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Without Gaza the two-state solution cannot be realised

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Writing in Foreign Policy, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter call on Europe to take a more active role in pursuing peace in Israel and Palestine, highlighting how Gaza's isolation poses a security threat to the whole region.

“We believe the two-state solution remains the only viable outcome.”

Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland give a statement while visiting Israel and Palestine, May 2015

Eight months after a devastating war, Israel’s continued and deliberate policy of besieging Gaza and enforcing its separation from the West Bank means conflict could break out again.

The formation of a new right-wing coalition government doesn’t look like it will help. The cabinet appears to be a devastating blow to hopes of any accord with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a lot to do to convince domestic and foreign audiences that he has a credible desire and vision for peace.

Netanyahu is now trying to find common cause with neighbouring Arab countries over the Islamic State and violent Salafi-jihadism instead of working toward a regional peace agreement. But Israel should recognise that Gaza is not immune to these radicalising trends as its population sinks further into poverty and despair.

The plight of Gaza and its people, and the security threat it poses to the whole region, was at the heart of our mission earlier this month to Israel and Palestine. We went as members of The Elders, the group of independent former leaders who campaign for peace and human rights across the globe.

One place we visited was kibbutz Nir Am, just one kilometre from the border with Gaza. We heard directly from people on the front line of the conflict who wish to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. One mother’s words stood out: “If people have nothing to live for, then they will find something to die for.”

She and her fellow kibbutz residents are understandably frightened and angry about the threats of rocket attacks and tunnel raids, but we were impressed by their insistence that only a just peace can bring security to their community.

We regret that we were unable to visit Gaza on this trip, to see the situation there for ourselves. What we heard from independent experts and United Nations officials confirmed our worst expectations regarding poverty, housing, health, and political deadlock. It only strengthened our determination to work for peace, a two-state solution, and the lifting of the blockade.

The situation in Gaza is intolerable. Eight months after the end of last summer’s war, not one destroyed house has been rebuilt. People cannot live with the respect and dignity they deserve. Everyone who lives in the Holy Land has suffered under the shadow of conflict for long enough.

A complete paradigm shift is essential. This demands the lifting of the siege and an end to Israel’s policy of separating the West Bank and Gaza: the two main components of what should, in our view, become an independent Palestinian state. Unfortunately, as we heard during our visit, without Gaza the two-state solution simply cannot be realised.

We have both spent decades working for peace in the Middle East and, notwithstanding the growing number of sceptics, believe the two-state solution remains the only viable outcome.

Gaza’s 1.8 million people are besieged, isolated, and desperate. They cannot enjoy any of the aspects of normal life, from trade and travel to health and education that people in our countries — and indeed in Israel — take for granted.

The risk of another war is very real. This would be disastrous not just for the people of Gaza but for all Palestinians and all Israelis as well. Everyone who lives in the Holy Land has suffered under the shadow of conflict for long enough.

To avoid further bloodshed and boost the currently slim chances of a peace agreement, Palestinian reconciliation and unity is a prerequisite. When we met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, we were encouraged by his commitment to convene the Interim Leadership Framework, a new caucus that would bring together the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main factions in Gaza.

Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland meet President Abbas during their May 2015 visit

Abbas asked us, as Elders, to secure from Hamas a written request for the convening of elections, and he committed to hold fresh presidential and Palestinian Legislative Council elections upon receipt of this communication. This is now the focus of our ongoing work in the region.

We also believe it is essential that the Palestinian Government of National Consensus is fully established in Gaza, initially to control the border crossings and thus to allow many more goods to enter the territory for reconstruction and other essential purposes.

These steps might seem merely procedural but they are vital to reconnecting Gaza and the West Bank politically, economically, and socially.

Even if Palestinian factions can be reconciled, however, they will still need credible and sincere partners for peace on the Israeli side. Such forces do exist despite the dominant trends in the Knesset. We were encouraged by the sincere commitment of several proudly patriotic Israelis we met for the realisation of the two-state solution.

The best guarantee of Israel’s future security and acceptance by its neighbours will be the two-state solution and an end to the occupation and settlement expansion. To help achieve this goal, we feel it is high time that the countries of Europe take a more proactive role, underpinned by a serious financial commitment to assist in Gaza’s reconstruction.

Although the United States will remain a key player, it cannot shoulder the burden of peace-making alone. We will do all we can to support EU High Representative Federica Mogherini so an effective multilateral process can be set in motion.

This was the fourth Elders mission to Israel and Palestine since 2009. Our organisation was founded by Nelson Mandela to work for peace and human rights around the world. Each time we visit this region, it is brought home to us how the former cannot be secured without the latter. The people of Israel and Palestine deserve nothing less.

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