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Roula Khalaf, editor of the FT, picks her favorite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The author is a former governor of the Palestinian Monetary Authority and former director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF
The horrific scenes on October 7, when Hamas attacked cities in Israel, and the horrific sight of destroyed neighborhoods in Gaza are a far cry from that sunny day in September 1993 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat gave the South the Hand shaking on White House lawn. Led by a beaming Bill Clinton, this was a historic moment of peacemaking.
Unfortunately, Rabin and Arafat are no longer with us and both Israelis and Palestinians are much worse off as a result. The unprecedented level of death and destruction that has characterized this latest episode of the conflict makes the task of peacemaking critically urgent and a humanitarian imperative. Because no matter what happens when hostilities cease, there must never be a return to the status quo ante that triggered this tragedy.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ebbed and flowed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, its recent violent outbreak has its origins in the failure of both parties to bring about the peace to which they were committed.
On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Authority’s performance in laying the essential foundations for a modern, democratic state has fallen far short of expectations. Meanwhile, the increasingly repressive Israeli occupation of the West Bank fueled deep frustrations on the Palestinian side and destroyed any remaining faith in the failing negotiations. In Gaza, a crushing 17-year blockade has only deepened the impoverishment and misery of its 2.3 million residents and created the conditions for the rise of a militant Hamas.
Israel, which is by far the more powerful of the two antagonists and the state that occupies and dominates the lives of another people, must bear the greater share of responsibility for the failure of the “peace process.” Since Rabin’s assassination by an Israeli extremist in 1995, politics in Israel has shifted inexorably to the right, culminating in the formation of the most extreme coalition government in the country’s history after the last round of elections. The new coalition rejects the two-state solution and has blatantly encouraged settler violence in the occupied West Bank, with the aim of ultimately annexing the territory.
But regardless of the miserable conditions that currently prevail, the world must prepare for peace once the guns fall silent. In fact, international pressure is already growing to finally address the causes of the conflict and bring about a peaceful solution. US President Joe Biden, among others, has once again mentioned a two-state solution as a possible outcome, which, although not ideal, is still the least bad option.
But before anyone jumps to conclusions: everyone involved in the conflict, especially Israel and the Palestinians, has an enormous amount of work ahead of them.
On the Israeli side, Netanyahu and his right-wing allies cannot make peace. Therefore, given its own traditions and political processes, Israel must find a government that believes in the two-state solution and is willing to compromise to achieve this outcome.
On the Palestinian side, the political ground must be cleared of all parties that do not accept mutual recognition and a two-state solution. Israel’s announced war goal of eliminating Hamas is unclear and may ultimately be unachievable. Israel alone cannot eliminate Hamas. Only through a vote of the Palestinian people can Hamas be neutralized as a military threat and likely weakened as a political force. But such a vote must take place if Palestinians see credible prospects for a better life of freedom, dignity and economic prosperity.
Following the end of hostilities, a transformation of the current governance structure in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be crucial. This requires fundamental political reforms to create a democratically elected, representative Palestinian government that will then participate in revitalized, internationally monitored and this time credible negotiations guided by a firm commitment to achieving peace within an agreed time frame.
Implementing such a plan requires the full and strong commitment of UN Security Council members, particularly the United States, as well as partners in the region – both for financing the massive reconstruction in Gaza and for the temporary security arrangements that must be put in place. Without this, it will be impossible to escape the escalating violence and restore peace.