________By Andrew Tucker, Director, thinc.

In a recent letter titled ‘Europe must stand by the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine’, 37 high-ranking former EU and NATO officials urge the EU to reject President Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ unless this plan commits to the two-state solution and adequately addresses Palestinian demands. Signatories to the letter include 25 former foreign ministers, six former prime ministers and two former NATO secretary generals.

The Insistence on a Solution Involving a Palestinian State Alongside the Pre-1967 Lines

This outcry comes in response to Netanyahu’s election promise to formally start annexing West Bank settlements, as well as the looming publication of Trump’s long-anticipated peace plan. In essence, it calls upon the EU to continue insisting on a solution involving the creation of a ‘Palestinian state alongside Israel on borders based on pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed, minimal and equal land swaps; with Jerusalem as the capital for both states; with security arrangements that address legitimate concerns and respect the sovereignty of each side and with an agreed, fair solution to the question of Palestinian refugees.’ The letter maintains that any plan that that does not meet this standard should be rejected in advance. This is grounded in the belief that a one-state reality automatically implies unequal rights and would be catastrophic ‘for the Palestinians or for us in Europe.’ It warns that a failure to ‘seize this opportunity’ to reject Trump’s peace deal ‘would have far-reaching negative consequences.’ It also claims that in departing from the two-state solution, the US has ‘demonstrated a disturbing indifference to Israeli settlement expansion.’  Indeed, the Washington Post reports that, according to those familiar with the plan, it includes autonomy but no state. Rather, it is focused on implementing practical improvements in the lives of Palestinians. 

A Much-Needed Paradigm Shift

In a recent CNN interview with Jake Tapper, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contends that the annexation of settlements would not hurt the peace plan. He promises that the new plan represents a significant shift from the two-state solution. ‘We’ve had a lot of ideas for 40 years. They did not deliver peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,’ he observed. ‘Our idea is to put forward a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique, that tries to reframe and reshape what’s been an intractable problem.’ The ultimate focus of the new plan is to create ‘a better life’ for people on both sides.

Disincentivizing the Palestinians to Compromise

Unfortunately, the PA has vowed to reject any proposal regardless of its content after the US unilaterally decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2007. ‘East Jerusalem is our capital,’ the PA President stresses. ‘By the meter, Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967 is our capital… Jerusalem and Palestine are not for sale or bargaining.’ Abbas further added that he considered settlement building illegal and that no Jewish settlers would be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state.

It therefore appears that the plan is likely to run into a number of hurdles, with the status of Jerusalem once again being a major stumbling block. It is remarkable that the authors of this letter not only reject a proposal they have not seen, but continue to insist on an old “solution” that has thus far failed dismally to deliver a negotiated outcome. There are, for example, strong indications that the parameters insisted on by the EU operate not as an incentive to negotiate, but rather as a disincentive to the Palestinians to make the compromises necessary to ensure Israel’s legitimate security needs.  

The International Law on Statehood – What does it require?

International law does not require the creation of a Palestinian state, and it would seem that major obstacles need to be addressed before “Palestine” can be said to have developed those qualities that are inherent in statehood, such as the existence of a permanent population, a defined territory, an effective government, and the ability to enter into relations with other states. The terms that the EU attaches to its solution – such as “borders based on pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed, minimal and equal land swaps; and Jerusalem as the capital for both states” – are mainly political and have little basis in the international law on statehood.

Given that general international law arguably does not mandate the ‘two-state solution’ (at least not in the version advocated by the EU), surely it would make more sense, before rejecting out of hand all alternatives to that concept, to give some serious thought to (1) what does international law on statehood actually require, and (2) why has the ‘two-state solution’, as the EU frames it, failed to solve the problem? (4) What alternative solutions do we have? (5) Where should one draw the line between politics and the development of international law?

Perhaps it’s time for former EU leaders to let go the reins and hand them over to a new generation with innovative approaches to old problems. As Albert Einstein is famously quoted as having said: “Don’t listen to the person who has the answers; listen to the person who [asks the right] questions.”

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