Quintet’s solid statement on Israel signals new opportunity for peace

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Israel’s announcement on Sunday that it is advancing about 10,000 settlement units and intends to normalize nine illegal outposts in occupied Palestinian territories has elicited universal condemnation. Opposition to this outlandish move has unified the international community at a time of deep divisions over Ukraine and the China-US rivalry. The evolving consensus could help jump-start peace talks.
Before this announcement, the new Israeli Cabinet’s uncompromising rhetoric had reignited tensions in the Occupied Territories and alarmed Israel’s neighbors and its few remaining friends.
The joint statement issued on Tuesday by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US signifies renewed unity on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Alarmed by the potential destabilizing consequences of Israel’s decision, the five ministers said that they “strongly” opposed these unilateral moves because they “undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution” and “impact the viability of the two-state solution and stability in the region at large.”
The five countries, all close allies of Israel, called for a “comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East,” because “Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live in peace, with equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity.” The five countries reaffirmed their commitment to having the establishment of a “sovereign, viable Palestinian state” living alongside Israel.
The UN secretary-general, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and many others have issued similar statements.
The latest moves by Israel will further increase its isolation and provide fresh evidence of its institutionalized disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, politically, socially and economically. There is a growing consensus that its treatment of the Palestinians amounts to an apartheid regime, similar to that of South Africa before 1994, which the world united to end. Major human rights organizations, including those in Israel, have criticized this regime and called for its abolition.
In January 2021, B’Tselem, Israel’s main human rights group, issued a report documenting how Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian population under its control amounted to “apartheid,” as defined by international law. Following B’Tselem’s lead, Human Rights Watch, the US’ largest human rights organization, published a report in April 2021 documenting Israeli law and practices toward Palestinians. The 213-page report concluded that “Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.” Its systemic policies of “movement restrictions, land expropriation, forcible transfer, denial of residency and nationality, and the mass suspension of civil rights” constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid as defined in the 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
Then, last year, Amnesty International, the largest global human rights organization, which is based in the UK, issued a similar report, concluding that Israel’s policies amounted to a form of racial segregation and institutionalized discrimination, or apartheid. The organization’s 278-page report and 90-minute course on the subject provide ample evidence proving the case. Amnesty has called on its 7 million-plus members to protest these policies.
Israel’s new decisions are unintentionally throwing a lifeline to the Iranian government, which is facing popular protests at home due to its treatment of women and international ostracization for breaches of its nuclear obligations. Hezbollah and other Iran-supported groups have also been struggling to regain relevance in the face of popular dissatisfaction. With the new Israeli moves, Iran and its proxies have a cause to champion to regain the upper hand.
Israel is at a crossroads: Does it want to be integrated in this region or to try to live by the sword and rule over Palestinians under a cruel occupation amounting to apartheid? The Arab Peace Initiative, proposed initially by Saudi Arabia and later adopted by the Arab League, offers full normalization with Israel in exchange for a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. While it may be tempting, given the current balance of power, to continue dispossessing the Palestinians economically and disenfranchising them politically, Israel needs to consider the long-term consequences at home and abroad of such self-defeating and anachronistic policies.
This is a good moment to mobilize for peace talks. The international community appears united in disapproving of Israel’s settlement policies and may be ready to take action to restore the peace process. The five-nation statement issued on Tuesday presages likely unity at the UN Security Council, as the US may join the rest of the permanent members if presented with a text reaffirming the council’s position on settlements and outlining a practical plan to jump-start talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a first step toward meaningful engagement.
Last summer, President Joe Biden signaled a significant change in the US approach, which could bring it into consensus with the rest of the UNSC permanent members and thus enable action to unlock the conflict. While visiting Bethlehem, Biden called for a two-state solution along the pre-1967 lines as “the best way to achieve an equal measure of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.” He added: “The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous.”
In December 2016, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2334, with US acquiescence, which could serve as a basis for new mobilization at the UN. It reaffirmed that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” It also called for “credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process.”
The current atmosphere at the UNSC could help. The inauguration of the new Israeli Cabinet in December and violent events since have attracted the council’s attention, with it so far holding two emergency sessions to discuss the situation. Considering that many of the new outposts Israel plans to legalize are built on private Palestinian land, it is possible that the courts could delay their legalization, although they would probably continue expanding regardless. But that delay could give Palestinians and the international community time to mobilize to stop the legalization and also to resume peace talks.