Peter Hain: “Can a common state solution end the Palestine-Israel Impasse?”

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In a recent public lecture at the University of Swansea Peter Hain delved into the Israeli/Palestinian issue, warning of the dangers of a slipping two-state solution and what this could mean for ending the long running conflict. The Labour MP is far from naïve though about the complexities of elaborating alternatives to a two-state solution, but having been a longstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and a friend of Israel he now finds himself forced to ask whether a “common state solution” might more easily resolve the deadlock than the two-state solution long-favoured by many.

Having worked closely with Israeli and Palestinian leaders while serving as British Middle East and Cabinet Minister and with a strong record of fighting apartheid, racism and anti-Semitism, his words are worth heading.

“For close to seventy years the cycle of violence and hatred has ripped the region apart.  Stop-start negotiations to achieve a two-state solution – an Israel with secure borders, not living under siege from its neighbours, and alongside an independent Palestine – have led nowhere, despite the fact that a majority of both peoples (Palestinian and Israeli) continue publicly to support it. (…)

But I am increasingly unsure about whether it’s still achievable – mainly because, as time has marched on, and successive negotiating initiatives have come and gone, the land earmarked for a viable Palestinian state has been remorselessly occupied by Israeli settlers.

A recent “Two-State Stress Test” conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) also points towards this. According to their findings US-led diplomatic efforts are the only factor currently sustaining a two-state solution. Any lessening of this intensity would leave prospects even more fragile, in particular given continued strain from trends relating to territory, Jerusalem and public opinion, most notably on the Israeli side. (…)                                                           

If Israel’s relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped then we must face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever-more formalized ‘Bantustan status’, islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing on-going pressure, perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement. (…)

What sort of common state might then be politically feasible and deliverable?  Could a federal or con-federal state provide a way forward, with common security, a unified economy, common civil rights and guarantees of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, but considerable political autonomy for the territories within it of ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’? How then might Israeli and Palestinian security forces be integrated?

These are fundamental, difficult and complex questions – but, if successfully answered, could a common state solution more easily resolve the deadlock than the two-state solution I and many others have long-favoured?

I remain uncertain. But I ask because I do not see how either the Israelis or the Palestinians can secure their legitimate objectives by perpetuating for still more decades their unsustainable and unstable predicament, with a two-state solution slipping away while violence and terrorism lurks constantly.”

The full version of Peter Hain’s public lecture at the University of Swansea can be found here.

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