Lord Leigh

It's time to listen to the Palestinian moderates

Unfavourable political conditions mirror public views on the prospects for a two-state solution


Palestinian demonstrators clash with Israeli security forces during a protest in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near the West Bank city of Nablus, March 24, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ????? ??? ???? ????? ??????? ??? ????

April 14, 2023 15:13

The two-state solution is further from reality now than it ever has been. Long-stalled elections have significantly diminished the political legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and the current Israeli government remains unstable. The absence of political will or unaligned political constellations have foiled every serious attempt to revive the two-state solution since the Oslo Accords. With more Palestinians than ever before content to seek opportunity in Israel, is it finally time to read the writing on the wall?

Unfavourable political conditions mirror public views on the prospects for a two-state solution. Polling released earlier this year confirms diminishing enthusiasm, with support for the idea at its lowest ebb since the early 2000s. Disturbingly, support amongst Palestinians for armed struggle has increased to 40% and majorities in both Israel and Palestine believe a new intifada is now possible.

Gaza remains firmly in the grip of Hamas, which has now instigated four separate conflicts with Israel and new, Iran-backed terrorist movements are emerging in the West Bank.  

Frustration is boiling over into the worst violence since the Second Intifada. However, for most Palestinians, what they want are jobs, social security and a future for their children rather than another conflict. It’s time governments on both sides recognised this and begin taking steps to address the fundamental challenges and aspirations of Palestinians.  This also includes accepting the uncomfortable reality that a growing number of Palestinians prefer to live under Israeli administration.  

As Chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK I have spoken to young Palestinians on our Pinto Young Leadership programme and for many East Jerusalemite Palestinians, they are increasingly content to live in Israeli-administered jurisdiction.  

Palestinians are more often relying on family and Israeli social services for support, rising from 44% and 31% to 51% and 40%, respectively, from 2010 to 2022. It is perhaps not surprising then that pragmatic Palestinians in increasing numbers prefer Israeli sovereignty, with those who preferred Palestinian sovereignty dropping from 52% to 38% between 2010 and 2022.  The percentage of those polled who preferred Israeli sovereignty full stop rose from 6% to 19% during this period. One longstanding criticism of the one-state solution is that it could deliver a Palestinian-majority Knesset, which in turn could lead to the end of the Jewish state as we know it.

What’s driving this change is the reality that Palestinians are pragmatic and looking for opportunities wherever they can find them. In polling conducted last year, the Tony Blair Institute found that after ending corruption and political reform, creating more jobs for young people was the top priority for Palestinians across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This too is unsurprising, given that nearly quarter of people are unemployed in Palestine.

This is particularly true for Palestine’s large youth population, where the unemployment rate for youth graduates in the West Bank reached 28.6% compared to 73.9% in Gaza Strip in 2022.

Working in Israel or for Israeli-owned enterprise is for many Palestinians the only option.  As many as 170,000 Palestinians from the West Bank work in Israel or on settlements, as do17,000 people from the Gaza Strip.  In 2021, Israel estimated that has many as 30,000 to 40,000 Palestinians worked in Israel without a permit.  Mostly in the construction sector, as many as 37,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

It is widely acknowledged that current arrangements for Palestinians working in Israeli enterprise are unsustainable, as Palestinians face significant delays accessing jobsites and are often subject to substandard health and occupational conditions. Informal middlemen are the only beneficiaries of the current situation, where an Institute for National Security Studies report indicates that people illegally selling work permits had annual revenue of 1 billion shekels from about 40,000 Palestinian workers.

One idea I recently floated in the House of Lords is to look at two nations, two governments under one umbrella Sovereignty, a model which works for us in the UK with devolved governing to four nations. We have the experience to investigate this further and act as a facilitator.

Whether or not a one-state solution emerges as a credible alternative to the two-state solution, the PA and the Israeli government must recognise that greater cooperation to advance economic growth and create jobs for Palestinians is required. In addition to granting greater mobility for Palestinians to work for Israeli businesses, governments must explore increasing rights for Palestinian workers.  This should include access to health and other social services.  

Greater cooperation, up to and including a one-state solution should however not be seen as a panacea solution to the outstanding issues which have long held back a final status solution. Security for Israelis and Palestinians, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the Jewish character of Israel as well as final borders cannot be overlooked. But what is needed now is pragmatic action aimed at bettering the lives of Palestinians and enhancing economic growth for Palestinians and Israelis.  East Jerusalem is showing the way forward.

The Abraham Accords, which in 2020 launched a watershed in changed relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours broke with conventional wisdom. Economic growth and deepening intercultural understanding have been the result of normalisation. The same spirit to finally do things differently should be applied to the situation for Palestinians, where life under the PA is becoming increasingly impossible and a desire to live under Israeli administration more popular. Pragmatic Palestinians want solutions and it’s time governments listened to them.

April 14, 2023 15:13

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