Oslo Accords at 30: Time is running out for a two-state solution
This week, I am hosting the ministerial meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine, following my visit to Israel and Palestine last week. It was 30 years ago this month that the first of the Oslo Accords was signed.
As I see it, while the situation may seem bleak, the two-state solution is still the most viable path toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Time is about to run out, but we will not give up on the efforts for a Palestinian state and a just peace settlement. Rapprochement among countries in the Middle East opens up new opportunities. Israel wants normalization with more Arab countries, but what would do the most to improve Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world is a political solution with the Palestinians.
More than a decade ago, in 2011, the World Bank stated that the Palestinian Authority had made necessary progress to establish a Palestinian state. That was almost two decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The accords, which were negotiated with the help of Norwegian diplomats, represented a historic milestone. However, no agreement was reached on the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements, final borders, security, or the Palestinian refugees. Even though essential Palestinian state institutions had been established, ongoing violence undermined much of the trust between the parties. In the absence of a negotiated political solution to resolve the outstanding issues, and given the continued occupation, these institutions alone were not enough for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
We are today further from a two-state solution than we were in 2011. No peace negotiations have been held for nearly 10 years. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem are claiming more and more Palestinian land. The level of violence has risen over the past year. Since the beginning of January, more than 40 Palestinian children and six Israeli children have been killed as a result of the conflict. The situation in Gaza is untenable and new generations are losing hope for the future. Many people no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible.
The Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem are claiming more and more Palestinian land
A viable Palestinian state must have territorial contiguity and clearly defined borders. The legitimate security needs of both peoples must be met. Israel’s settlement policy is moving the situation on the ground toward a one-state reality, but one where Israelis and Palestinians do not have equal rights.
So, how is Norway responding to the situation? First, given the current situation, it is impossible to refuse to accept a Palestinian state being established while also not granting equal rights to all in one state. As long as the Palestinians continue to work for and want a state of their own, Norway will continue to support a two-state solution. But we also like to state that, at this point in time, the only acceptable alternative to a two-state solution is one state with equal rights for all.
Second, we must also stand up against violations of international law in the Middle East, regardless of who is responsible. The International Court of Justice in The Hague is preparing an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Norway is participating in this process.
Third, the Israeli settlements in occupied territory constitute the greatest obstacle to the two-state solution and are in violation of international law. The Norwegian government has therefore decided that foodstuffs produced in Israeli settlements must be labeled with their origin.
Fourth, Norway will not give up our support to Palestinian institutions and state-building, even though progress is limited due to several factors, including the continued occupation, the declining political legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and internal Palestinian divisions.
There is broad agreement internationally, as well as among Palestinian factions and many Israelis, on the need to stabilize and strengthen the Palestinian institutions. Continued support to develop a Palestinian education system and health services, energy, water and to promote Palestinian culture and identity is important to preserve the dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people. Norway continues to chair the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is the international donor group for Palestine, where the Palestinians and Israelis and the international community coordinate efforts to build a sustainable Palestinian economy and viable institutions.
However, development aid and what some refer to as “economic peace” will not be enough. A political solution is needed.
Although the parties remain far apart at present, our message is clear: peace negotiations must be resumed
Fifth, Norway urges the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to renew their efforts for a political solution. Although the parties remain far apart at present, our message is clear: peace negotiations must be resumed. The Palestinians must also overcome their internal governance split. The divisions between Gaza and the West Bank are hindering the political aspirations of the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian people have a right to a legitimate, inclusive leadership and Palestinian elections are long overdue. At the same time, we must avoid a repeat of 2006, when the Palestinian government became isolated internationally because the global community disagreed with the election results. In Norway’s view, it is important to maintain open lines of communication with all parties, even those with which we do not agree. Pursuing an open dialogue with different Palestinian factions is therefore the only real option.
In order to achieve progress, what is needed at this juncture is for the Israelis to take clear political decisions toward a two-state solution. This will require a change of course, involving a change in the Israeli government’s current rhetoric and actions, which are serving to increase tensions with the Palestinians. During my visit last week, I did take note of statements from the Israeli side that they want to continue the dialogue with the Palestinians. Both parties must take steps to put an end to the violence of extremist groups.
Time is about to run out for the two-state solution and a viable Palestinian state. At this crossroads, I would therefore emphasize the need for renewed, joint efforts to promote a just peace settlement. Like my colleagues in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, the US, China and other countries in many parts of the world, I believe that a Palestinian state next to Israel, with negotiated borders based on the 1967 lines, is still the best and most sustainable path to peace that would benefit both peoples. A two-state solution would provide a framework for a wealth of new opportunities for increased cooperation, security, stability and integration in the Middle East.
Whereas the situation for the Palestinians has deteriorated, relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries have improved. It is crucial that the needs of the Palestinians are not overlooked in this regional normalization process. This offers a glimmer of hope. We have already seen the opportunities that rapprochement in the Middle East has opened up for Israel. But the factor that would do the most to improve Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world is the achievement of a just peace settlement with the Palestinians.
- Anniken Huitfeldt is Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway. X: @AHuitfeldt