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.

 


Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements
Updated 3 sec ago
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Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements

Israel allows return to three evacuated West Bank settlements
JERUSALEM: The Israeli military has approved permission for Israelis to return to three former West Bank settlements they had been banned from entering since an evacuation ordered in 2005, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.
The three settlements, Sa-nur, Ganim and Kadim, are located near the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, both of which are strongholds of armed militant groups in the northern West Bank.
A fourth settlement, Homesh, was cleared for entry last year after parliament passed an amendment to the so-called “disengagement law” of 2005. Permission from the military, which has overall control of the West Bank, was required for any return to the other three former settlements.
The military announced the move on the day three European states said they would formally recognize the State of Palestine, and as Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas continued in the Gaza Strip.
It took the decision despite international pressure on Israel to curb settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Palestinians want as the core of a future independent state alongside Gaza.
“The Jewish hold on Judea and Samaria guarantees security, the application of the law to cancel disengagement will lead to the development of settlement and provide security to residents of the area,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement, using the Biblical names for the West Bank that are often used in Israel.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority.
Last year’s amendment to the disengagement law was seen as opening the way to re-establishing former West Bank settlements evacuated in 2005 under a plan overseen by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Under the plan, which was opposed by the settler movement at the time, all 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza were ordered to be evacuated. Most settlements in the West Bank were unaffected apart from the four that will now be accessible again.
More than 500,000 Jewish settlers are now estimated to be living in the West Bank, part of territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, with a further 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
For Palestinians and most of the international community, the settlements are considered illegal. Israel disputes this, citing the Jewish people’s historical, biblical and political links to the area as well as security considerations.
Despite international opposition, settlements have continued to expand strongly under successive Israeli governments.

Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says
Updated 22 May 2024
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Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of challenges in Iran
  • Nuclear watchdog has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities

HELSINKI: The deaths of Iran’s president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog’s talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.
“They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.
“But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again,” he said, describing it as a “temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days.”
Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend’s helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran’s recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran’s continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.
The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities while the country’s uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA’s last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.
Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.
Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require “a bit more time.”
For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.
“It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what is this,” Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.
“And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.


Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China

Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China
Updated 22 May 2024
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Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China

Bahrain’s king to visit Russia and China

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is visiting the Russian capital, Moscow, on Wednesday at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, state news agency BNA reported on Wednesday. 

The two leaders will discuss cooperation between their respective countries, regional and international developments, and the results of the 33rd Arab Summit, hosted last week in Bahrain.

The king will likewise visit China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping to participate in the opening session of the Arab-Chinese Cooperation Forum.

The two will discuss cooperation between Bahrain and China, as well as the outcome of the 33rd Arab Summit.


Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions

Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions
Updated 43 min 17 sec ago
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Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions

Far-right Israeli Cabinet minister visits contested Jerusalem holy site, raising tensions
  • The visit was a response to a move by three European countries to unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s far right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Wednesday, declaring the contested holy site belongs “only to the state of Israel.”
Ben-Gvir said Wednesday’s visit was a response to a move by three European countries to unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state.
“We will not even allow a statement about a Palestinian state,” he said.
The hilltop compound is revered by Jews and Muslims, and the conflicting claims have led to numerous rounds of violence in the past.
Israel allows Jews to visit the compound, but not to pray there. But the visit is likely to be seen around the world as a provocation.
Norway, Ireland and Spain said Wednesday they are recognizing a Palestinian state in a historic move that drew condemnation from Israel and jubilation from the Palestinians. Israel immediately ordered back its ambassadors from Norway and Ireland.
The formal recognition will be made on May 28. The development is a step toward a long-held Palestinian aspiration that came against the backdrop of international outrage over the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s offensive there.
It was a lightning cascade of announcements. First was Norway, whose Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said “there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”
“By recognizing a Palestinian state, Norway supports the Arab peace plan,” he said and added that the Scandinavian country will “regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails.”
Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region. The decision may generate momentum for the recognition of a Palestinian state by other EU countries and could spur further steps at the United Nations, deepening Israel’s isolation.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said. “Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state.”
Since the unprecedented attack by Hamas-led militants on Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.
Wednesday’s announcements come more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.
It added that the World Bank determined that a Palestinian state had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.
“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” it said.
In making his announcement, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said the move was coordinated with Spain and Norway — and that it was a “historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.” He said it was intended to help move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to resolution through a two-state solution.
Harris said he thinks other countries will join Norway, Spain and Ireland in recognizing a Palestinian state “in the weeks ahead.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist leader since 2018, made the expected announcement to the nation’s Parliament on Wednesday. He had spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for the recognition, as well as for a possible ceasefire in Gaza. He has said several times that he was committed to the move.
“We know that this initiative won’t bring back the past and the lives lost in Palestine, but we believe that it will give the Palestinians two things that are very important for their present and their future: dignity and hope,” Sánchez said.
“This recognition is not against anyone, it is not against the Israeli people,” Sánchez added, while acknowledging that it will most likely cause diplomatic tensions with Israel. “It is an act in favor of peace, justice and moral consistency.”
Sánchez argued that the move is needed to support the viability of a two-state solution that he said “is in serious danger” with the war in Gaza.
“I have spent weeks and months speaking with leaders inside and outside of the region and if one thing is clear is that Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu does not have a project of peace for Palestine, even if the fight against the terrorist group Hamas is legitimate,” the Spanish leader said.
Earlier this month, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Albares said he had informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken of his government’s intention to recognize a Palestinian state.
Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said “recognition is a tangible step toward a viable political track leading to Palestinian self-determination.”
But in order for it to have an impact, he said, it must come with “tangible steps to counter Israel’s annexation and settlement of Palestinian territory – such as banning settlement products and financial services.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel. He spoke before Spain’s announcement.
“Ireland and Norway intend to send a message today to the Palestinians and the whole world: terrorism pays,” Katz said.
He said that the recognition could impede efforts to return Israel’s hostages being held in Gaza and makes a ceasefire less likely by “rewarding the jihadists of Hamas and Iran.” He also threatened to recall Israel’s ambassador to Spain if the country takes a similar position.
Regarding the Israeli decision to recall its ambassador in Oslo, Gahr Støre said “we will take note of that. This is a government with which we have many disagreements. What we agree on is to condemn Hamas’s cruel attack on Oct. 7.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking after Norway’s announcement, welcomed the move and called on other countries to follow.
In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, Abbas said Norway’s decision will enshrine “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination” and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel.
Some 140 countries have already recognized a Palestinian state — more than two-thirds of United Nations members — but none of the major Western powers has done so. This move could put more pressure continental heavyweights France and Germany to reconsider their position.
The United States and Britain, among others, have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel as a solution to the Middle East’s most intractable conflict. They insist, however, that Palestinian independence should come as part of a negotiated settlement.
The head of the Arab League called the step taken by the trio of European nations as “a courageous step.”
“I salute and thank the three countries for this step that puts them on the right side of history in this conflict,” Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit wrote on the social media platform X.
Turkiye also applauded the decision, calling it an important step toward the restoration of the “usurped rights of the Palestinians.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also said the move would help “Palestine gain the status it deserves in the international community.”

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Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
Updated 22 May 2024
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Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
  • Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts
DUBAI: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed on Wednesday to Tehran to participate in the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Shoukry’s visit is the first visit by the Egyptian foreign minister to Iran,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.
Last September, foreign ministers of both countries met during the United Nations leaders gathering in New York and Raisi, who also attended the UN General Assembly, said at the time that the meeting could pave the way for a restoration of ties.
Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who also died in the crash, had met his Egyptian counterpart earlier this month in Gambia on the sidelines of a summit for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The two ministers had discussed efforts to promote bilateral relations and the latest developments in the region, especially the ongoing situation in Gaza.