A British former foreign secretary has said he fears Israel intends to maintain a military occupation of the Palestinian territories “indefinitely”.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who as former foreign secretary in the 1990s was the first to commit Britain to a two-state solution, made the comments during a keynote speech at Portcullis House, Westminster.
Speaking at the beginning of the Jewish News-BICOM policy conference considering Britain, Israel and the Middle East 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, the former Conservative minister said he feared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire to end the occupation.
Rifkind said support for the two-state solution “goes back to the Peel Commission of 1937,” but that the practical difficulties in delivering two states in 2017 were numerous.
He added: “What disturbs me is that I suspect the Israeli government, Netanyahu and his colleagues, essentially are happy to live with a status quo indefinitely, not just for a year or so, or five years, but on an open-ended basis.”
Rifkind said he suspected the Israeli government sought no change in political status because settlement building was creating “facts on the ground, and Israel’s position will become stronger, its territorial position will be extended further”.
He was speaking on a panel including Dr Clair Spencer of Chatham House and economist Anton La Guardia, the latter expressing concern about the “ethno-nationalist” trends within Israeli politics today.
Spencer said that, 100 years after Balfour’s Declaration, Palestinians faced economic and employment problems, but dismissed the “mythology that there is no partner on the other side,” adding that the internet facilitated the finding of people “of equal mind”.
Rifkind said it was a “tragedy” that, at the moment, there is no-one seeking to negotiate a two-state solution, and rebuffed suggestions from the floor that the West Bank was not “occupied” but “disputed”.