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Beyond a two-state solution

24 February 2017

IT HAD been in the air for months, even years, before Donald Trump suggested it: the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is virtually dead. Things could have been so differ­ent. There was a real window of op­­portunity for peace, which, I believe, I briefly witnessed.

In 1995, I went to the Holy Land to do some recording with the BBC. It was 18 months after the signing of the Oslo I Accord, which was in­­tended to initiate a framework for a two-state solution.

The process was steered from the Israeli side by the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. He was no liberal: he had engineered Israel’s stunning vic­tory in the Six-Day War. But he had become convinced that Israel’s last­ing security could come only from a negotiated peace, and had managed to build confidence among Israelis and Palestinians alike.

That confidence was palpable. When we visited Bethlehem, we found it buzzing with energy, scaffolding, and cement-mixers, as Palestinian entrepreneurs returned from abroad bringing new invest­ment and the hope of prosperity.

At the end of our visit, we went to an Orthodox kibbutz near the Golan Heights. I remember being deeply moved as some of the elderly Jewish residents expressed a determination to build links of friendship with their nearest Palestinian neigh­bours. They recognised the logic of exchanging land for peace. But not everyone did.

Within six months, Mr Rabin was dead, gunned down by an ultra-nationalist Israeli who claimed that withdrawal from the West Bank would deny the Jews their biblical heritage. Right-wing politicians filled the void, and, in a sense, the peace process has been dying ever since, as Jewish settlements have increased, the vicious wall has been built, and the Palestinian opposition has violently split between the secu­lar Fatah and the terrorist-linked Hamas.

There are no heroes in this tragic saga. As the Israeli government has pressed ahead with settlements that leave less and less room for any parallel state (”facts on the ground”), the surrounding world has also shifted with the rise of wider Islamic terrorism, and the power struggle between the Gulf States and Iran.

Western liberals need to recon­sider their allegiances, and think what has up to now been unthink­able. This must include contemplat­ing a one-state solution, with all the problems of how a Jewish state could contain Palestinian citizens who could eventually become a majority; or some kind of confedera­tion, in which two authorities ruled the same territory.

Nothing can now be excluded. We must never give up hope, but it is hard to be optimistic.


Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.

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