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Paul Vallely: Blinken is right to press for two states

03 February 2023

It remains the best way of achieving peace in the Holy Land, says Paul Vallely


The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, hold a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, hold a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday

MANY people were taken aback when the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrived in Israel and declared that the Biden administration still insists that two separate states — one for Israelis and one for Palestinians — remains the best way out of the political stalemate which has dogged the region for decades.

Everyone else has been declaring that the two-state solution is dead. A recent poll showed that just 33 per cent of Palestinians and 34 per cent of Israeli Jews say that they support it: a significant drop over just three years. Attitudes have hardened on both sides, thanks to the partisan policies of the Trump presidency and the election of the most ultranationalist, ultrareligious coalition government in Israel’s history, sections of which are opposed to Palestinian statehood.

While the world has been distracted by the war in Ukraine, violence has steadily been rising in the Holy Land. Last week, Israel launched one of its deadliest operations in years, sending soldiers deep into the Jenin refugee camp to kill ten Palestinians. The next day, in retaliation, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in an area of Jerusalem illegally annexed by Israel. It was the deadliest Palestinian attack in the city in years.

Behind all this are a number of significant shifts in the region’s demography. The younger generation of Palestinians have been radicalised by inflammatory 15-second videos on TikTok which show brutal behaviour of Israeli soldiers. And a new middle class of Israeli Arabs — who make up 20 per cent of Israel’s doctors, a quarter of its nurses, and half its pharmacists — have moved out of the old ghetto areas and into Jewish-dominated towns, creating new sites of tension where the two communities mix.

The result has been to shift a significant number of Israeli Jews from support of the centre-Right to elect an ultra-Right coalition government, which has announced a series of punitive measures against Palestinians: strengthening illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, imposing greater restrictions on Palestinian daily life, widening collective punishments, and proposing to allow a simple majority of the 120 members of Parliament to overrule Israel’s Supreme Court, which has traditionally acted as a check on extreme acts by the government.

Divisions have appeared among Israeli Jews, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in protest at the proposed curb on the judiciary. Hundreds of economists have warned that, if Israel turns to theocratic populism, the result will be a fall in foreign investment, a brain drain, relocation of key industries, and long-term economic decline. Stocks and shares fell on the warning.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is attempting to play both sides against the middle, an approach symbolised by his pledge to allow thousands of Israeli citizens to carry firearms while on their daily business — one rabbi has urged worshippers to bring weapons to synagogue — and, at the same time, urging people “not to take the law into their own hands”.

Mr Netanyahu is playing a very dangerous game, and Mr Blinken is right to tell him so. A two-state solution seems a long way off. But the pragmatic compromises and self-restraint that it embodies are essential to peace of any kind, even an uneasy one.

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