Foreign Policy Centre Briefing: How do we create a future for the two-state solution? By Dr Toby Greene and Professor Alan Johnson

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Executive summary

  • A negotiated two-state solution remains the only viable way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • However, the gaps between the sides remain significant, and there has been in the past three years insufficient trust, or political will, to build the relationships between the leaderships that might allow them to be bridged.
  • The Palestinian Authority’s unilateral strategy, whilst meeting their domestic political need to show progress, is making this situation worse, and threatening the bottom-up progress of recent years.
  • The political upheaval in the region makes an agreement even more desirable, but at the same time worsens the conditions for achieving one.
  • In this context, Britain, along with other European states the US and Arab leaders, need to prevent further deterioration, lower tensions, and find ways to make improve the situation, even they cannot resolve the conflict immediately. Approaches they can follow include:

1. Acknowledging and working with the political realities on both sides by:

  • Maintaining balanced diplomatic pressure on both sides to engage in sustained process of talks.
  • Standing firmly against boycotts, which play into the hands of those that oppose an agreement, whilst promoting grass roots dialogue and reconciliation.
  • Maintaining support for those Palestinians that embrace the concept of a conflict-ending agreement, and denying legitimacy to those that do not.

2. Stopping things getting worse by:

  • Sustaining existing cooperation on the ground and avoiding flash points that could lead to violence.
  • Encouraging emerging Arab political actors to express support for a two-state solution and denying support for actors who reject this.
  • Maintaining pressure on Iran and constraining its role as the leading state supporter of anti-Western radicalism.

3. Set realistic expectations of the end goal by:

  • Being clearer about the concessions both sides will have to make in a final status agreement. This means as well as emphasising the extent of Israel’s territorial concessions, making clear that the solution for Palestinian refugees must not threaten Israel’s status as the national home of the Jewish people.

4. Look for incremental ways to move forward by:

  • Locking the parties into sustained dialogue which reduces provocation and sources of tension, and sets a context for mutually beneficial steps on the ground.
  • In this context, encouraging Israel to propose, and the Palestinians to engage constructively with, steps in the West Bank that will increase Palestinian autonomy and advance the parties towards a two state reality.
  • Creating an environment in which backchannels could be opened up, out of the public eye, which have better chance of finding a way forward on final status issues.

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