The Gaza violence is appalling but cannot silence talk about the two-state solution

Proposals exist that could pave the way for a ceasefire and a settlement. Efforts to promote them have to be redoubled

Displaced Palestinians line up to receive food on Saturday in Rafah, Gaza. More than 26,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip over the past three months, according to the territory's health ministry. Most of the population has been displaced. Getty
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Looking around the Middle East right now, there are few reasons for optimism, outside the Gulf region. The Palestinian death toll from the Israeli operation in Gaza has passed 25,000. More than 100 Israeli hostages, most of whom are civilians, remain in captivity. The Red Sea has become a no-go zone for much of international shipping, disrupting the global economy. Meanwhile, a string of drone and missile strikes – part of a deadly and destabilising cycle of revenge killings and assassinations – are taking place in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

At the same time, however, a significant development is unfolding: more and more conversations are being had at a global level about the need for a political exit to a conflict in which too many – including Hamas and Israel’s leadership – have disappeared down the rabbit hole of militarism.

On Saturday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Uganda that the right of the Palestinian people to build their own state "must be recognised by all”. In the UK, Keir Starmer, the country’s main opposition leader, described a Palestinian state as “the only way to a secure future”. Even Israel’s most important ally has been upfront about the necessity for Palestinian self-determination. Late last week, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden would “not stop working” towards a two-state solution.

Sadly, this growing consensus does not seem to register with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has demanded security control over Gaza and the West Bank – “a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty”, his office said on Saturday. This led Mr Starmer to remark that Palestinian statehood was an “inalienable right” that is “not in the gift of a neighbour”.

There are real concerns about the direction Israel is taking politically, with some of the country’s most intransigent figures and dogmatic ideas having found a place in the highest levels of government. Speaking in London on Saturday, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh blamed “a handful” of Israeli politicians for the inertia surrounding the two-state approach, claiming the country was “politically beholden by small domestic political calculations of a few … who propagate and promulgate that the answer is in a security solution”. Equally, Hamas and most of its supporters see a militant course of action as the only viable path.

That fixation on security is now playing out with dangerous consequences for the region. Israeli forces are targeting their enemies in several neighbouring Arab countries. These have sparked retaliatory strikes, the latest of which was on Saturday with a ballistic missile barrage by militants against Ain Al Asad airbase, west of Baghdad. It is the largest missile attack on American troops since Iran struck the same base in 2020 following the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.

The net result of these operations is unlikely to be more security for Israel. Just as the wave of Israeli reprisals against Palestinian militants for the 1972 Munich massacre did not lead to peace, neither will assassinations in Arab countries in 2024. The only way to a lasting peace is through a political process. Thankfully, the current violence has not yet stilled all dialogue about ways to achieve this.

Plans like the Arab Peace Initiative, recently described in The National by former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Musher as being “part of the Arab world’s efforts to facilitate the [peace] process”, offer valuable pathways to engagement. And in an interview with The National from Davos on Friday, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, confirmed that a plan was being worked on to invest in a reformed Palestinian Authority as a prelude to working towards Palestinian statehood.

However, many parties to the conflict are not in listening mode. This is understandable given the dreadful violence that has taken place and that is continuing. That should not mean those who value Palestinian freedom, Israeli security and peace across the Middle East should give up. On the contrary, they should redouble their efforts.

Published: January 22, 2024, 3:00 AM