Thu 21 Sep 2023 9:01 am - Jerusalem Time

Time is running out

This week I chair a ministerial meeting of the Donor Group in New York following my trip to Israel and Palestine last week. Although the situation seems dark now, I believe that the two-state solution is still the path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Time is running out, but we will not give up working for a Palestinian state and a just, peaceful solution. The rapprochement between Middle Eastern countries provides new opportunities for dialogue. Israel wants normalization with many Arab countries, but most of all what will improve Israel's relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world is a political solution with the Palestinians.

Just over ten years ago, in 2011, the World Bank announced that the Palestinian Authority had taken the necessary measures to establish a Palestinian state. This was nearly twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The agreement, which was negotiated with the help of Norwegian diplomats, was an important historical turning point. However, no agreement has yet been reached on the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, final borders, security and Palestinian refugees. Despite the presence of the necessary Palestinian institutions for statehood, the violence has undermined a great deal of trust between the two parties. Without a negotiated political solution to the final status issues from the Oslo process, and with the occupation continuing, institutions alone were not sufficient to establish a Palestinian state.

Far from the two-state solution
Today, thirty years after the signing of the first Oslo Accord, we are further from a two-state solution than we were in 2011. There have been no peace negotiations for almost a decade. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are eating up more Palestinian land. The level of violence has increased in the past year. Since the beginning of the new year, 40 Palestinian children and six Israeli children have been killed as a result of the conflict. The situation in Gaza is unsustainable. New generations are growing up without hope for the future. Many have lost confidence in the two-state solution.

One thing is beyond doubt: a viable Palestinian state must consist of continuous territories and have clearly defined borders. The legitimate security needs of both peoples must be met. The Israeli settlements mean that the development of the situation is moving in the direction of what can be called the “one-state reality,” but without equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians.

What does Norway say and do?
In this case, it is first of all important for the Norwegian government to clearly state that it is unacceptable that Israel does not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state nor to grant the Palestinians equal rights in one state. As long as the Palestinians want their own state, I will continue to work for a two-state solution. I also believe that the only acceptable alternative to two states is one state with absolutely equal rights for all.

Secondly, Norway reinforced the message of respect for international law and human rights. We must stand against violations of international law in the Middle East, regardless of who commits them. The International Court of Justice in The Hague is issuing a fatwa on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Norway participates in this process.

Third, the government intensified its criticism of Israeli settlement policy. The Israeli settlements established on the occupied territories are considered the most important obstacle to the two-state solution and a violation of international law. Therefore, the government decided that food produced in Israeli settlements must be labeled.

Fourth: We do not believe that it is right to abandon support for the project of building a Palestinian state, even if its development is limited due to the continued occupation, the decline of legitimacy, and the internal Palestinian division. There is broad agreement internationally, but also among Palestinian factions and many Israelis, on the need to strengthen Palestinian institutions of self-government. Continued support for a separate education system, health care, culture and identity is important to preserve the dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people. Norway also continues to lead the Palestine Donor Group (AHLC), where the parties and the international community coordinate work to build a sustainable Palestinian economy and government institutions.

But aid and what some call “economic peace” are not enough. A political solution is needed.

Fifth, we must send a clear message to both parties that they must work to create a credible political horizon. Although the parties are far apart today, our message is clear: peace negotiations must resume. It is also important for Palestinians to come together. The division between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Hamas and Fatah, hinders the political ambitions of the Palestinians.

The Palestinians demand legitimate and comprehensive leadership, and it is past time to hold Palestinian elections. But at the same time, we must avoid a repeat of what happened in 2006, when the Palestinian government became internationally isolated due to the international community's objections to the election results. Norway believes that communication is also important with those with whom we disagree. There are no good alternatives to continuing the line of dialogue with the various Palestinian factions.
What is most important now is for the Israelis to make clear political choices toward a two-state solution. It will require a complete shift from now on, as the use of language and actions by the Israeli government has increased the level of tension with the Palestinians. At the same time, I noted statements from the Israeli side during my visit this week regarding the desire to hold further talks with the Palestinians. Both sides must also stop the violence carried out by extremist actors on each side.

Normalization gives hope
Thirty years after the Oslo Accords, time is running out for a two-state solution and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. At this crossroads, I will highlight the need for renewed and joint efforts to reach a just, peaceful solution. Like my colleagues in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, the United States, China and other countries in many parts of the world, I believe that a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with borders negotiated on the basis of the 1967 line, remains the ideal solution and the best and most sustainable path to peace. This will serve both peoples. The two-state solution will provide unexpected and positive opportunities for increased cooperation, security, stability and integration in the Middle East.

While the situation has deteriorated for the Palestinians, relations have improved between Israel and many Arab countries. It is crucial that the Palestinians are not forgotten in this regional normalization process. And here perhaps lies hope. We have already seen what opportunities the rapprochement between countries in the Middle East has created for Israel. However, what will contribute more than anything else to improving Israel's relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world is reaching a just, peaceful solution with the Palestinians.


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Time is running out


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