hand takes away. While rediscovering the two-state solution, the U.S. did a volte-face and voted against the United Nations General Assembly resolution in November 2023 calling for stopping illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — a red herring on the road to a two-state solution since illegal settlements and unrelenting settler violence every day threaten to change ground realities. In the West Bank, in 2023, a record number of 500 Palestinians were killed by the Israel Defense Forces and by Israeli settlers, violating UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of 2016, which declared Israeli settlements as illegal. However, in yet another flip-flop, in a first, the U.S. imposed sanctions against four Israeli settlers – as if sanctioning some settlers but not Israel will stop settler violence.

In January, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called the denial of Palestinian statehood as “unacceptable.” He has also consistently condemned the killing of 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 13,000 children. Saudi Arabia demanded an irreversible peace process for a Palestinian state before any resumption of normalisation talks with Israel, which were in the final stages before Hamas’s attack of October 7. The hearings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the question of a Palestinian state have also started. Faced with domestic pressures, in some cases electoral, the U.S., the European Union and Arab States are all struggling to control an uncontrollable situation, pinning their hopes on Israel’s ‘good sense’ with the strong possibility of a regional flare-up in the horizon. But it is understood that the latest plan presented to the Israeli cabinet has proposed the winding up of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This would be one more blow against the two-state idea since it would effectively mean taking away the rights of refugees off the final status negotiations.

On a single-state

If the two-state solution is off the table, then is a “single state solution” feasible?

In a single state, Israel needs to give equal rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to remain as a democracy. If so, Israel will stop being Jewish since Jews will be reduced to 50% of the population or less. To preserve its Jewish majority, if equal rights are not conceded, Palestinians will become second-class citizens and Israel will be an apartheid state since de facto occupation will continue and status quo will persist. Consequently, the option is between a two-state solution or driving the Palestinians out of West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem by ethnic cleansing. Public pronouncements of Israeli leadership and government action, especially the ground operations on over 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah, all point to ethnic cleansing. In fact, the Israeli ad hoc judge in the ICJ joined the majority ruling to call on Israeli senior officials and Ministers to desist from an incitement to genocide.

Over the last decade or more, Israelis have increasingly been insulated from developments in the Occupied Territories, thereby eroding support in Israel for a two-state solution. With the rise of the right wing in Israel, strong Israeli grass-root people’s organisations such as Peace Now, which supported the Oslo Accords, have lost nearly all support among the Israelis. After the attack by Hamas, whatever remains if this is disappearing. But the onus has always been on the Palestinians to keep proving to the world that they support a two-state solution while Israel has never been questioned. In 2017, even Hamas revised their 1988 Charter to recognise a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. Earlier, Hamas had signed agreements to that effect with Fatah and other factions.

The ‘Afghan model’?

What will the world do with Hamas the “day after” especially since they will remain in Palestine one way or another? To begin with, both sides need a change in leadership, with an Israeli leadership which will accept a two-state solution, and a Palestinian leadership which is inclusive and representative of Gaza and the West Bank to negotiate such a solution. We already have a “model” where the world is coming around to accepting the Taliban replacing the Taliban in Afghanistan. So, can we have a “different” Hamas leadership replacing the current Hamas leadership and being included in the Palestinian leadership structure for the sake of Palestinian unity and a two-state solution? And, where will the new Israeli leadership come from when the centrists have lost sympathy?

Also read | Top U.N. court opens hearings on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

The world waits, not with bated breath but with resignation, for the major players to go beyond paying lip service to a two-state solution.

T.S. Tirumurti was Ambassador/Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, New York (2020-22) and, earlier, the first Representative of India to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza (1996-98)

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