All paths should be explored to revive Middle East peace efforts, experts say
Opportunities to narrow the political divide between Israel and the Palestinians must be pursued even in the face of tensions arising from the former’s settlements in the West Bank, experts say in stressing that a two-state solution offers the best way out of the conflict.
The international community should play a more active role in helping the two sides find common ground, they said. Some noted the divisions emerging in the Middle East on the Palestinian cause, after a number of Arab nations moved closer to Israel diplomatically.
Rather than “managing the conflict” by providing food, aid and economic assistance to needy Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the international community should address the root causes of the conflict, they said.
Under such an approach, the issues surrounding Palestinian refugees must be resolved, and the talk by Israeli politicians about annexing Palestinian territories must likewise be addressed, said Henelito Sevilla Jr, dean and professor at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines.
Ali Haider Saleem, a security analyst in Islamabad, said Israel’s growing engagement with other countries in the Middle East must also include the promotion of interfaith dialogue. As part of such a process, steps are needed to ensure religious freedom and access to holy sites, a contentious issue in the Middle Eastern conflicts.
On Oct 27, Israel pressed ahead with plans to build more than 3,000 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, prompting a backlash from the international community, including the United States and the European Union. The EU urged Israel to reverse its decision and maintained that it will not recognize any changes to the “pre-1967 borders”.
Days later, the Al Jareera network reported that a planning committee of Israel’s Civil Administration approved 170 homes and gave an initial endorsement for another 1,133 homes for Palestinians. Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967.
At the 2021 UN International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East held virtually on Nov 16, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the region has “seen more setbacks on the path to peace” as many question the viability of a negotiated two-state solution.
But he said the world “cannot lose hope” and that all opportunities should be explored to “revitalize the peace process”.
China calls for dialogue
In a phone call with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Nov 17, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated that China has always supported the goal of Israel and Palestine attaining peaceful coexistence through dialogue and negotiations on the basis of a two-state solution.
Saleem said US President Joe Biden should review Washington’s relationship with Israel, and that the US and international bodies must prioritize the protection of human rights. Israel’s justice system should also come under scrutiny, the analyst said.
Sevilla said the major powers must look for genuine solutions if international support is to be effective in finding a way out on the Israel-Palestine issue.
“Third-party powers should avoid double standards to ensure that a lasting solution acceptable to both sides is met,” Sevilla said.
He said there are divisions in Middle Eastern countries in how support for the Palestinian cause can be continued at the same time as some countries in the region make peace with Israel.
Hayder Oruc, a Turkey-based independent analyst on Middle East and Israel-Palestine affairs, said that when former US president Donald Trump brought “Israel and the Gulf countries closer” through the so-called Abraham Accords, signed by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with Israel in September last year, it “left the Palestinians alone in this process”.
“Most of the agreements signed by the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, which stand out in the normalization process, are commercial in nature,” Oruc said.
The analyst noted that the goal of dialogue between Jewish and Muslim believers falls within the bounds of the social and cultural cooperation under the declaration.
Oruc said there had been tensions between Israel and the US due to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018. Also causing friction between the two was Israel’s designation of six Palestinian groups as terrorist organizations and the long-standing Israeli expansion of settlements.
“If Israel maintains a similar policy, it should be expected that the US administration will limit their support toward Israel, even if it does not prefer to punish (Israel) directly,” the analyst said.