Two-state dilemma

If the recent rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza tell us anything, it is that the status quo in the Middle East is not a safe choice for Israelis or Palestinians.

By Gro Harlem Brundtland & Jimmy Carter (Point of View)

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Published: Tue 27 Nov 2012, 8:38 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Apr 2015, 1:23 PM

In the current political climate, it is highly unlikely that bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians can restart. Action is needed that will alter the current dynamic. As Elders, we believe that the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations is such a moment.

On November 29, UN member states will be asked to vote on a resolution to grant “non-member observer state status” to Palestine, a significant upgrade from its current “observer entity” status. We urge all member states to vote in favour.

In going to the General Assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not carrying out a provocative act. Nor is he undermining trust and distracting from the pursuit of peace, as his critics have said.

This is a vote for human rights and the rule of law. It is completely consistent with decades of commitment by the United States, Europe and the rest of the world to peace in the Middle East based on the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel. It is a lawful, peaceful, diplomatic act in line with past UN resolutions and international law.

Yet this is a sensitive vote, and we know that many countries are considering abstaining or voting no.

If this resolution fails, it will probably mark the death of the two-state solution and move us even closer to a one-state outcome, with uncertain and potentially catastrophic consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Let us articulate what a one-state outcome means: it either means that Israel will annex the West Bank, and give Palestinians full, equal rights as citizens of Israel — which seems unlikely — eventually eroding the Jewish majority in the country, or it means that Israel will deny equal rights to its non-Jewish population. Neither outcome gives the Palestinians the state of freedom and dignity that is their right, nor does it provide a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people.

On the other hand, wide support for this resolution would affirm what an overwhelming majority of people around the world — including Israelis and Palestinians — believe: that the two-state solution remains the surest path to peace in the Middle East.

A month ago, we stood together on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, on the grounds of the Augusta Victoria Hospital. This medical facility is a Palestinian model of excellence for cancer treatment and is only a few miles from the rest of the West Bank, yet Palestinians face enormously complicated Israeli permit requirements simply to access care.

From the hospital’s vantage point we looked over vast Israeli settlements spreading across the West Bank, as well as the wire fences, high walls and roads that increasingly separate the Jewish and Arab populations.

The rate of settlement growth in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is staggering. There are now more than 500,000 Israeli settlers living beyond the Green Line, in violation of international law. Their numbers have doubled since the Oslo peace accords of 1993. Thousands more settlement homes are planned or under construction. The peace process established by Oslo has not just stalled; it is going backwards fast. With every Palestinian family evicted or home demolished, with every new Israeli settler home built, the integrity of the territory promised to the Palestinians becomes further compromised.

A vote for the resolution will help to safeguard the two-state solution and enhance prospects for future negotiations. We further hope that threats to punish the Palestinians financially or otherwise for exploring this option, using an avenue to which they are entitled, will be withdrawn. Some are calling for the vote to be delayed but this is simply a bid to do nothing.

The disillusionment and fatigue we found among Israelis and Palestinians compels a bold act of international leadership. We know that there are many Israelis who share our view that to re-engage with the two-state solution is to revive the very feasibility of peace, and is therefore in Israel’s fundamental interest. We especially urge the nations with the greatest influence on the parties — the United States, European Union and the Arab states — to vote together in favour and save the two-state solution before it is too late.

Gro Harlem Brundtland was prime minister of Norway when the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in 1993. Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States and negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. They are both members of The Elders, a group of independent leaders working for peace and human rights


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