Resolving the Palestinian Issue is the Key to Stability in the Region

The Palestinian issue is one of the most significant, long-standing conflicts in the Middle East. It remains unresolved, causing instability and insecurity in the region and impeding the development and prosperity of its peoples. Despite numerous efforts, initiatives, and activity, a fair and comprehensive peace has yet to be achieved. The Palestinian issue must align with decisions which are internationally legitimate and United Nations resolutions. It should be based on the two-state solution, which entails the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders, writes Dr. Ahmed Majdalani, Social Affairs Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Secretary General of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF), member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, for the 13th Middle East conference of the Valdai Discussion Club. The Israeli position is presented here.

Therefore, it is crucial to emphasise that the solution to the Palestinian issue must align with decisions which are internationally legitimate and United Nations resolutions. It should be based on the two-state solution, which entails the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders. Additionally, the refugee issue should be addressed through dialogue and negotiations.

Discussions surrounding the two-state solution gained momentum after 1967, and reminders of this solution were revived after October 7, 2023. However, this discourse often takes on various forms, including political media marketing, camouflage, and a departure from reality.

We have witnessed several American and Western officials emphasising the importance of the two-state solution. Upon closer examination of their statements, it becomes clear that they are attempting to appease public anger in the West following the unconditional support expressed by Western presidents and officials towards Israel, while turning a blind eye to the egregious crimes committed against children, women, and civilians in Gaza under the pretext of "Israel's right to self-defence."

Israel’s War Objectives
Gabi Siboni, Kobi Michael
The State of Israel and the people of Israel have known many crises and have withstood difficult times. Israel can emerge victorious this time, too. It will be costly, but a historic opportunity has been created here to reshape the Palestinian and regional arenas.

These statements, particularly from the United States, also serve as a means to deceive Arab allies, and aiming to alleviate their embarrassment in front of their own people. However, we must ask ourselves: Can the two-state solution actually be realised on the ground?

Israel’s behaviour and its approach towards the Palestinians have played a significant role in hindering a political resolution. The Western powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have enabled Israel to occupy the entirety of Palestine, denying the Palestinians their rights to their land and other fundamental entitlements. This denial rests upon two primary pillars: power and security, which inherently exclude the possibility of a political solution.

Israel, with the backing of the West, maintains a steadfast position on the following matters concerning the two-state solution:

  • Opposition to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

  • The assertion that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel.

  • The continuation of settlement activities, land confiscation, and the gradual annexation of territory in the West Bank.

  • Resistance to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. 

If any concessions are made, they would result in a crippled entity, lacking an army and stripped of sovereignty, while permitting limited economic development akin to what is seen in the West Bank, accompanied by some humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has outlined his conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state. These conditions include its demilitarisation, the presence of Israeli forces on its territory to ensure security, and the recognition of Israel as the "national state" of the Jewish people. Netanyahu believes that a one-state solution would jeopardise the Jewish-Israeli character of the nation, as it would permit the absorption of millions of Palestinians. These statements were made during a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, as reported by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. Netanyahu emphasised the need for “Israel to obstruct the Palestinians' aspirations for an independent state of their own.” This represents the official Israeli stance on the two-state solution.

Regarding the position of the United States and Europe on the two-state solution, Western leaders and officials frequently reiterate their support for this approach. However, their interest in this issue is not primarily driven by a desire to restore the rights of Palestinians and Arabs. Instead, it is motivated by a concern to support Israel as a functioning entity that serves their strategic interests.

The United States has monopolised the role of mediator in the peace process between the Arabs and Israel, beginning with the Oslo Accords and continuing through negotiations at Camp David, the Annapolis Conference, and subsequent failed attempts. However, it is important to note that the United States has often been perceived as complicit in the occupation rather than as an impartial facilitator.

Despite Western countries repeatedly affirming their commitment to the two-state solution, their actions indicate their recognition of its impossibility.

For instance, during the Trump administration, the United States recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocated its embassy there. Subsequently, focus shifted towards initiatives like the "Deal of the Century" and the Abraham Accords, which are perceived as attempts to undermine the Palestinian cause.

Arab Peace Initiative:

In 2002, the Arab countries put forth the Arab Peace Initiative, which encompassed several key points.

It called on Israel to undertake the following actions:

  • Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including Syria’s Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967, borders, as well as the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon.

  • Achieve a fair resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 194.

  • Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the territories occupied since June 4, 1967, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return, the Arab countries committed to:

  • Considering the Arab-Israeli conflict resolved and entering into a peace agreement with Israel that ensures security for all countries in the region.

  • Establishing normal relations with Israel within the comprehensive peace framework.

The Arab Peace Initiative did not include a gradual phase, unlike the Khartoum Summit held in 1967, which became known as the Three No's Summit. It emphasised adhering to three "NO's": no reconciliation, no recognition, and no negotiation with the Zionist enemy until rights are restored to their rightful owners.

However, the opposite unfolded. The Arab nations, or the majority of them, recognised Israel, engaged in reconciliation, and conducted both secret and public negotiations with Israel, without significant gains for the Palestinians. This process culminated in normalisation and the signing of peace agreements between some Arab countries and Israel, under the auspices of the United States, known as the Abraham Accords. The danger of these agreements lies in providing Israel with an opportunity to integrate into the Arab environment at the expense of the Palestinians and their cause, enabling Israel to reap the benefits of normalisation without compromising on the minimum rights of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian standpoint:

Naturally, Palestinians assert that all of Palestine belongs to its people, as it holds deep symbolic significance for Muslims and Christians alike. From their perspective, Palestine belongs to Palestinians from the sea to the river.

However, the Palestinians have dealt with political realism in order to secure their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state within a portion of historical Palestine. This approach recognises the power imbalance, with the United States and Western countries supporting Israel and its military superiority resulting from its continued occupation of Palestinian land. The West has a vested interest in preserving its dominance over the region, while the Arab world's failure and gradual abandonment of their role as a strategic support for Palestinian resistance further complicates the situation.

Under the leadership of President Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians announced their peace initiative at the Palestinian National Council. This initiative included a Declaration of Independence and a peace programme based on the establishment of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also emphasised the recognition of international legitimacy as the foundation for a solution. The Palestinians engaged in negotiations for a "peaceful solution" out of necessity rather than choice, resulting in agreements like the Oslo Accords. These agreements provided an opportunity to form the Palestinian Authority, with the hope that it would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian entity encompassing 22% of historic Palestine. However, the West Bank has suffered from the erosion of its territory due to increased settlement activities, settler violence, and Israel's intent to weaken the Palestinian Authority and reduce it to a toothless entity, under an occupation without costs.

As a result of the diminishing impact of the Oslo Accords and the erosion of achievements made through the peace process, Palestinians have experienced disappointment. This disillusionment has led to a decline in support for the two-state solution and has created an environment where opponents of a political resolution seek alternatives. The belief among the majority of Palestinians has grown that armed resistance is the only means to reclaim their rights.

Israel deliberately imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip following the 2005 elections and the Hamas movement's coup against the Palestinian Authority and the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system. Israel has launched multiple wars against Gaza, resulting in thousands of casualties and injuries, and turning the region into the world's largest open-air prison. Despite this, Israel has also entered into understandings with the Hamas leadership based on a framework of facilitations for security and calm, including the transfer of Qatari funds under American direction.

On October 7th, due to the narrowing of prospects and the inability to coexist within the existing understandings, the situation escalated. Israel initiated an aggressive war against Gaza, which continues to this day, with unprecedented brutality. The toll thus far has been over 110,000 martyrs, wounded, and missing, with a majority being children and women. Additionally, more than 85% of the population has been displaced, and over 70% of housing units in Gaza have been destroyed. The health and education system, as well as basic infrastructure, have also been severely damaged, rendering the Gaza Strip uninhabitable. The occupation persists in continuing the war under the pretext of eradicating Hamas, but the true objective appears to be the displacement of the population.

Given all this oppression and injustice, is it even possible to discuss the coexistence of two countries living side by side in safety?

The two-state solution is talked about by everyone, but no-one truly wants it. The majority of Palestinians do not see it as meeting their minimum rights, and Israel views all of Palestine as Jewish land.

The Arab countries, on the other hand, are either unwilling or unable to exert serious pressure to achieve a solution that guarantees minimal Palestinian rights.

The West often provides empty political statements, and at best, offers some aid to the Palestinians in order to serve Israel's security interests. They repeatedly emphasise Israel's right to defend itself while condemning acts of resistance as terrorism.

The reality is that discussing stability in the region without addressing the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is futile. It is a waste of time and a distraction. The most critical factor is putting an end to the brutal occupation that has persisted since 1948, encompassing more than 56 years in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The current situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, with dangerous escalations, brutal crimes, genocide, and barbaric aggression, serves as tangible evidence that the region cannot enjoy security, stability, and peace unless a just and comprehensive resolution is achieved. This resolution must guarantee the realisation of the legitimate and inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, foremost among them being the establishment of an independent state with the June 4th, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Otherwise, the conflict will persist and its flames will spread beyond the borders of Palestine.

Gaza. Yemen. Epicentres of Pain. Feelings, Myths, and Memories in the Middle East
Vitaly Naumkin, Vasily Kuznetsov
Many developments that significantly impacted the destinies of the regional players, non-regional actors, and many people around the world have unfolded during the year that followed the publication of our paper titled “The Middle East and the Future of a Polycentric World” (February 2023).
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.