As the war in Gaza enters 125th day claiming over 1400 Israelis and 27,500 Palestinians (unconfirmed), 22nd January 2024 was the deadliest with 24 Israeli soldiers being killed in action. In the midst of the ongoing fighting UN, India, US, EU, China, UK, Saudi Arabia and many other nations have called for implementation of Two State solution after the cessation of hostilities which till now has been out rightly rejected by Israel.
The Two State solution was first recommended in the division of British Mandate in Palestine into Arab and Jewish States by the British Peel Commission in 1937. It envisions an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel in the west of Jordan River. In today’s scenarioit will give Palestinian State 100 percent control over West Bank and Gaza territory with East Jerusalem as capital and unlimited return of refugees.
The major sticking points in this are the boundaries of the two states, status of Jerusalem, the status Israeli settlements in West Bank and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The Two State solution has been discussed on many occasions and its brightest moment for implementation came when the PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met at the lawns of White House in 1993, under stewardship of US President Bill Clinton in what is called Oslo Accord1. The accord was rediscussed and refined at Taba, Egypt in 1995 in Oslo Accord 2. The Oslo Accords received a setback with the assassination of the Israeli PM Rabin’s on 04 November 1995. Failure of Camp David Summit in 2000 ended the Oslo peace process.
In past, international crisis have provided an opportunity for constructive and path breaking diplomacy. Sincerely implementing Two State solution is such an opportunity to bring long lasting peace to this embattled region but this solution should now be evaluated in the light of the recent incidents in Israel.
The sadistic and horrific nature of Hamas attack on 07th October 2023 has made Israel’s worst nightmare come true. In this act the Hamas have demonstrated their belief in total annihilation of Jews in Israel and the ultimate destruction of Israel. In all peace talks, Israel’s main demand has been that Palestinians should stop violence against Israelis and to maintain peace. Following 07th October 2023, few in Israel believe that peace with Palestinians in a Two State existence will pave way to peace and security.
The Two State solution now must be based upon fulfilling of several contingencies. The first and the foremost is the complete destruction of Hamas as a military force and the toppling of its administration in Gaza. If this is not achieved and a pre-07th October 2023 status quo is restored then even more fierce rounds of conflicts will follow. Peace will elude the region if Hamas remains a force. Given the scale of Israeli retaliation and the resultant death and destruction, to believe that those who are young and impressionable in Gaza-West Bank -in Refugee pockets outside, are not already seized with spirit of revenge and therefore indoctrinated into Hamas philosophy, will be incorrect.
If hypothetically it is assumed that Hamas isdestroyedthen can the Palestinian Authority (PA) take over Gaza where it was over thrown in 2007 by Hamas and is unpopular. Its inaction in the current conflict has made it unpopular in West Bank too. Even if PA starts administering Gaza, they will have to be provided ironclad security to prevent remnants of Hamas from killing them.
But before PA can be given control of Gaza, an interim organisation of Peace keepers will have to provide sound administration in the war-ravaged Gaza. Success of peace keeping forces are directly proportional to the will of both the warring factions to sincerely work for its success and will be of little value when they fight at the slightest opportunity. The success of a peace keeping force in war torn Gaza with barely any basic amenities standing and itslarge population is doubtful as internal violence within Palestinians over meagre resource will be a constant challenge. Controlling hatred between Palestinians and Israelis will also make peace keeping well-nigh impossible.
If a third nation or an international peacekeeping force is not ready to take over Gaza then perforceIsraelwill have to either maintain a security force to control Gaza till it is rebuilt or stay permanently in Gaza, fulfilling the Israeli PM’s recent statement of controlling onenation from Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea.
Israel can alsocompletely withdraw, leaving PA to plan and execute the recovery which then will nurture many cycles of violence and the world will be reliving horrors more horrific than 07th October 2023.
West Bank too poses a problem as itis on the boil due to illegal settlements by Israeli settlers. War in Gaza is adding fuel to this fire. In case Two State solution is not practical and Israel hypothetically becomes a more just and moderate state from its pre 07th October hard line stance, will it then remove the illegal settlements as it had done in Gaza in 2005.
In a Two State solution,an international force should efficiently patrol the borders between Israel and Palestinian areas permanently. In case this is not possible then Israel should be permitted to man all the external boundaries of the Gaza and West Bank with Israel and with other States, to prevent arming of the Palestinians and their armed forays into Israel. This will be against the spirit of the Two State solution.
Since the Oslo talks, the Palestinians have repeatedly erred in meeting the fundamental criteria of responsible governance, in stopping terrorism and in demonstrating the will to co-exist peacefully with Israel. To the contrary, the Palestinians established a corrupt dictatorship in West Bank, which has not held elections since 2006. Unending acts of terrorism and rejection of all peace overtures despite many a demand being met has been their conduct.
Palestiniansare not to be solely blamed as Israel’s settlement policy did gradually reduce Palestinian faith in the peace process. In 2005, before leaving Gaza, Israel did dismantle the Settlements and this can again be done in West Bank but will it change the Palestinians from seeking revenge, is the moot question.In the aftermath of the 07th October attack and the ongoing war, the maximum the Palestinians must be expecting is self-governance and greater autonomy as the barbarity of their 07th October attacks must have destroyed their hopes for an independent State of Palestine.
On the global front, this war hascome as the world is in a state of fatigue with tensions over Ukraine war and a disturbed Indo Pacific region. Due this fatigue, it is doubtful if the international community will respond with the same optimism as it had done earlier in rebuilding Gaza nor will they be keen to take part as Peace Keepers, if a Two State solution is implemented. Their disappointment over the 07th October attack will make them tighten their purse strings, acknowledging the futility of helping without the Palestinian commitment to peace. In terms of per capita recipient of aid, Palestinians till now have been amongst the major beneficiaries but this is changing with major donors now holding back after UNRWA was accused of aiding the 07th October horror by Israel.
After the conflict is over, the international community must encourage / force the Palestinians to eschew hatred and violence towards Israel andto come to terms with the fact that the millions of Palestinian refugees in other nations, displaced mainly during 1948, will never return for even if they do, there will not be space enough for them in an already overpopulated Gaza and West Bank, nor will they be able to change their thinking of seeking revenge.
Palestinians must recognise and appreciate that Israel’s national aspirations are as important as theirs and unless both sides compromise, however painful it might be, peace will remain a dream.
In recent years, the US led initiative to unify the region under its Abraham Accord was bearing fruit and Arab nations were reaffirming their view on permanency of Israel in the region by joining the Accord. This was isolating Iran and its sphere of influence in the Middle East. The Israeli offensive has put this Accord on a hold but after the war, it should be revived as it augurs peace and prosperity for the region. Peace in this region is important for India also as its proposed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, transits through this war zone, with the port at Haifa in Israel being a major transhipment point. To make the Abraham Accord work, the Arab nations, US, EU should generously contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza.
But presently all nations are insisting on the Two State solution even asthe memories of the 07th October ghastly attack are being relived everyday with the body bags of the Israeli soldiers arriving at their homes. This is making Israeli’s resolve to cleanse the region off the Palestinians, stronger. On the other hand, the Palestinians uprooted, have experienced loss not only their habitat but also of many near and dear ones. They are shelter less, without food and medicine in inclement weather and are experiencing hell making their hatred for the Israelis and their allies, them yearn for revenge stronger by the day. Amidst all this, to expect the success of the Two State solution is a difficult proposition,unless it is closely and strictly supervised by an international body for atleast the next 50 years which will enable next two generations of Israel and Palestinians to grow up in peace and reap the benefits of its prosperity. Only then it may erase memories of all the mayhem this region has witnessed since the days of British Mandate in Palestine.