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I strongly support a two-state solution – but now is not the time to recognise a Palestinian state


4 min read

Recently, an Israeli and a Palestinian went to see God. When they were in the presence of the Almighty they said: “We are an Israeli and a Palestinian. We have come, together, to ask you whether there will, ever, be peace and a just solution agreed between our two peoples?”

God replied: “Yes, of course there will. I have no doubt about it.” Then he added, “But it won’t be in my time.”

Very funny, and very sad. It could turn out to be true for generations to come. But it need not. Both Israelis and Palestinians know that there are only three options. The first is a permanent occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, with a refusal to contemplate a Palestinian state, limited autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza, and a shrinking land area for the Palestinians due to new Israeli settlements.

The UK has always believed that a state should only be recognised when it has achieved real independence

That has been the policy of Netanyahu, with support from parts of the Israeli opposition. The ghastly massacres of Israeli men, women and children by Hamas; the impotence of the Palestinian Authority; and the radicalisation by extremists of young Palestinians have been the tragic consequence of this failed strategy.

The second option is for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to merge into a single state which would start with a Jewish majority which could disappear over the years to come. If the Palestinians in such a state did not have the same political rights as the Israelis that would, in effect, be an apartheid state, which it is not at present. But if all citizens did have equal rights Israel would cease to be Jewish. It is difficult to believe that any new state, half Jewish and almost half Muslim would have any serious prospect of long-term survival. 

That leaves the two-state solution as not only the best, but the only serious option. When I was foreign secretary in the late 1990s I committed the United Kingdom to supporting a Palestinian state alongside Israel. All governments since then have continued with that commitment.

Such is the fierce opposition of the Israeli government and the foolish intransigence of Hamas and other Palestinians that there has been no progress nor even negotiations on the two-state solution for many years.

This has led to international dispute as to the current status of the Palestinian territories.
A state of Palestine was accepted as an observer state of the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. As of June 2023, 139 of the 193 United Nations member states have recognised that Palestine is now a state. In contrast, Israel is recognised by 165.

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, has raised the possibility that the UK might consider recognising a Palestinian state in order to put added pressure on Israel to open negotiations on such an outcome.

Although a strong supporter of the two-state solution, I would advise, strongly, against any such recognition at this time.

Firstly, the UK has always believed that a state should only be recognised, as such, when it has achieved real independence. The West Bank and Gaza are not remotely independent in reality. Their territory has never had statehood and is, at present, under the control of Israel.
Secondly, to concede recognition would be presented by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists as a justification for their massacres and atrocities.

Thirdly, it would harden Israeli opinion against resuming genuine negotiations with the Palestinians, who would have achieved a substantial victory without making any concessions. 
Of course, agreement by negotiation will be very difficult. But not impossible. Who expected South Africa to get rid of apartheid without a civil war? Who believed Mikhail Gorbachev would end the cold war, and bring down the Berlin Wall without hardly a shot being fired? Who expected Sinn Fein to abandon terrorism and share power with Ulster Protestants? All were achieved by painstaking negotiation.

Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister, once told me that in Israel “miracles take longer”. But they do happen. That should surprise no-one. Israelis and Palestinians do live in the Holy Land where miracles are not, after all, unknown. 


Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Conservative MP and former foreign secretary 

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