Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

7  Prospects for a two-state settlement

181. The policy of the Quartet, including the UK Government, is to support the achievement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Quartet first set out a path to this end in the 2003 Roadmap, which envisaged an end to the conflict in 2005. In November 2007, President Bush sought to re-launch the peace process at a conference at Annapolis, where the parties declared their goal of reaching a settlement by the end of 2008, before Mr Bush left office. Mr Blair told us that the talks held under the Annapolis process had "got rather further than people realised" in some areas.[405] However, no further talks had been held since the Gaza conflict by the time that we had finished drafting this Report in early July 2009.

182. Recent months have seen a number of expressions of scepticism that a two-state solution remains achievable. Some argue that a two-state settlement is no longer available politically, if it ever was. For example, in February, Major General Giora Eiland, former chairman of Israel's National Security Council, argued that "the maximum that any Government of Israel will be ready to offer the Palestinians and still survive politically is much less than the minimum that any Palestinian leader can accept".[406] After repeated failures to reach a final settlement, by now each side faces a legacy of scepticism that the other will deliver on commitments undertaken. As we noted in paragraph 142, other observers argue that a two-state solution is no longer available practically, because the expansion of Israeli settlements and their associated infrastructure on the West Bank means that any Palestinian state to be created there would not be viable physically. Even if a two-state solution remains available, it has been suggested that the "window" for achieving it may be closing rapidly, given the cumulative effect of some of the factors working against it.[407] As we noted at the start of our Report, in February the Foreign Secretary said that the world was having "to peer into the abyss of the idea of a two-state solution disappearing".[408]

183. Both Mr Rammell and Mr Blair told us that there was no alternative to a two-state solution. Both felt that a one-state solution would be a recipe for further violence: what Mr Blair called "a big fight".[409] As regards the view that a two-state solution might soon become unavailable, Mr Rammell said that he did not think that the window was closing, "because it cannot".[410]

184. Dr Bregman outlined to us one reason why he felt that the creation of a Palestinian state would be in Israel's long-term interest. If no Palestinian state were created and there were a one-state solution instead, Dr Bregman argued that the relevant state would either have an Arab majority, or, in order to avoid this, it would have to deny voting rights to its Arab population, along the lines of apartheid South Africa.[411] We heard this argument, that Israel without a Palestinian state could either be Jewish or democratic but not both, during our discussions in the region.

185. Among our witnesses, there was a division between "optimists" and "pessimists" regarding prospects for progress towards a two-state solution in the aftermath of the Gaza conflict. Some felt that the conflict had if anything worsened prospects for a two-state settlement.[412] We referred in paragraph 18 to the apparent rise in support for Hamas which followed the conflict.

186. Mr Rammell acknowledged that the conflict in Gaza "on many levels […] has undoubtedly made the challenge of securing progress towards peace in the Middle East more difficult."[413] However, he identified "some grounds for optimism".[414] Giving evidence in early March, he argued that "at one level the past two months have been so disastrous, it actually reinforces the need for urgency and momentum".[415] He identified "the beginning of a critical mass of opinion internationally" that what happened in Gaza "cannot be allowed to happen again".[416] He referred us to the comments of the Foreign Secretary, who told the UN Security Council on 7 January that the Gaza conflict was an "indictment of our collective failure, […] over a long period, to bring about the two-state solution that offers the only hope of security and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike".[417] Mr Rammell implied that the Gaza conflict was at least partly responsible for the commitment which the new Obama Administration appeared to be showing to pursuing the peace process (see below).[418]

187. In June, Mr Blair set out the situation thus:

If you do opinion polls in Palestine and Israel, you get the same answers on both sides. The first question is: do you want a two-state solution? The answer is yes. The second question is: do you think you will get one? The answer is no. It is about the credibility of the process.[419]

We outlined in paragraph 106 Mr Blair's response to the credibility gap which he identified, namely to address each side's "reality on the ground" problem—of security next to a putative Palestinian state, for Israel; and of meaningful control over territory, for the Palestinians.

188. Mr Blair identified a number of what he called "positive signs" for the prospects of developing the credible peace process which he sought. Most immediately, he suggested that the simultaneous transitions between old and new governments in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US had been a problem in late 2008 and early 2009 which was now removed.[420] Then, Mr Blair said, there was "a Palestinian Authority under Salam Fayyad, who […] is extremely capable, honest and decent and has the right idea for building Palestinian capacity".[421] A further factor which Mr Blair identified was the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had a stated wish to make a priority of Palestinian economic development, something which—as we outlined in paragraphs 113-115—Mr Blair suggested provided a potential lever for making progress also on the political track.[422]

Obama Administration

189. A further factor for "optimism" to which Mr Blair pointed was the advent of the Obama Administration in the US.[423] Mr Rammell was perhaps unguarded when he responded "My God, I hope so—no, I did not say that", when we asked whether he expected the approach of the Obama Administration to differ from that of its predecessor.[424] Both Mr Rammell and Mr Blair were encouraged by signs which they identified that the Obama Administration was making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority;[425] Mr Blair referred to a "sense that this issue is going to be gripped from the very outset of President Obama's Administration".[426] Mr Rammell welcomed this particularly in light of the fact that former President "George W. Bush himself has acknowledged that he did not come to the Middle East peace issue until the back end of his presidency",[427] something which commentators have also identified as having been problematic.

190. Among signs of the priority being given to the Israeli-Palestinian issue by the new Administration, our witnesses referred in particular to President Obama's appointment, two days after taking office, of former Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. After leaving the Senate, Senator Mitchell produced the Mitchell Report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Clinton Administration in 2001. Prior to that, Senator Mitchell was the US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, playing a central role in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Since being appointed to his new role in January 2009, Senator Mitchell has already visited the Middle East for talks several times.

191. As regards the impact of the new Administration, Mr Blair told us that "the biggest change" had been President Obama's statement that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a "strategic priority in the national interest of America".[428] In his major address on US relations with the Muslim world at Cairo University on 4 June, President Obama said that the creation of two states, "where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security […] is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest."[429]

192. We conclude that the Government is correct to continue to regard a two-state solution as the only outcome which holds out the prospect of sustained peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government should set out the progress that has been made towards a peace settlement on this basis that has arisen from the Gaza conflict and the change of Administration in the United States.


193. In our 2007 Report, published very shortly after Mr Blair had been appointed as Quartet Representative, we recommended that his mandate should be broadened to include working with the parties directly on the peace process, rather than focussing exclusively on Palestinian economic development and institution-building.[430] Two years on, and particularly in light of Senator Mitchell's appointment, we asked Mr Blair about the institutional arrangements surrounding his role and the operation of the Quartet. He told us that of "all the issues that we have to deal with […] [this] is the least", and that institutional questions were "settled".[431] As regard his mandate, specifically, Mr Blair said that he did not feel it was a "great problem now", particularly given Senator Mitchell's appointment.[432] Our impression was that he and Senator Mitchell were likely to be able to work effectively alongside each other, bringing political and economic issues together—in particular because of their experience working together on the Northern Ireland peace process.

194. Mr Blair told us that there was a "strong desire on the part of the new [US] Administration to formalise [the Quartet] somewhat more". He expected that this would be done at a Quartet meeting in the following few months.[433]

Arab League Initiative

195. As a further factor for "optimism", Mr Blair identified the fact that "the desire to have the issue resolved encompasses not just the American Administration, but, in my view, Arab countries. […] The Arab world wants this resolved, and it is prepared to do what it can to get it resolved".[434]

196. Mr Blair was referring to the renewed commitment of the Arab League to its Initiative for Peace, which it initially adopted in 2002, on the basis of a Saudi Arabian initiative. Under the plan, broadly, the Arab League states would normalise their relations with Israel, and Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders and a Palestinian state would be created. In our 2007 Report, we concluded that that Arab Initiative was a "positive proposal that deserve[d] serious consideration by all parties".[435] The Arab League re-launched its initiative by writing to Barack Obama in December 2008, while he was President-elect. As we discussed in paragraphs 160-172 in the previous chapter, one factor prompting increased activism among some Arab states in support of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement may be their concern about Iran's rising regional influence.

197. Mr Rammell welcomed the fact that the Arab League had renewed its initiative, and told us that the Government had been "vocal" in encouraging it to do so.[436] The Foreign Secretary has talked of the need for a "23-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that all 22 states of the Arab League need to be involved, primarily in order to increase the prize potentially on offer to Israel in return for reaching a settlement.[437] According to press reports, the possible specific Arab League deal which is under discussion may include greater Israeli telecommunications and civil aviation links with Arab states, in return for restarting a peace process which includes the implementation of a settlement freeze at an early stage.[438] Among Arab leaders, King Abdullah of Jordan in particular is taking a leading role in pursuing an Arab-Israeli deal along these lines. A major regional Arab-Israeli peace conference in summer 2009 is one possibility that has been mooted.[439] Nomi Bar-Yaacov told us that the capacity of the Arab Peace Initiative to rally support in the Arab world was "critical".[440]

198. In addition to the challenges involved in agreeing terms with Israel, the Arab League faces internal divisions, including over its Peace Initiative. Broadly, the Arab League is split between states such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia which have close relations with the US and which are pushing the Initiative, and Arab states which wish to remain closer to Iran—primarily Qatar and to some extent Libya and Oman.[441] Egyptian President Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah boycotted a summit which Qatar called during the Gaza conflict, partly because Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were also invited.[442] President Mubarak also stayed away from a further Arab summit in Qatar at the end of March, although on this occasion Qatar did not invite Iran.[443]

199. In the context of the linked politics of Israel-Palestine, and Iran and the Arab world, one state with a crucial role is Syria. Syria continues to be Iran's principal Arab ally and a supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Syria is also a member of the Arab League. Recent months have seen a significant effort by the British Government, and latterly by the new US Administration, to develop ties to Damascus with the aim of encouraging it away from its alliance with Tehran and into greater cooperation with the West—over issues such as support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and respect for Lebanese sovereignty—in return for the prospect in particular of greater economic links. Bill Rammell told us, with respect to Syria, that "there has been an opening up and a willingness to look at alternative routes", although he judged that "the jury is still out" as to "where Syria will ultimately go".[444] In late June 2009, the US announced that it was again to post an Ambassador to Damascus, after a four-year gap which had been instituted as a protest over Syria's suspected links to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.[445] Meanwhile, among Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also been seeking to bring Syria out of its pro-Iranian relative isolation.[446]

200. We conclude that the reinvigoration of the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Initiative's promotion by members of the Quartet, are greatly to be welcomed. We further conclude that the Government is correct to support the Initiative.

Israeli position

201. We took all our evidence in the present inquiry before the new Israeli government under Mr Netanyahu had put forward a developed position on the central issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until June 2009, the most prominent aspects of his government's position were its dispute with the US over settlements, to which we referred in paragraph 144, and its failure explicitly to endorse a two-state solution.

202. In a major speech at Bar-Ilan University on 14 June, Prime Minister Netanyahu presented a much fuller statement of his government's position.[447] He endorsed for the first time the prospect of a Palestinian state. However, he made his future agreement to the creation of such a state conditional on two matters:

  • Israel's receipt of "ironclad" guarantees about its own security, next to the putative Palestinian state. Mr Netanyahu said that the territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarised. He also said that the future Palestinian state could not have an army or control of its airspace and would not be able to conclude military pacts with third parties.
  • Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation state. Mr Netanyahu made clear that he understood this to mean that Palestinian refugees from the territory of Israel as created in 1948 would have no right of return there.

Mr Netanyahu said explicitly that without these two conditions being fulfilled, there was a risk that the Palestinian state of the future would replicate contemporary Gaza, in becoming "a terrorist base against the Jewish state". Mr Netanyahu's speech thus seemed to confirm Mr Blair's diagnosis of the overriding security concern which Israel has with respect to a possible Palestinian state, and Israel's continuing scepticism about the ability of such a state to assuage its concern. In his speech, Mr Netanyahu also said that Jerusalem must remain undivided, something which would preclude the eastern part of the city becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. As we noted in paragraph 144, Mr Netanyahu also said that Israel would not embark on new settlements in the OPTs but that it would allow existing settlements' "natural growth". On the basis of his position, Mr Netanyhau called for the start of negotiations with the Palestinians "immediately without preconditions".

203. President Obama was said to have welcomed Mr Netanyahu's endorsement of the two-state goal.[448] Both the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, the incumbent EU Presidency country, and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that Mr Netanyahu's position in this respect was a "first step".[449] In a Parliamentary answer, the FCO said that the Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Netanyahu after the latter's speech in order to:

make clear that his endorsement of the principle of a two state solution and his willingness to engage in negotiations without preconditions was a step in the right direction. But also that more was needed on the issue of settlements: a complete freeze in settlement construction, in line with Israel's Roadmap commitments.[450]

204. Palestinian Authority President Abbas said that Mr Netanyahu's speech had "destroyed all initiatives and expectations", "placed restrictions on all efforts to achieve peace" and constituted "a clear challenge to the Palestinian, Arab and American positions".[451] Egyptian President Mubarak condemned the address as having "scuttled the chance for peace".[452] For his part, in a major speech on 25 June, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that Prime Minister Netanyahu was offering "merely self-governance under the name of a country". He reiterated that Hamas sought an end to settlements, a right of return for Palestinian refugees and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.[453] He also stated a demand for "full [Palestinian] sovereignty on the borders of 4 June 1967", something which has been interpreted by some observers as a movement towards acceptance of a two-state solution, as part of a Hamas shift in response to President Obama's Cairo speech.[454] Mr Meshaal said that that address represented "the first step in the right direction toward a dialogue without conditions".[455]

205. Shortly before Mr Netanyahu's speech, we asked Mr Blair whether he thought that there was a genuine desire on the part of the Israeli government to move towards a two-state solution. Mr Blair noted that the majority of Israelis were in favour of this outcome. However, he said that Israel needed to move from a "passive mode", of accepting that a Palestinian state might be created, to an "active" one, of regarding the creation of a Palestinian state as being in Israel's interest and therefore something to be facilitated. Mr Blair said that this move would "involve a profound shift in psychology".[456]

206. We conclude that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's acceptance of the prospect of a Palestinian state is a necessary condition of any two-state settlement under his government and, as such, is to be welcomed. We recommend that the Government should continue to press him on other issues vital to progress towards a two-state outcome, such as those concerning a freeze on settlements as a first step. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should inform us of any discussions it has had about possible international involvement in providing security assurances to Israel in connection with the conclusion of a two-state settlement.

405   Q 242 Back

406   Major-General Giora Eiland, "The Future of the Two-State Solution", Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol 8 No 22, 17 February 2009 Back

407   For example, in March 2009 the US/Middle East Peace Project published a report by a number of former senior US officials, including former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft and former Quartet Envoy James Wolfensohn, which said that "the next six to twelve months may well represent the last chance for a fair, viable and lasting solution"; "A Last Chance for a Two-state Israel-Palestine Agreement: a Bipartisan Statement on US Middle East Peacemaking", March 2009, via In June, the report was endorsed by a group of senior European figures including former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Latvian President Vaira Vîíe-Freiberga, former premiers of France, Germany, Italy and Spain and former European Commissioners Chris Patten and Peter Sutherland; see "Europe must respond to Obama on Middle East", The Guardian, 26 June 2009. Back

408   HC Deb, 24 February 2009, col 134 Back

409   Q 181; Q 148 [Mr Rammell] Back

410   Q 148 Back

411   Q 44 Back

412   Q 19 [Ms Bar-Yaacov] Back

413   Q 104 Back

414   Q 133 Back

415   Q 133 Back

416   Qq 104-105 Back

417   "Statement to the United Nations on Gaza (07/01/2009)", via Back

418   Q 104 Back

419   Q 182 Back

420   Qq 176, 195 Back

421   Q 192 Back

422   Q 192 Back

423   Qq 161, 165, 176, 180 Back

424   Q 142 Back

425   Q 133 [Mr Rammell]; Q 188 [Mr Blair] Back

426   Q 161; see also Q 165. Back

427   Q 142 Back

428   Q 186 Back

429   "Remarks by the President on a New Beginning", Cairo University, 4 June 2009, transcript via Back

430   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 67 Back

431   Qq 171, 180 Back

432   Q 180 Back

433   Q 162 Back

434   Q 186 Back

435   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 79 Back

436   Q 129 Back

437   For example, in his speech "Partnership in the Middle East, with the Middle East", Abu Dhabi, 24 November 2008, via Back

438   "Arab states weigh up rewards for Israel", Financial Times, 18 May 2009 Back

439   "King's ultimatum: peace now or it's war next year; Jordan's leader emerges as key player in Obama's ambitious Middle East plan", The Times, 11 May 2009 Back

440   Q 44 Back

441   "Regional rifts stymie Arab summit", BBC News, 30 March 2009, via Back

442   "Qatar's ambitions spark tensions across Middle East", Los Angeles Times, 21 April 2009 Back

443   "Tiny island surrounded by tension in the Gulf", New York Times, 30 March 2009 Back

444   Q 156 Back

445   "Obama hopes his new ambassador will revive Middle East peace talks", The Times, 25 June 2009 Back

446   "Saudi brings Syria back into the fold", Financial Times, 12 March 2009; "King's ultimatum: peace now or it's war next year; Jordan's leader emerges as key player in Obama's ambitious Middle East plan", The Times, 11 May 2009 Back

447   Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University, 14 June 2009, via Back

448   "Palestinians balk at Netanyahu's conditions for statehood; Israeli leader endorses 2-state solution, but his caveats quickly rejected", International Herald Tribune, 16 June 2009 Back

449   "EU-Israel meeting ends with no progress on 'upgrade'",, 16 June 2009 Back

450   HC Deb, 23 June 2009, col 791W Back

451   "PA: Netanyahu has buried peace process", Jerusalem Post, 15 June 2009 Back

452   "Arab leaders accuse Netanyahu of 'scuttling' peace hopes", Financial Times, 16 June 2009 Back

453   "Hamas rejects Israel peace vision", BBC News, 26 June 2009, via Back

454   "Trying to find a new road to his lost home; in the 1990s, Israeli agents tried to kill Khaled Meshaal with poison. But today, the Palestinian exile seems to be leading the militant Hamas movement towards moderation", The Globe and Mail, 4 July 2009 Back

455   "Hamas rejects Israel peace vision", BBC News, 26 June 2009, via Back

456   Q 198 Back

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Prepared 26 July 2009