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)
Short Url
Updated 22 April 2024
Follow

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.

 


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
Updated 16 min 38 sec ago
Follow

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.
 


Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt

Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt
Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt

Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israeli govt
  • Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.
Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza started by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.
“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.
“All of the rats in the Knesset... I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”
Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.
Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.
In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister.”
Many are frustrated with the country’s right-wing coalition, which includes Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and other far-right ultra-nationalists, accusing it of prolonging the war in Gaza and putting the country’s security and hostages at risk.
Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.
“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said. “If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”
Hamas militants seized 251 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the hostages.
The attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
 

 


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
  • A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
  • Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.
William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, described Rafah City as a “ghost town.”
“It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months,” he said.
The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the UN over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.