How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage

Special How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage
Relations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders were not always acrimonious. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage

How Gaza conflict thrust Palestine statehood quest back to center stage
  • Pre-war poll found just 41 percent of Arab Israelis and 32 percent of Jewish Israelis think peaceful coexistence is possible
  • However, analysts believe the ongoing conflict in Gaza could bolster support and action for the two-state solution

LONDON: Israel’s military operation in Gaza has raised questions about potential scenarios for postwar governance and security. The emerging consensus view — at least for now — seems to be the need for a two-state solution.

There are several barriers to the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, however. One immediate stumbling block is that the dream of Palestinian statehood rests on the fortunes of the incumbent administrations in Israel and the US.

The normally close allies appeared more divided than ever since Washington’s abstention in a UN Security Council vote on March 25 resulted in the passing of a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Relations soured further after seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen were killed on April 1 in a series of Israeli airstrikes while distributing food in the Gaza Strip, leading to additional censure by Washington.




US President Bill Clinton (L) watches as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (C) confers with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (R) on July 11, 2000. (AFP/File)

Even before these events, the US government had voiced open support for a Palestinian state. In his State of the Union address on March 8, US President Joe Biden made clear that “the only real solution is a two-state solution.”

However, Biden faces a tight election slated for Nov. 5. If he loses to his Republican challenger, Donald Trump — who was an ardent supporter of Israel’s hard-right policies during his last presidency — a two-state outcome seems unlikely.

Indeed, chatter among Trump loyalists suggests the former president may be leaning toward support for the removal of Palestinians from Gaza once and for all, with the starkest indication coming from his son-in-law and former Middle East adviser Jared Kushner.

Asked at the Harvard Kennedy School in March whether he expected Benjamin Netanyahu to block Gazans from returning in the event they were removed en masse, Kushner said: “Maybe,” before adding: “I am not sure there is much left of Gaza.”

On March 5, Trump told Fox News that Israel had to “finish the problem” in Gaza. When asked about a two-state solution, Trump avoided the question, simply stating: “You had a horrible invasion that took place that would have never happened if I was president.”

On April 18, 12 countries at the UN Security Council voted to back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership. Only the US voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.

The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012.




Palestinians look at smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on the Firas market area in Gaza City on April 11, 2024. (AFP/File)

The majority of the UN’s 193 member states — 137, according to a Palestinian count — have recognized a Palestinian state.

Regardless of the outcome of the draft resolution, the fate of Palestinian statehood also rests on the actions of the Israeli government and the views of a divided public.

Polling data from the Pew Research Center suggest that dwindling support for a two-state outcome in Israel has been driven primarily by the country’s Arab population.

In 2013, some 74 percent of Arab Israelis said that they believed an independent Israel and Palestine could coexist, with this number dropping to 64 percent in 2014 before plummeting to 41 percent in April last year.

Conversely, belief in peaceful coexistence among Jewish Israelis has fluctuated between 46 and 37 percent over the past 10 years, dropping to 32 percent before the Oct. 7 attacks.

INNUMBERS

• 41% Arab Israelis who believe peaceful coexistence is possible, down from 74 percent in 2013.

• 32% Jewish Israelis who believe peaceful coexistence is possible, down from 46 percent in 2013.

(Source: Pew Research Center survey conducted in September 2023)

Crucially, however, support for a single Israeli state has never been a majority view, with some 15 percent undecided, suggesting that the hesitancy in support for it is based on not knowing what such a system would look like in practice.

This assessment reflects that of Benjamin Case, postdoctoral research scholar at Arizona State University, who said that with the right framing, Israelis could come around to supporting a two-state solution.

“Public opinion shifts in response to horizons of political possibility,” Case told Arab News. “Israelis want the return of their loved ones who are held hostage, and they want guaranteed safety — and of course they want things that most people want, like healthy, prosperous lives.

“If a real solution is offered that brings peace and security, I think most Israelis will eventually get behind it.”




Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas poses for a picture with new Palestinian government on March 31, 2024, in Ramallah. (AFP/File)

Lawmakers in Washington, it seems, are trying to provide such a framing. On March 20, a group of 19 Democratic senators issued a public call for Biden to establish a “bold, public framework” for the realization of the two-state solution once the war in Gaza is over.

Cognizant of the ongoing security concerns in Israel, the call suggested a model based on a “non-militarized Palestinian state.”

It called for the unification of both Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian flag, and said that this newly recognized country could be governed by a “revitalized and reformed Palestinian Authority.”

Case said that while it is important to recognize Israeli security concerns in forging a Palestinian state, any model needed to pay particular attention to the rights of Palestinians.

He stressed that Palestinian human rights “must come before the preferences of Israelis,” but said that meeting those needs with a Palestinian state was a “sensible solution for the extreme violence in Israel and Palestine.

“A Palestinian state would likely deprive Hamas of its reason for existing,” he said. “Hamas grew out of conditions of prolonged occupation, and thrives on the conflict.

“What popularity it has among Palestinians comes less from its governance and more because it represents resistance against occupation in a hopeless situation. If a path to a Palestinian state is realized, Hamas would have to reform significantly or would lose power.”

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of the independent Jadaliyya ezine and a former analyst for International Crisis Group, is concerned that despite growing Western support for a two-state solution, the world appears no closer to achieving this goal.




US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on February 7, 2024. (AFP/File)

“I don’t think a two-state settlement is now closer than previously,” Rabbani told Arab News. “The passage of time makes it increasingly difficult to achieve.

“A two-state settlement is a question of political will, not of artificial points-of-no-return. On this score, political will among Israel and its Western sponsors to end the 1967 occupation, without which there can be no two-state settlement, has been systematically non-existent.”

Nonetheless, he said, “in view of recent developments,” it was pertinent to pose “related but no less important questions” on the desirability of a two-state outcome and its durability in light of what he described as “the genocidal, irrational apartheid regime that is Israel.”

Regarding the positions of countries in the Arab world, he suggested there was “diminishing purchase” on the desire for peace with Israel.

Contesting Rabbani’s position, Case believes Palestinian statehood is now closer to becoming reality than it was on Oct. 6, and that the “gross disproportionality” of Israel’s response to the Hamas terror attack had played its part in this.”

“Ironically, had Israel shown restraint following the Oct. 7 attack, it may well have been the opposite,” he said.

“The brutality of the Hamas assault would likely have fostered unprecedented international sympathy for Israel, entrenching Israeli occupation policies.




US President Bill Clinton (C) stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) as they shake hands for the first time, on Sept. 13, 1993. (AFP/File)

“However, the Israeli military response, especially the shocking scale of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as the genocidal remarks made by many Israeli officials toward Palestinians, have reversed the backfiring effect, raising international awareness about the injustices of the occupation and generating urgency to find a durable solution.”

The two-state solution, a proposed framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was first proposed in 1947 under the UN Partition Plan for Palestine at the end of the British Mandate.

However, successive bouts of conflict, which saw Israel expand its area of control, put paid to this initiative.

Then in 1993, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed on a plan to implement a two-state solution as part of the Oslo Accords, leading to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

This Palestinian state would be based on the borders established after the 1967 war and would have East Jerusalem as its capital. However, this process again failed amid violent opposition from far-right Israelis and Palestinian militants.

Since then, the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reciprocal attacks, the undermining of the Palestinian Authority, and ever harsher security controls imposed by Israel, have left the two-state solution all but unworkable in the eyes of many.

For others, it remains the only feasible option.

 


Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
Updated 23 May 2024
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Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
  • The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state
  • Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed”

CAIRO: The Arab Parliament has welcomed a decision by the governments of Spain, Norway and Ireland to recognize the state of Palestine.
The prime ministers of the three countries said on Wednesday that they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28.
All three said they hoped the decision would accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its eighth month.
The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state.
It said the decision was a “new victory for the Palestinian cause and Palestinian diplomacy,” and an important step toward recognition by many countries worldwide.
The parliament said the recognition supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent state with the city of Jerusalem as its capital.
It said that the announcements come at a time when Israel is working to destroy the Palestinian cause through “ethnic cleansing and forced displacement against civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, against whom war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.”
Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed,” it added.
The parliament called on countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine to take a step toward “ending the historical injustice to which the Palestinian people have been exposed for decades of occupation and per the internationally recognized two-state solution based on international legitimacy resolutions.”
It called on the international community and all countries to stand with the Palestinian people and their just cause.
Ireland has said it will upgrade its representative office in the West Bank to a full embassy, while the Palestinian mission in Ireland will also be offered full embassy status.


Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed
Updated 23 May 2024
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Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed

Egyptians held nearly a year over deadly shipwreck are released from Greek jail after case dismissed
  • The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler
  • Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening

NAFPLIO, Greece: A group of Egyptians jailed for nearly a year pending trial for a deadly shipwreck were released from jail Wednesday, a day after a Greek court threw out the case against them on grounds that it had no jurisdiction to try it.
Nine Egyptians had been charged with being part of the crew of the Adriana, a massively overcrowded trawler that capsized and sank near Greece last June with an estimated 700 people on board while sailing from Libya to Italy. Only 104 people survived – all men, mostly from Syria, Egypt and Pakistan — and 82 bodies were recovered.
The nine, who have been in pretrial custody since their rescue last year, had been charged with being members of a migrant smuggling ring and were accused of having caused the shipwreck. They had faced several life sentences if convicted.
But a court in the southern Greek city of Kalamata on Tuesday ruled it had no jurisdiction to try the case, as the shipwreck occurred in international waters, none of those involved had been trying to enter Greece, the ship was not Greek flagged and no Greek citizens were on board.
The Egyptians’ defense team had argued that the nine were not crew members of the ill-fated trawler but had been paying passengers who were mistakenly identified as crew by nine other survivors, and that they were being used as scapegoats by authorities eager to put all the blame for the tragedy on the trawler’s crew.
Eight of the nine were released from a jail outside the southern city of Nafplio on Wednesday evening. They were transferred to a police station in the city, where they were to remain in custody overnight pending further procedures. It was not immediately clear when they would be fully released from custody.
The ninth defendant was to be released from a different jail.
The massive loss of life in the sinking of the Adriana in the early hours of June 14, 2023, renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent. The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, driven largely by arrivals by sea.
The exact circumstances of how the Adriana sank remain unclear. The trawler was sailing in international waters but within Greece’s search and rescue area of operations, and a coast guard patrol boat and passing merchant ships were near the vessel for several hours. Greek authorities have said the trawler’s crew repeatedly refused offers of help, insisting it wanted to continue to Italy.
Several survivors have said the boat capsized after the Greek coast guard attempted to tow it, an accusation Greek authorities have vehemently denied. A Naval Court investigation into the sinking is still underway.
Speaking at the courthouse after the case was dismissed on Tuesday, Dimitris Choulis, one of the lawyers in the defense team for the nine Egyptians, said attention should turn to how the Adriana sank.
“The court today had to be very brave to issue this decision, and to say that these people are not the smugglers,” Choulis said.
The lawyer blamed the tragedy on the Greek coast guard and Europe’s migration policies, and said it was essential to “make sure that nothing like that would happen again.”


From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life

From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life
Updated 23 May 2024
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From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life

From wedding photographer to water queue: Gaza mother mourns lost dream life
  • The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege
  • "I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati said

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: Falasteen Abdulati mourns her vanished good life as a wedding photographer as she wearily queues day after day for scarce drinking water in a rubble-strewn street in south Gaza, fearing for the future of her children.
The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege and invasion triggered by a cross-border Hamas attack, with food, drinking water, medical care and safe shelter hard to find.
"I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati, 35, said, laboriously filling a few buckets with water from a battered barrel in the city of Khan Younis.
"Our life has (been reduced) to the simplest needs. It is work and exhaustion. Nothing else. The dream that I had as a wedding photographer to open a studio and to get cameras and to make people happy, is lost. My dream is lost."
She continued: "Every morning we wake up at 7 o’clock and of course the first thing we think about is water," she said. "We come here and wait in the long queue, just to fill up four buckets with water. Other than that, our shoulders hurt. There are no men to carry it for us. There is no one but us. Women are the ones working these days."
Israel's assault on the tiny, heavily urbanised coastal enclave has displaced over three-quarters of the 2.3 million Palestinian population and demolished its infrastructure.
"The future of my children that I worked tirelessly for is lost. There are no schools (functioning), no education. There is no more comfort in life," said Abdulati.
"No safety," she added, referring to the threat of shelling or raids that Israel says target Hamas militants holed up in densely-packed residential neighbourhoods.
Abdulati, dressed in a body-length robe and head-covering, said the upheaval of war had turned the lives of Gaza women upside down. "Women are now like men. They work hard just like men. They're no longer comfortable at home."
Her husband is hospitalised with war injuries.
Breathing heavily, she lugged her buckets along a shattered, sand-covered street and up a dingy flight of cement stairs into the family flat. There she heated up the fresh water over a makeshift fire stove in a cluttered, cramped room dark for lack of electricity, watched intently by her young children.
"We are suffering due to a lack of gas because the border crossings are shut," she said, referring to Israel's siege that has severely restricted humanitarian aid shipments into Gaza.
"The water that I filled up must be rationed. I heat it up so I can wash the children, in addition to doing the dishes and washing clothes. The four buckets I can get per day are just not enough. I have to go back again and again."


Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says
Updated 23 May 2024
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Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says

Poverty in Lebanon tripled over a decade, World Bank says
  • The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country
  • Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent

BEIRUT: Poverty in Lebanon tripled over the course of a decade during which the small Mediterranean country slid into a protracted financial crisis, the World Bank said Thursday.
The percentage of people in Lebanon living below the poverty line rose from 12 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2022, the bank said in a report based on surveys conducted in five of the country’s eight governorates.
The data provided the most detailed snapshot to date on the economic circumstances of the country’s population since the crisis that began in late 2019, although World Bank officials acknowledged it was incomplete as surveyors were not given access to three governates in the south and east of the country.
The findings showed stark differences in poverty levels between different areas of the country and between Lebanese citizens and the country’s large population of Syrian refugees.
In the Beirut governate, in contrast to the rest of the country, poverty actually declined from 4 percent to 2 percent of the population during the decade surveyed, while in the largely neglected Akkar region in the north, the rate increased from 22 percent to 62 percent.
Among Lebanese surveyed, the poverty rate in 2022 was 33 percent, while among Syrians it reached 87 percent. While the survey found an increase in the percentage of Lebanese citizens working in unskilled jobs like agriculture and construction, it found that most Lebanese still work in skilled jobs while the majority of Syrians do unskilled labor.
The report also measured “multidimensional poverty,” which takes into account access to services like electricity and education as well as income, finding that some 73 percent of Lebanese and 100 percent of non-Lebanese residents of the country qualify as poor under this metric.
Beginning in late 2019, Lebanon’s currency collapsed, while inflation skyrocketed and the country’s GDP plummeted. Many Lebanese found that the value of their life savings had evaporated.
Initially, many saw an International Monetary Fund bailout as the only path out of the crisis, but since reaching a preliminary agreement with the IMF in 2022, Lebanese officials have made limited progress on reforms required to clinch the deal, including restructuring the ailing banking sector.
An IMF delegation visiting Beirut this week found that “some progress has been made on monetary and fiscal reforms,” the international financial institution said in a statement, including on “lowering inflation and stabilizing the exchange rate,” but it added that the measures “fall short of what is needed to enable a recovery from the crisis.”
It noted that reforms to “governance, transparency and accountability” remain “limited” and that without an overhaul of the banking sector, the “cash and informal economy will continue to grow, raising significant regulatory and supervisory concerns.”
The World Bank has estimated that the cash economy makes up 46 percent of the country’s GDP, as Lebanese distrustful of banks in the wake of the crisis have sought to deal in hard currency.
The flourishing cash economy has created fertile ground for money laundering and led to concerns that Lebanon could be placed on the Paris-based watchdog Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list” of countries with a high risk of money laundering and terrorism financing.


Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
Updated 23 May 2024
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Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
  • Israeli troops withdrew from the city after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen
  • Four children among the dead, and 25 wounded during the fighting

JeNIN: A two-day Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin killed at least 12 Palestinians, health authorities and an AFP correspondent said Thursday.
Israeli troops withdrew from the city early Thursday, the correspondent said, after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen in a nearby neighborhood in the city center.
The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said Israeli forces had killed 12 people including four children, and wounded 25 during the fighting which began on Tuesday morning.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa and medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported that surgeon Usaeed Jabareen, from Jenin’s Khalil Suleiman government hospital, was among those killed on Tuesday.
An AFP correspondent on Thursday saw five bodies at the hospital morgue, including Jabareen’s.
A schoolteacher and a student were also among the dead, Wafa reported, quoting hospital director Wissam Bakr.
Several of the bodies were draped in flags and carried among crowds of Palestinians, including armed militants, through the streets as gunfire rang out.
Both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian militant group Hamas condemned the raid.
Israel’s army said on Wednesday troops had “exchanged fire with armed men and killed a number of terrorists, including two terrorists who threw explosives at the forces.”
The army said it had raided the house of Ahmed Barakat, who was suspected of involvement in an attack on an Israeli civilian last year.
Meir Tamari, 32, was killed in May 2023 at the entrance to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, medics and military officials said at the time.
Jenin has long been a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups, and the Israeli army routinely carries out raids in the city and adjacent camp.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has seen a surge in violence for more than a year, but especially so since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
At least 518 Palestinians have been killed in the territory by Israeli troops or settlers since the Gaza war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 12 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The Gaza Strip has been gripped by more than seven months of war since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.