The opportunity to find a two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel question is in danger of being squandered, and that the world will turn its back on the Israelis and Palestinians. This article first appeared on the Ma'an news agency website
As I now return to Palestine and Israel, I do so with increasing frustration that the chance of a two-state solution risks being squandered.
Developments on the ground speak for themselves. The illegal settlements are expanding and displacing Palestinians who are forced to endure daily harassment and blockades. Many people have to spend hours at checkpoints on their way to school or work. Some are plagued by the fear of being thrown out of house and home. In Gaza, almost total isolation continues.
Every year, the Palestinians' internal political divisions are growing, as is the violence. And on the other side of the barbed wire, the Israelis are living in growing insecurity and isolation, in a region in a process of rapid change.
There is a risk that this frustration will grow and that the world will turn its back on the Israelis and Palestinians. We have a joint responsibility for, and self-interest in, continuing to fight for peace in the Middle East. Twenty years after the Oslo Accords there is still a chance to reach a two-state solution. The United States is currently making significant efforts to enable the parties to return to the negotiating table. The EU is ready to support these negotiations.
The Arab League's peace initiative has regained relevance. The initial position between the parties is bleak, but the status quo is not an alternative. The Israelis and the Palestinians must now seize what is perhaps the last opportunity to create peace and security. Time is running out, and it is not a day too early.
Despite continued occupation and a lack of political progress, Palestinian state-building has advanced. The international community shares the assessment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that the Palestinian institutions live up to the demands that can be made of a functioning state. Today there is a basis — albeit a fragile one — for a Palestinian state.
A new strategy will soon be drafted for Sweden’s development cooperation with our Palestinian partners. Sweden will continue to take its responsibility. We will continue our commitment to the whole of the Palestinian territories — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
We will focus on contributing to Palestinian state-building efforts. At the same time, we will take the lead in combating the negative development in “Area C” of the West Bank, where the Palestinian institutions are not allowed to operate and where the settlements are displacing the local population.
Sweden's development assistance should make a difference where it is most urgently needed. The Palestinians have become the most aid-dependent people in the world. Development assistance to Palestine is associated with very major risks and the challenges are considerable.
Development assistance requires political progress to yield long-term sustainable results. The occupation and the expanding Israeli settlements are the main obstacles to a two-state solution and also explain the aid dependency. Freedom of movement for people and goods within and out of the Palestinian territories must improve dramatically if the economy is to take off and unemployment is to be reduced. This applies in particular to Gaza, where Israel must do a great deal more. Its isolation is morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive and makes development assistance more expensive.
As for the Palestinians, they must deepen their reform policies, combat all forms of violence and fully respect human rights. The political divisions must end and democratic elections must be held.
Sweden is also an important donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, having contributed approximately $56 million last year. UNRWA has been in existence since 1949 and currently supports five million refugees in the region. We will continue to help alleviate suffering by financing homes, medical care and education. But in the long run this is unsustainable, including from a donor perspective.
In Israel in particular, there are many people who claim that now is not the time to make peace with the Palestinians. When the region is in flames, there is a danger of short-sightedness taking over. And in a cruel twist of fate, the Syrian conflict is forcing Palestinian refugees to move again. They have become the refugees of refugees in the Middle East.
Growing regional instability means that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing. But history will condemn those who do not see the opportunity to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before it is too late.
Israel must realize that occupation is an unsustainable policy in the long run — for its own sake and for international, regional and economic reasons. Cooperating with the Palestinians is where the opportunities lie — not in threatening the country’s democracy and security.
The Palestinians must come together in a shared vision of democracy and use peaceful means to achieve recognition from and coexistence with their neighboring country Israel. And this must be followed up with resolute leadership for a united Palestine – for and with all Palestinians.
Frustration must not be allowed to prevail. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize this opportunity for peace and security now.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.