Speeches and statements

Time is running out

This week, I am visiting Israel and Palestine, 30 years since the first Oslo Accords were signed. As I see it, while the situation may seem bleak, the two-state solution is still the most viable path towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Time is about to run out, but we will not give up the efforts for a Palestinian state and a just peace settlement. Rapprochement among countries in the Middle East opens up new opportunities. Israel wants normalisation with more Arab countries, but what would do the most to improve Israel’s relations with its neighbours and the rest of the world is a political solution with the Palestinians.

Over a decade ago, in 2011, the World Bank stated that the Palestinian Authority had made necessary progress to establish a Palestinian state. That was almost two decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The Accords, which were negotiated with the help of Norwegian diplomats, represented a historic milestone. However, no agreement had been reached on the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements, final borders, security, and the Palestinian refugees. Even though essential Palestinian state institutions had been established, ongoing violence undermined much of the trust between the parties. In the absence of a negotiated political solution to resolve the outstanding issues, and given the continued occupation, these institutions alone were not enough for the establishment of a Palestinian state.  

Far from a two-state solution

Today marks 30 years since the signing of the first Oslo Accord, and we are further from a two-state solution than we were in 2011. No peace negotiations have been held for nearly 10 years. The Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem are claiming more and more Palestinian land. The level of violence has risen over the past year. Since the beginning of January, more than 40 Palestinian children and 6 Israeli children have been killed as a result of the conflict. The situation in Gaza is untenable and new generations are losing hope for the future. Many people no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible.  

A viable Palestinian state must have territorial contiguity and clearly defined borders. The legitimate security needs of both peoples must be met. Israel’s settlement policy is moving the situation on the ground towards a one-state reality, but one where Israelis and Palestinians do not have equal rights.  

How is Norway responding to the situation?

First, given the current situation, it is unacceptable to neither accept a Palestinian state being established, nor to grant equal rights to all in one state. As long as the Palestinians continue to work for and want a state of their own, Norway will continue to support a two-state solution. But we also like to state at this point in time that the only acceptable alternative to a two-state solution is one state with equal rights for all.  

Second, we must stand up against violations of international law also in the Middle East, regardless of who is responsible. The International Court of Justice in the Hague is preparing an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Norway is participating in this process.   

Third, The Israeli settlements in occupied territory constitute the greatest obstacle to the two-state solution and are in violation of international law. The Norwegian Government has therefore decided that foodstuffs produced in Israeli settlements must be labelled with their origin.   

Fourth, Norway will not give up our support to Palestinian institutions and state building, even though progress is limited due to several factors, including the continued occupation, declining political legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, and internal Palestinian divisions. There is broad agreement internationally, as well as among Palestinian factions and many Israelis, on the need to stabilize and strengthen the Palestinian institutions. Continued support to develop a Palestinian education system and health services, energy, water and to promote Palestinian culture and identity, is important to preserve dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people. Norway continues to chair the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which is the international donor group for Palestine, where the Palestinians and Israelis and the international community coordinate efforts to build a sustainable Palestinian economy and viable institutions.  

However, development aid and what some refer to as ‘economic peace’ will not be enough. A political solution is needed.  

Fifth, Norway urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to renew their effort for a political solution. Although the parties remain far apart at present, our message is clear: peace negotiations must be resumed. The Palestinians must also overcome their internal governance split. The divisions between Gaza and the West Bank are hindering the political aspirations of the Palestinian people.  

The Palestinian people have a right to a legitimate, inclusive leadership, and Palestinian elections are long overdue. At the same time, we must avoid a repeat of 2006, when the Palestinian government became isolated internationally because the global community disagreed with the election results. In Norway’s view, it is important to maintain open lines of communication with all parties, even those we do not agree with. Pursuing an open dialogue with different Palestinian factions is therefore the only real option.  

In order to achieve progress, what is needed at this juncture is for the Israelis to take clear political decisions towards a two-state solution. This will require a change of course, involving a change in the Israeli Government’s current rhetoric and actions, which are serving to increase tensions with the Palestinians. During my visit this week I did take note of statements from the Israeli side that they want to continue the dialogue with the Palestinians. Both parties must take steps to put an end to the violence of extremist groups. 

Normalisation of relations offers hope

30 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, time is about to run out for the two-state solution and a viable Palestinian state. At this crossroads, I would therefore emphasise the need for renewed, joint efforts to promote a just peace settlement. Like my colleagues in the Middle East, as well as in Europe, the US, China and other countries in many parts of the world, I believe that a Palestinian state next to Israel, with negotiated borders based on the 1967 lines, is still the best and most sustainable path to peace that would benefit both peoples.. A two-state solution would provide a framework for a wealth of new opportunities for increased cooperation, security, stability and integration in the Middle East. 

Whereas the situation for the Palestinians has deteriorated, relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries have improved. It is crucial that the needs of the Palestinians are not overlooked in this regional normalisation process. This offers a glimmer of hope. We have already seen the opportunities that rapprochement in the Middle East has opened up for Israel. But the factor that would do the most to improve Israel’s relations with its neighbours and the rest of the world is the achievement of a just peace settlement with the Palestinians.