by Neville Teller

          On January 29, out of the blue, Britain’s foreign minister Lord Cameron declared that because Palestinians needed to see “irreversible progress to a two-state solution”, Britain and its allies would consider recognizing a Palestinian state.

Speaking at a reception for Arab ambassadors, he said there needed to be an immediate pause in the conflict in Gaza; the release of all the hostages held by Hamas; and “most important of all is to give the Palestinian people a political horizon”.

            On the next day, the Jerusalem Post carried a story headlined: “US might recognize Palestinian state after war.”  It reported that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had ordered the State Department to start examining the possibility of US and international recognition of a State of Palestine the day after the Gaza war ended.  One strand of opinion in the State Department, it said, apparently favors recognition of a Palestinian state as the first, rather than the last, step in a renewed peace process aimed at guaranteeing Israel’s security in a two-state solution.

            Hooked on the nostrum of a two-state solution, much of the world, including a swath of Arab opinion, subscribes to the view that it has been Israeli intransigence that has frustrated this deeply desired outcome by the Palestinians. For example Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK, told the media on the following day that Cameron’s remarks about recognizing a Palestinian state were “historic”.  Pursuing the Palestinian Authority strategy of supporting the two-state ideal, inherited from its first leader, Yasser Arafat, he said:

“It is the first time a UK foreign secretary considers recognizing the State of Palestine, bilaterally and in the UN, as a contribution to a peaceful solution rather than an outcome,” he said. “If implemented, the Cameron declaration would remove Israel’s veto power over Palestinian statehood [and] would boost efforts towards a two-state outcome.” 

The plain facts tell a quite different story.  Every one of the numerous Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations over the years – each of which, as an obvious sine qua non, incorporated  recognition of Israel – has fallen at the last hurdle.  Embracing a two-state solution implies a voluntary end to the delegitimizing of Israel.  It means abandoning the key elements in the charters of the two main political Palestinian movements, Fatah and Hamas, both of which state unequivocally that the whole of what was once Mandate Palestine is Arab land, and it is the God-given duty of Palestinians to fight for its recovery.

A two-state solution means that one of the two states is Israel.  Many, perhaps most, of those who support the “Palestinian cause” believe that Palestinians are fighting for their own state alongside Israel;  many others understand clearly that “From the river to the sea” means what it says – the removal of the state of Israel.  To be blunt, while the two-state solution appeals to world opinion, it is not what majority Palestinian opinion favors.  The latest authoritative poll, undertaken in December, revealed that no less than 64% of Palestinians are opposed to a two-state solution.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reviled by two-state supporters as having consistently rejected Palestinian statehood.  He may oppose it at present, given current circumstances, but this was not always the case. 

Barack Obama came to the US presidency in 2009 determined to change the dynamic in US-Muslim relations for the better.  He chose Cairo as the location for a speech to be known as “A New Beginning”.  Having pledged America’s support for Israel, Obama continued: “The Palestinian people—Muslim and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation.  So let there be no doubt, “ he continued, “the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

Like Obama, Netanyahu had only recently won an election, and it was too early for a head-to-head clash. Instead Netanyahu decided to show Obama that on certain issues, with certain conditions, he was willing to bend for the greater good, although never when it came to Israel’s survival.  Ten days after Obama’s speech, Netanyahu gave an address at Bar Ilan University.

Speaking to the Palestinian people direct, he said: “the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.

“But we must also tell the truth in its entirety,” he continued.  “Within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.  In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect.  Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.” 

Then he added:  “I told President Obama when I was in Washington that if we could agree on the substance, then the terminology would not pose a problem. And here is the substance that I now state clearly:  If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.“

These honeyed words fell on deaf ears.  Hamas, rooted in rejectionism, had already seized the Gaza Strip.  Their total raison d’être was and remains to eliminate Israel.  Fatah and the Palestinian Authority continued to pursue the strategy set by Yasser Arafat, which was to court world opinion by appearing to support a two-state solution while retaining the ultimate objective of ousting Israel from the Middle East.

          Nothing has changed except that since the massacre of October 7, Hamas has gained unprecedented support within the Arab world in general, and among the Palestinian populace in particular.  That means Palestinian statehood means something quite different to majority Arab opinion than it does to the ardent two-staters. In short, the two-state solution is anathema to most Arabs – a fact of life which Anthony Blinken, Lord Cameron, and all who espouse it wilfully refuse to recognize.

By Neville Teller

Neville Teller’s latest book is “"Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."