A two-state solution is the only way that the Israel-Palestine conflict can be solved

  • Opinion

It’s impossible to absorb the harrowing images in Israel and Gaza with anything less than distress and horror. Lasting peace has rarely seemed more out of reach.

This widespread human suffering means the need for a just and enduring peace has rarely been more pressing. The future for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on this being realised.

The status quo is failing everyone.

Australia has five core priorities in this crisis. Supporting civilians, helping prevent conflict from spreading, and reinforcing the need for a durable peace – all of which we pursue by working with countries that have influence in the region. At the same time, we seek to keep our country unified and assist Australians abroad.

About 2,000 previously registered Australians have now left Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. After weeks of negotiation, 25 Australians and family members have crossed the border at Rafah in recent days; we persist in trying to secure passage for those still in Gaza.

And we remain deeply concerned about potential escalation in Lebanon, with an estimated 15,000 Australians there. We urge Australians to leave on the first available commercial option.

The number of Australians across the region underlines how close to home this conflict is. I have spoken with people who have lost loved ones on 7 October, as well as people who have lost loved ones in Gaza.

As Australians who treasure our peaceful community and aspire to ever greater unity as a nation, we mourn every innocent life which has been lost in this conflict.

Australian communities are in pain, felt most acutely in Jewish and Palestinian communities. There is a long, complex and disputed history – unfathomable trauma – deeply felt; close to the heart of many.

With pain so real and so raw, I understand why calls for peace can be hard to hear.

Some 1,400 Israelis were killed by Hamas on 7 October, the biggest loss of Jewish life on any day since the Holocaust. We condemn these terrorist attacks unequivocally: they cannot and should not be justified. And with more than 200 people still held captive, we call for Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages.

In Israel’s response to those attacks, thousands of Palestinians have been killed, including more than 3,500 children, as reported by Unicef. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens by the day.

With grief and anger engulfing communities across the region, the promise of peace and security – for Israelis and Palestinians alike – recedes even further.

Food, water, medicine, fuel and other essential assistance must reach people in desperate need, and civilians – including Australians – must be able to get to safety. We have contributed $25m in aid, but more assistance is required from parties to the conflict if this aid is to reach Gazans.

This is why so many countries, like Australia, have been calling for humanitarian pauses on hostilities as a necessary first step.

In affirming Israel’s right to defend itself, Israel’s friends – including Australia – have consistently emphasised that the way it does so matters. We know it is extremely difficult to defeat a craven terrorist group that has burrowed itself in civilian infrastructure, using civilians as a shield.

Like Australia, Israel is a democratic nation state, pledged to the rule of law. The standards democracies seek and accept are high. That means Israel must observe international law and the rules of war.

So when Israel’s friends urge Israel to exercise restraint and protect civilian lives, it is critical that Israel listens. It matters for innocent civilians, who should not pay for horrors perpetrated by Hamas. And it matters for Israel’s own security, which faces grave risk if conflict spreads. The international community will not accept ongoing civilian deaths.

It is not possible to assure the interests of Israelis without also assuring the same for Palestinians.

A durable peace calls for people to see each other’s humanity. It requires all sides to respect the right of others to exist.

It will require the dismantling of Hamas – which doesn’t represent the Palestinian people – and a reformed, legitimate Palestinian Authority that disavows violence.

It will require serious international investment in the Palestinian economy, so Palestinians can build a future for themselves.

And it will require Israel to stop establishing settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories – that even the divided UN security council agreed is a “flagrant violation” of international law and a “major obstacle” to peace. Settler violence against Palestinians must cease and perpetrators held to account.

Demand is growing among the international community – west, east, north and south – for a political process. Australia is part of the international diplomatic effort reinforcing the imperative of a durable peace.

Ultimately, a just and enduring peace requires a two-state solution. An Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state. Israelis and Palestinians living securely and prosperously within internationally recognised borders.

I understand why people doubt that can be achieved. But I ask with all sincerity, what is the alternative?

This article was originally published in the Guardian on 4 November 2023.

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