Partners in peace still committed to two-state solution

The government of the UK remains convinced that a two-state solution can work in Palestine, but 2013 must be a year of progress, a British diplomat writes.

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We say goodbye to 2012 without regret. 2012 has been a very difficult year for the peace-loving people of this region: in Gaza and the West Bank, and in Israel. But 2013 can be different, if we have the collective political will to make it so - to make 2013 the year of peace.

For that wish to become reality, we need a new US-led peace initiative as soon as possible, early in the first year of President Barack Obama's second term of office.

The US president knows the issues well. His initiative will need to be backed strongly by the European states, and to obtain full engagement both by the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government formed after the January 22 elections there.

That will require bold and decisive leadership from both parties to this conflict, which has lasted for too long, and from the United States, which is uniquely able to influence both parties to enter into credible negotiations, without preconditions, leading to a permanent agreement resolving all issues and ending all disputed claims.

Achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of Britain's top international priorities.

We support a negotiated agreement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and with a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees.

That is the only way to secure a sustainable end to the conflict. To achieve it will require a US-led effort on a scale not seen since the Oslo Accords.

The impasse in the peace process over the last two years has harmed the interests of the people directly affected by this conflict, and the interests of the international community. We need to break this vicious circle of absence of talks and lack of trust.

That will require efforts from all sides, including the Palestinian leadership and all of the neighbours of the Palestinian people as well.

In the last two years, we have witnessed systematic settlement expansion; this has been condemned by the United Kingdom's government and by the international community, since settlements undermine the foundations of a two-state solution, which is in real and present danger.

All settlements are contrary to international humanitarian law, and are thus illegal. The creation of new settlements, such as Givat Hamatos or E1, is contrary to commitments made under the 2002 Roadmap.

In our view, the best response to such provocative settlement expansion is to maintain the focus on the goal of a negotiated, just and lasting agreement, and once more to offer the hand of peace.

We know that President Mahmoud Abbas is a man of courage, a man of peace. We respect him and his powers of leadership.

The present impasse benefits only those who want to build settlements. A comprehensive peace agreement can end the unsustainable situation in Gaza and the West Bank, which remains our goal.

For the people of Gaza and of Israel we wish peace in 2013. We support the courageous efforts of Egypt to secure a lasting ceasefire.

Children in Israel and in Gaza need to be able to go to school without fear. We want to see Gaza rebuild its future - a future tied indissolubly to the West Bank, as envisaged by President Abbas, with free movement of goods, services and people.

The Palestinian Authority is the legitimate authority in Gaza, as in the West Bank. We firmly support the Palestinian Authority, which has passed the test of carrying out the functions of a state, and deserves and needs to succeed.

So we call on the Israeli government to resume the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, and we ask Arab states to fulfil their commitments to the PA in this time of need. The British ministry of international development will continue to invest more than $150 million (Dh551m) a year to help Palestinian development in 2013, and beyond.

For 2013, the Palestinian people deserve to enjoy the same rights and dignity as the people of any other nation on Earth, living side by side in peace and security with all their neighbours: Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Achieving this honourable goal is a shared responsibility, and a heavy one. If progress through negotiations is not made in 2013, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.

The United Kingdom is prepared to play its part in 2013, in what needs to be the decisive year for peace in the Middle East.

Sir Vincent Fean is the British consul general in Jerusalem