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Palestinian statehood feels closer than ever before

Palestinian analysts don't expect Netanyahu to move but they believe international support is inching them closer to a Palestinian state.
Ben Lynfield
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Woman wrapped in a Palestinain flag

A woman wrapped in a Palestinian flag in a rally in Spain, one of three European countries to recognise Palestinian statehood last week (Matias Chiofalo/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Published: 28 May 2024

Last updated: 28 May 2024

Since his first term as prime minister in 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu has devoted much time and energy to thwarting the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Last week that effort came under diplomatic pushback, prompted by international qualms over the recalcitrance of Israel’s far-right government and its brutal conduct of the Gaza war.

Over the years, Netanyahu has deployed an array of methods ranging from land seizures and settlement activity, to, until October 7, supporting Hamas as a way to ensure there are no negotiations or territorial compromise.

He has also undermined the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) precisely because it is willing to settle for a state alongside Israel on only 22 per cent of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine.

But now the international community is increasingly boosting Palestinian statehood.

“Israel is losing support, especially in western Europe... because countries see the crimes in Gaza and they have witnessed the destruction of efforts for peace in the Middle East during the last 30 years.”

Jihad Harb

Last week appeared to be a turning point, with Spain, Ireland and Norway announcing recognition of Palestine as a state even though its two territorial components, the West Bank and Gaza are occupied, with a devastating Israeli military operation triggered by Hamas’s October 7 massacre raging in the latter.

In this instance, what is bad news for Netanyahu is good news for Israel and the region, says Israeli political scientist Salim Brake, a sharp critic of the government who teaches at the Open University.

“The best outcome is to have a Palestinian state at peace with Israel. Occupation is not healthy,” he said, espousing the traditional, but dwindling, view of the left within Israel.

Israeli right wingers do not agree that there is any occupation, viewing the biblically resonant hilltops of the West Bank as a divine patrimony that must be ruled by Jews. In the view of key Netanyahu ally Bezalel Smotrich, Arabs must accept inferior status or immigrate “voluntarily”. Both Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir envision even Gaza as coming under Jewish sovereignty.

Taken together with the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan requesting arrest warrants for Netanyahu and defense minister Yoav Gallant and the International Court of Justice ordering an immediate halt to Israel’s army operation in Rafah, it was the darkest week for Netanyahu since the horrific end of his Hamas strategy on October 7.

Speaking to The Jewish Independent from Ramallah, former PA planning minister Ghassan Khatib said that although the recognition moves, condemned by the Israeli government as a reward for terror, do not reverse the far-right government’s expansionism in the West Bank or impact on the war in Gaza, they do signal a conceptual shift in favor of the Palestinians in international diplomacy.

“It’s very significant in the long term,” Khatib said, explaining that the move by the three countries constitutes a superceding of longstanding American doctrine that recognition of Palestinian statehood should only come as part of a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.

With Netanyahu’s government precluding negotiations and no horizon for a two state solution, “many countries will move to a different approach, namely that the way to help a two state solution is to recognise a Palestinian state since there already is an Israeli state,” Khatib said.

In Khatib’s view, it is likely that Ireland, Spain and Norway would not have bestowed the recognition unless they had a green light from Washington.

“This might be a message from the US to Israel that we are serious about a two state solution and that if you continue [in your refusal] things might get out of hand,” Khatib added.

Jihad Harb, former senior analyst at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, explains that the trilateral recognition ended a 30-year policy by much of the international community that effectively gave Israel a veto over the establishment of a Palestinian state. “Today even France is talking about recognition,” he said.

Harb says that taken together, last week’s developments “isolate Israel internationally and put it in conflict with international institutions”.

“Israel is losing support, especially in western Europe. It has had 80 years of support there because of Jews being victims of the Holocaust. But this support is lessening because countries see the crimes in Gaza and they have witnessed the destruction of efforts for peace in the Middle East during the last 30 years. This affects Europe, especially southern Europe.”

Defenders of Israeli government policies say the Palestinians are to blame for not accepting what Israel has described as generous peace offers under Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2007.

“This is an irresponsible government that doesn’t plan for the future. I worry that we will get stuck and that soldiers will get killed and face guerillas and terrorism simply because Smotrich and Ben Gvir control Netanyahu.”

Salim Brake

Harb predicts last week’s reversals for Israel will have no impact on Netanyahu’s determination to keep prosecuting the Gaza war. Harb, who said at the outset of the war that Israel would fail in its goal of destroying Hamas, says he still adheres to that assessment.

“Israel won’t stop. Netanyahu and the far right will not accept what would amount to a declaration of defeat at the hands of Hamas,” Harb said

“External pressure won’t have a big effect as long as Netanyahu has a majority in the Knesset.”

But Brake took issue with Khan’s conclusion, saying Netanyahu and Gallant had not committed war crimes and that Israel had embarked on a just war after the brutality and atrocities committed against it by a terrorist organisation. There were heavy civilian casualties in Gaza because Hamas situated itself among the civilian population and any misdeeds could be investigated in Israel, Brake added.

Still, he said that it was the “extremist” nature of the government that had resulted in Israel’s isolation.

“When you have a stupid minister who calls for dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza it can do a lot of damage,” Brake said of far-right heritage minister Amihai Eliyahu’s declaration early in the war.

“This is an irresponsible government that doesn’t plan for the future. I worry that we will get stuck and that soldiers will get killed and face guerillas and terrorism simply because Smotrich and Ben Gvir control Netanyahu.”

About the author

Ben Lynfield

Ben Lynfield covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for The Independent and served as Middle Eastern affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post. He writes for publications in the region and has contributed to the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and the New Statesman.


  • Avatar of Wesley Parish

    Wesley Parish28 May at 07:35 am

    In this case, if Hamas is universally regarded as a “terrorist” organization, one should ask why did Netanyahu get away with funding it for so long? One should also point out that Israel has been pushing the “settler” enterprise on the West Bank for as long as Israel has occupied the West Bank. I find it difficult now, looking back, to see Israel as having negotiated in anything but bad faith, ever since the Zionist enterprise started in the late 1800s. Particularly in light of the Haavara agreement. And the West Bank settlers behave in a manner distinctly terrorist – if they were in a Sydney or Melbourne suburb and behaved like that, it would be the anti-terrorist units facing them. So the Palestinians weren’t “turning down good faith offers” – if Israel had ever negotiated in good faith, they would’ve stopped the settler enterprises.

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