The Palestinian state: When good intentions aren’t good enough

Realism, not wishful thinking, is needed when addressing the prospects for a two-state solution

Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in November
Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in November

The Palestinian state: When good intentions aren’t good enough

Since the 1990s, every conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions has reignited discussions about the establishment of a long-awaited Palestinian state. Despite being accompanied by goodwill and a multitude of official statements — each driven by the unique political motives of different countries — there has been a lack of a feasible political and temporal framework to realise this goal.

Most recently, British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron made a notable statement during a reception for ambassadors from Arab nations. He announced that Britain and its allies would consider recognising a Palestinian state as a part of a concerted effort to achieve an “irreversible” peace settlement.

This initiative aims to support the “two-state solution” and bring an end to the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to London, hailed Cameron’s statement as “historic.”

Nearly 107 years after Lord Arthur Balfour, a predecessor of David Cameron, made his significant declaration to create a home country for the Jewish people to replace the British mandate of Palestine, Cameron issued his new statement.

On November 2, 1917, Balfour addressed a letter to a leading British-Jewish figure of the era, Baron Rothschild, which eventually played a part in the creation of the State of Israel following World War II, as the victors divided the territories of the Ottoman Empire.

Irreversible progress

Britain will consider recognising a Palestinian state and achieve an “irreversible progress towards a two-state solution,” Cameron said.

In recent months, Cameron's Conservative Party and its main opposition, the Labour Party, have faced considerable criticism from the supporters of the Palestinian cause in Britain, as they accuse them both of being flagrantly biased towards Israel while ignoring the growing public calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Notably, since the start of this year, both Cameron and shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy have publicly stated their support for the idea of paving the way for Palestinian statehood.

This stance comes months before the anticipated parliamentary elections, where foreign policy might become a single-issue politics for some voters.

In recent press statements to British media, Lammy criticised as “unacceptable” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state in a post-war Gaza and the occupied West Bank. He stated that if the Labour unseated the Conservatives, they would commit to collaborating with UK allies and international partners to realise a “two-state solution.”

An Ipsos poll released on Tuesday shows that Labour is leading by 22 points. (LAB: 49%, CON: 27% and Liberal Democrats third: 7%).

Cameron says Britain will consider recognising a Palestinian state and achieve an "irreversible progress towards a two-state solution

Renewed focus

These political statements by Cameron and Lammy align with renewed focus from the incumbent US administration on the two-state solution as a crucial component for the missing peace in the Middle East with an emphasis on Israel's security.

Earlier in the month, US President Joe Biden discussed with Netanyahu ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas. "The president also discussed his vision for a more durable peace and security for Israel fully integrated within the region and a two-state solution with Israel's security guaranteed," according to a press release by the White House.

Cameron, in a meeting with Netanyahu in Israel

Biden's statements, however, came before remarks by US and Israeli officials in American and Israeli media indicating that the Israeli army's primary objective of dismantling Hamas's labyrinth of an extensive tunnel network that ran hundreds of kilometres beneath Gaza was unrealistic.

Approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed in the 7 October Hamas attack. Since then, at least 26,75 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the latest figures released by the Health Ministry in Gaza on Tuesday. The majority killed have been women and children.

Read more: The lives of Palestinian Christians only 76 kilometres from Gaza

A charged political climate

However, the apparent good intentions and recent political statements advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state may face significant challenges due to the current Israeli political landscape. Netanyahu has publicly declared himself as "the only one" who can prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state following the war.

Read more: Netanyahu centres reelection bid on burying two-state solution

Furthermore, Israeli society — for the most part — isn't interested in rehashing the debate over a Palestinian state. The climate has become so charged that anyone advocating for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip or criticising the Israeli army's actions against civilians in Gaza could face legal consequences.

In November, Israeli history teacher Meir Baruchin made Israeli headlines after his arrest on the charge of intent to commit treason for his social media posts mourning the civilians killed in Gaza and criticising the Israeli military's conduct. Baruchin has lost his job before being reinstated by a court order. 

In a recent interview I conducted with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, the seasoned politician and former prime minister acknowledged that the creation of a Palestinian state would be "delayed significantly." However, the idea isn't dead, he said. Lapid continues to support the two-state solution, especially after other Israeli policies, chiefly its "conflict management" strategy with the Palestinians, have proven futile.

Read more: Yair Lapid to Al Majalla: A Palestinian state will be delayed significantly, but the idea not dead

The internationally endorsed Middle East peace plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, based on the 1967 borders, alongside Israel, with Jerusalem serving as the shared capital for both states.

Timing matters

Lapid's statements are actually straightforward and reflect a pragmatic approach to dealing with the fiery and complex political situation in Israel today, considering the current public anti-Palestinian sentiment and the historical context of the conflict since Israel's establishment in 1948 and the occupation that began in 1967.

The concept of a Palestinian state, integral to the two-state solution, is viewed by most Western and Arab governments as the only path to stability in the Middle East and normalisation with Israel. However, the timing for implementing this solution is important.

Yet, there appears to be a noticeable discrepancy in the urgency between the proponents of the two-state solution and the current political climate in Israel. This difference is partly due to the shock over the 7 October attacks by Hamas.

Read more: If it's abnormal in Jerusalem, it's because 'we are filled with love'

Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir dances as he attends a convention calling for Israel to rebuild settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The prospect of a two-state solution currently faces an additional significant political hurdle due to the influence and authority of the far right in Israel, which is in a coalition government led by Netanyahu. Some ministers hold extremist views, such as the Palestinian people are "just an invention".

On Sunday night, around 12 ministers took part in a conference in Jerusalem under the title "Settlement Brings Security and Victory". The speakers urged the Israeli people to re-settle Gaza and insisted on rebuilding Jewish settlements again there after the war.

Such an atmosphere in Israel today makes any statements about an imminent Palestinian state seem like wishful thinking.

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