Finishing off my thoughts from my visit – cut short by the Trident vote – to the Middle East – it was pretty clear that the Road Map was now becoming a virtually impossible route to follow.
The good news, I guess, was that all the parties we met in Israel were now in favour of the two-state solution – as apparently are around 70% of the population. Ten years ago that wasn’t the case – so that’s progress.
How to get there without the Road Map? Well, there were a couple of theses around. There was one idea which was for a trusteeship for the area to be held by the EU – much like in Bosnia, the EU could provide a political incubator to Palestine preparing it for full independence. That theory being based on the need for a central authority in Palestine that would make it possible for Israel to withdraw without prejudice to its security and that Europe would be far better a trustee than America.
Then there was the Geneva Accord. Without going into long explanations – a group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians agreed a set of aims, principles and methodology for moving forward to a two-state solution. Not given huge credit at the time – now perhaps back in play as another possibility. The Accord: reaffirms the determination of both sides to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, and to live in peaceful coexistence, mutual dignity and security based on a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace and achieving historic reconciliation; recognizes that peace requires the transition from the logic of war and confrontation to the logic of peace and cooperation, and that acts and words characteristic of the state of war are neither appropriate nor acceptable in the era of peace; affirms their deep belief that the logic of peace requires compromise, and that the only viable solution is a two-state solution based on United National Security Council Resolution 242 and 338.
The problem with moving forward on the two-state solution (amongst others) is the seemingly relentless increase in settlements in and around Jerusalem and the West Bank on the ‘Israeli’ side of the wall. The Palestinian areas are now to an extent isolated and to be connected by a different road system. Palestinians now worry that they would end up with no viable state. So, whilst Israelis seem to be shifting to a two-state position (at least verbally) the Palestinians seemed less convinced. Whilst they verbally often referred to a two-state solution, there were also voices raised to say that this would never be viable and therefore they should be going for a one-state solution. I don’t believe that would or could ever happen – but the continual building on the Israeli side of the wall removes their ability to believe that they will ever get a viable state.
And then there are the residual views – polarised on each side. If we talked about the wall (or fence for most its length) – the Israelis say since its erection suicide bombings have virtually stopped. The Palestinians say that the suicide bombings have stopped because Hamas declared a ceasefire – and that it would be simple to tunnel under the wall or fence – i.e. the fence is no defence.
The Israeli who took us out to the fence near Qalkila (right wing by his own admission and a settler moved from Gaza when Israel unilaterally left) explained the positioning of the barrier. For most of us (including me) it is hard to argue against Israel defending itself from suicide bombers by erecting a barrier. The argument is why they did so on what was Palestinian side of the Green Line. Palestinians regard this as a land grab. Israel says it is for security.
Whilst I can see that it might not be the best line to follow and there should and could be variance to the Green Line – it isn’t right at the moment. I don’t see why you can’t have an independent United Nations special judge and court and experts to adjudicate on the line that would be respected by both sides as a judgement. Security for Israel and as near to the ’67 borders as the Court judged viable.
As for the retention of taxes (and to my surprise I found out that the Palestinian Authority wanted the Israelis to collect the tax – although not obviously hold on to it) but that they did not want it put through the Temporary International Mechanism. Their argument was that when it was released it was needed to pay the debts on wages etc and therefore if it was put through the TIM it would not be there to pay those debts. Many different tales of money coming into the PA in suitcases and used for nefarious purposes. Meanwhile, as I said before, it is the ordinary people who are suffering most.
And lastly – the Quartet Principles. These say basically that the world won’t deal with the elected government as long as it is Hamas – unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to previous peace deals. This is a high bar – but perhaps with the coming of a unity government they will under the radar work out a triple-lock process where by the end of x period, a number of significant steps will have been taken that will allow the Quartet Principles to be agreed to – so that then publicly the process can move forward.
So – whilst I have only skimmed the surface of what I heard and saw – I hope that gives a flavour of my three days in the Middle East.