I wrote this article almost two years ago, but as it still seems valid, here you go:
Grand ideas often change slowly, but most importantly, they always do change. The idea I like to discuss here is that of the Western perception (yes, this is a generalisation) of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and notably that of its root causes.
For the past four decades, Western politicians have approved Israel’s settlement policy in the Occupied Territories which has evolved into one of the major obstacles to peace. For the first time ever, both the US and the EU explicitly speak out against this policy and regard it as an issue that desires attention. Although this has not led (yet?) to any sanctions or other measures to stop Israel from enlarging their settlements, it is a very important first step.
All previous involvement by outside actors has centred primarily on Israel’s security and simultaneously pinpointed Palestinian violence as the root cause of this conflict. The general idea was that the Palestinians should lay down their violent struggle for statehood as a precondition for peace. In 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation of Yassar Arafat accepted that 78 % of what they considered to be their land will be Israel’s. They also accepted that they could only have a claim on the remaining 22 % if they laid down their arms.
Although Israel recognised the PLO, and as such the Palestinian people (upgrading them from being more than just Arabs who could live in Jordan), they have never recognised that this 22 % of the former British Mandate of Palestine would become Palestinian. Since the Oslo accords have been signed, the amount of settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has risen significantly. Recent estimates are pinpointing them at approximately 450,000. It is precisely this policy that has destroyed any hope amongst Palestinians of obtaining a viable state in the future.
The main reason why the settlement policy was not halted is because Israel’s allies have never spoken out against it. The topic was simply ignored during the Oslo years as one of the issues to be dealt with in a later stadium. However, that later stadium was never reached as the peace process failed and the debate kept focusing on Palestinian violence and means to halt it.
Now, finally, the US and the EU have recognised that this conflict is not merely a product of Palestinian terror and rejectionism, but also of Israel’s claims on the Occupied Territories – and that this claim is a major obstacle to peace.
Although it is going to be extremely difficult to achieve, this conflict can only be resolved by negotiations. In these negotiations the Palestinian will demand the 22 % as mentioned earlier. In this demand, they will find themselves supported by resolution 242 and 338, which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
As this conflict is in essence a conflict between two nationalisms claiming the same piece of land, it is encouraging to – finally – see the debate focusing on the core issue. It might have taken the US and the EU decades to acknowledge, but it is a vital change in ideas that needs to be followed up on.
To save the two-state solution, before it is too late, Israel’s allies need to protect Israel from itself and keep pressuring for a full stop on settlement growth and the dismantling of all ‘illegal outposts’. If the US and EU fail to do so, they will have to accept they are partly responsible for the death of the peace process.