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Tectonic shift on the two-state solution?

After a senseless exchange of rockets and shells and now a vote in the UN, the world has seen a tectonic shift in how the Israel-Palestine conflict is viewed.

It is starting to look like Israel’s apparent reaction to the Palestinian Authority being granted “observer state” status at the United Nations last Friday is about to backfire. In a rapidly changing world, Israel’s heavy handed response is seen as less and less an appropriate way forward.

Last Friday, the UN General Assembly voted 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions, to grant Palestine observer state status. While not recognising Palestine as a full state, which requires nine of the 15 UN Security Council members to also vote in favour — including all veto-power members — the vote was a significant step towards Palestine’s eventual statehood recognition.

Contrary to claims by Israel spokesman Mark Regev, the vote gave the PA overwhelming international endorsement for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Israel’s response, having pounded the Gaza Strip just two weeks before, was to cut off tax payments collected on behalf of the PA — ostensibly to pay an electricity bill — sending the PA into bankruptcy. More importantly from an international relations viewpoint, though, Israel’s decision to re-start its settlement building program on the West Bank has drawn almost universal criticism.

Having been largely isolated on the UN’s observer statehood vote, the US is now saying, categorically, that it opposes the extension of new Jewish settlements, notably the E1 settlement, near Jerusalem. Other countries that voted against Friday’s motion are also critical of Israel’s decision to proceed with new settlements on Palestinian territory.

In a fundamental shift from previous policy, the Labor caucus here also forced an abstention on last Friday’s vote. Foreign Minister Bob Carr, a long-time Israel ally, has been blunt in his opposition to its new settlements plan.

In part, the reaction reflects the changing political geography in the Middle East. With much of regional politics so delicately poised, no one wants a diplomatic bull in the strategic china shop.

But to some extent, too, the world is growing weary of its endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue being so cynically disregarded by Israel. Israel says the PA vote in the UN has set back the two-state process, but there is no logical reason for this to be so. Indeed, the international community is now giving the idea some diplomatic substance.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that Israel is prepared to talk about a two-state solution, but only on its own terms. Those terms, reasonably, include being able to guarantee its future security.

Less reasonably, however, they also seem to include Israel dictating the conditions the Palestinians will have to accept in order to achieve agreement. This includes giving up any claim to Jerusalem and, in effect, an “independent” Palestinian state remaining an adjunct to Israel.

It is now probable that Israel will back off from its proposed new settlements and will come to a mediated arrangement about handling the PA’s finances. Other regional states, too, might also move to fill the financial void.

But it may be that, after a senseless exchange of rockets and shells and now a vote in the UN, the world has seen a tectonic shift in how the Israel-Palestine conflict is viewed. And perhaps this difficult conflict has moved one small but definite step closer to a resolution.

*Professor Damien Kingsbury is Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University

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