Malcolm Rifkind: Palestinian unity is needed for peace

Hamas in Gaza would mean a three-state problem, not a two-state solution

Share
Related Topics

Recently an Israeli and a Palestinian went to see God. They asked whether there would ever be a permanent peace between their two peoples. "Of course there will," replied God. "But it won't be in my time."

One could be forgiven for believing, after the past week in Gaza, that God may have got it right. As the death toll mounts, as the hatred grows, it is difficult to envisage a political breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians in coming months.

And yet Israel/Palestine remains different from many of the other crises spots that disfigure the political world. India and Pakistan have been battling over Kashmir since 1948. They remain nowhere near a formula or a solution that would resolve the dispute and meet both their aspirations.

Likewise, China and Tibet have been locked in struggle since the Dalai Lama's flight in 1959. On neither Tibetan independence nor genuine autonomy has Beijing budged an inch and the prospect is only one of further conflict. The same could be said of the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Chechens in Russia.

Israel and Palestine are different. Israel achieved a durable and reliable peace with both Egypt and Jordan with whom it was at war on several occasions. Israelis and Palestinians have endorsed a two-state solution as the goal towards which they strive. Negotiations, on several occasions, have not just covered generalities but also have included the most sensitive issues such as the future of East Jerusalem and possible land swaps to take account of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Unlike 10 years ago, most Israelis and most Palestinians have expressed support for a two-state solution to their dispute.

The gulf between the two sides remains very wide. Hamas, of course, has not been party to any of these negotiations and current events in Gaza have destroyed any prospect of early progress. But out of tragedy can, sometimes, emerge hope.

The three essential ingredients for progress are, firstly, an Israeli government, elected in February's general election, that is committed to new negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state and the concessions and compromises that that will require.

Secondly, there is an obvious urgent need for meaningful Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas. The current split not only weakens the Palestinian voice but also makes it impossible for negotiations to deliver a comprehensive peace.

Thirdly, the United States remains the only power able to provide the security guarantees that will be needed to underpin any settlement. Barack Obama's presidency, with no White House elections due for four years, offers an unprecedented opportunity for a major initiative that would put real pressure on Israelis and Palestinians. The tragedy in Gaza may, inadvertently, help on delivering each of these requirements. The conflict has boosted the popularity of the Israeli government at the expense of opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is resolutely against a Palestinian state.

While Palestinians might, understandably, see all Israeli politicians as bellicose Zionists, reality is that Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have concluded that a Palestinian state and withdrawal from most of the West Bank is in Israel's interests as well as that of the Palestinians. A ceasefire in Gaza that prevents missiles from being smuggled into the territory in future and the substantial damage that has been done to Hamas's infrastructure may be sufficient to justify the conflict in Israeli eyes and secure Livni and Barak electoral victory.

The past few weeks has also demonstrated the disunity of the Palestinians caused by the Fatah-Hamas split. The Egyptian, Saudi and Jordanian governments loathe Hamas. The conflict has distracted attention from the Saudi peace plan of King Abdullah. It offers a comprehensive peace in the region and has attracted favourable comment from Israeli President Shimon Peres and other leaders in Jerusalem.

While many might assume that Israel favours Palestinian disunity on the principle of "divide and rule", the reality is that it has been a disaster from the point of view of anyone who wants a negotiated peace leading to a Palestinian state. Hamas continuing to rule in Gaza would mean a three-state problem, not a two-state solution.

The Obama presidency, combined with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, offers an extraordinary opportunity for real progress. Although Obama will be well disposed towards Israel, because of his personal beliefs and political necessity, we are likely to see, for the first time for many years, an American president prepared to put real pressure on the Israelis to concede a Palestinian state with territorial integrity and economic viability.

Obama comes to office with massive public support. A strong position on Israel/Palestine would also help him to garner the support he needs for tough international action against Iran in the event that it should become necessary.

It may be difficult to be optimistic about the Middle East, but I was once told that the pessimist was someone who believes that things couldn't be worse while the optimist knows that they could be. We must never lose sight of the two great, positive developments of the past few years.

The first was the conversion of mainstream Israeli and Palestinian public opinion and politicians to support for a Palestinian state combined with recognition of the state of Israel. The second has been the declaration by all the Arab states of the region that they are prepared to accept Israel as a permanent state in the Middle East as part of a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution.

If Israelis, Palestinians and Arab governments could achieve peace on this basis, there would be little that Hamas could do about it. They would be seen as irrelevant, if not actually harmful, to the aspirations of their fellow Palestinians. We are far from that position today. Many will believe that its attainment is unrealistic. But there is an old Israeli saying that "miracles take longer". We could do with the odd miracle right now.



Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995 to 1997

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Bush Snr and his adviser Lee Atwater  

Perception is reality: The facts won't matter in next year's general election

Simon Kelner
<p><b>Mock the Week</b></p>
The newest of our quiz shows was created by Created by Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson, who also made 'Whose Line is it Anyway?'. This is more of a 'quiz' format, and for me, the best part about it is that it introduced me to Frankie Boyle.  

Liberal shows like Mock The Week just can’t understand why Ukip has so many supporters

Nigel Farage
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain