Stanley's blog

I have been disinclined to blog again on the Israel-Palestine quarrel, seeing no hope of progress towards peace, and indeed believing that the two-state solution could be dead. However, Simone Susskind’s article of 19 January, “Israel and Gaza: We’re waiting, Mr Obama”, persuaded me otherwise.

She neither attempted to review history nor to apportion blame. I’ve often wondered whether a rule could be introduced into negotiations such as over Israel-Palestine or Cyprus, banning the use of the past tense.

Simone Susskind outlines four points essential to a better understanding of the mechanisms that have driven the two sides to reopen hostilities:

1. Hamas is still firing rockets into southern Israel. The two year-old blockade of Gaza nor the recent war appear to have weakened its ability to do this. Over time, the range of these home-made

weapons has increased, and it will not be long before they can reach the centres of towns such as Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba, creating dozens or even hundreds of Israeli casualties. From

one period of violence to the next, Hamas grows stronger, and its grip on Gaza Strip tightens.

2. The asymmetry between Israel and Hamas – the military superiority of a sophisticated army against the home-made rockets of an armed

group – should not make us forget that each organisation is using the same methods.

3. The declared objectives of Israel are unclear. It cannot stop the hail of rockets and it cannot eradicate Hamas by eliminating its key leaders. So how can it be explained that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public has again supported this massive offensive against Hamas in Gaza?

4. What are the objectives that the Israeli authorities have been pursuing for decades? Their conduct has not been consistent with their declared aspirations for peace. Thus, the Peace Initiative

promulgated by the Arab League was ignored by the Israeli government in 2002 and after its revival in 2007.

Which brings me to my main point. Received wisdom rightly states that only the two sides to a dispute can settle it: a settlement cannot be externally imposed. But who are the two sides in the Israel-Palestine struggle? A weak Israeli government seeking to reconcile opposing interests? Hamas or Fatah? Who represents the Israeli and Palestinian peoples?

The lines of the only possible two state settlement are more or less clear:

· A sovereign, independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

· The Arab countries recognizing the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, their entering into peace agreements with Israel and establishing normal relations.

· Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries, with minor exchanges of territories to allow Israel to keep blocks of colonies in which tens of thousands of Israelis now live.

· Internationalization of Jerusalem’s holy places.

· Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, involving a token ‘right of return’ and compensation.

The problem is how to establish a process which lead to a long term solution. Some out-of-the-box thinking is required.

An international commission should be set up, chaired by George Mitchell. He would, following consultation, nominate the members from Israel, the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries, who support a two-state solution. There would be US and European observers. The Commission would agree a detailed settlement.

The settlement must then be put to Israeli and Palestinian referenda. It will require considerable effort for both sides to agree to hold plebiscites, but the combined pressure of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, the US, Europe and the Arab world, should be sufficient if coordinated and sustained.

President Obama: you promised to bring change and you symbolize change; you have the vision and courage to take this initiative and commit the US to supporting the agreement when reached. Peace between Israel and the Arabs will help you withdraw from Iraq, and invest more efforts with Afghanistan and Pakistan and much-needed

talks with Iran.

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