On 7 March 2023, the House of Lords is scheduled to take a question for short debate “to ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, with international partners, to calm the violence and build a lasting peace between the government of Israel and the Palestinian people”. It has been tabled by Lord Harries of Pentregarth (Crossbench).

The debate relates to the tensions and conflict between Israel and Palestine which have been ongoing since the middle of the last century. Much of it centres on the disputes over land and borders, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

There have been many instances of violence and attacks involving both sides of the conflict. Although there have been attempts between Israeli governments and Palestinian authorities to negotiate an end to the conflict over the years, these have been unsuccessful.

This short briefing focuses on recent developments in the conflict and political statements and actions targeted at ending it.

1. Recent developments

Tensions between Israel and Palestine have increased during 2023. The violence has fuelled speculation that another ‘intifada’ could be imminent. Intifada refers to two previous uprisings in 1978 and 2000 by Palestinians against Israel. Examples of recent violence include:

Israel’s political landscape has changed recently, with a new coalition government taking office on 29 December 2022. Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the coalition consists of six parties, including the Religious Zionist Party, which describes itself as the “national religious party”. Concerns have been expressed about the party’s position on the conflict. The coalition agreements include commitments to “advance and develop” settlements, including in the West Bank, and to legalise some settlement outposts.

On 13 February 2023, the Israeli government announced its Security Cabinet had authorised nine settlements in the occupied West Bank. This was in response to what it called “murderous terrorist attacks” in east Jerusalem. The announcement led to a presidential statement by the UN Security Council. The UN statement said the plans risked impeding peace and hampering the viability of a two-state solution. In response, the Israel Prime Minister’s Office described the UN statement as “one-sided” and said “the statement should never have been made and the United States should never have joined it”. Several days later, Israel announced it would pause building new settlements in the occupied West Bank for the “coming months”.

2. Statements by the Israeli government and Palestinian authorities

2.1 Joint commitment to end violence

On 26 February 2023, Israeli and Palestinian delegates made a joint commitment to take immediate steps to end the recent surge in violence. This followed talks in Aqaba, Jordan, between the parties, alongside US and Egyptian officials.

The announcement said Palestinian and Israeli sides “affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements between them, and to work towards just and lasting peace”. Both sides also committed to immediately working to end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months. This included an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop the authorisation of any outposts for six months. The parties agreed to reconvene in Egypt in March 2023 to determine progress made towards these goals.

However, doubts have been raised by Israeli and Palestinian politicians about the feasibility of the joint commitments. For example, the Israeli finance minister and chair of the Religious Zionist Party, Bezalel Smotrich, is said to have rejected the settlement freeze. The minister released a statement saying “there will not be a freeze on settlement building and development, not even for one day (this is under my authority)”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also reported to have tweeted that the settlement construction would not be paused.

A senior member of Hamas is reported to have said that the Aqaba meeting “aim[ed] to bring the Palestinian people to their knees” by targeting security measures at the Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank. He argued that the meeting sought to “strengthen Israeli security away from Palestinian rights”. A member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Maher Mezher, also reportedly said that the Aqaba meeting did not represent the Palestinian people.

In addition, the intensified violence that took place in the West Bank whilst the Aqaba talks were underway has cast further doubts over the joint commitment.

2.2 Israeli government’s reaction to the latest violence

Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement addressing the outbreak of violence by some Israeli settlers on Palestinian villages on 26 February 2023. He called for those seeking revenge for the shooting of the two Israeli settler brothers in Hawara to allow the Israel Defense Forces to do its job and to not “take the law into your hands”. An official from the Israel Defense Forces was also reported to have described attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians as “actions of terror”. The official stated that “citizens should not take the law into their hands” and said the Israel Defense Forces was sending additional troops to the area to de-escalate the situation.

2.3 Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the recent violence

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by [Israeli] settlers under the protection of the occupation forces” on 26 February 2023. The president said the Palestinian Authority held the Israeli government “fully responsible” for the violence.

3. UK and international community response

3.1 UK statements

The UK has offered its support towards the establishment of peace between Israel and Palestine.

The UK’s statement at the UN Security Council on 18 January 2023 emphasised the importance of restoring stability across the region. The UK’s political coordinator at the UN, Fergus Eckersley, said the UK, alongside the international community, urged the parties to de-escalate, restore calm and rebuild trust. He stated the UK would oppose all unilateral actions that made Israeli-Palestinian peace harder to achieve, regardless of whether Palestinians or Israelis took such actions. Mr Eckersley said the UK called on Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate a “genuine commitment to peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians and a two-state solution”. He reasoned that this would be the only way to end the conflict, preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity and realise Palestinian national aspirations. In conclusion, the UK coordinator said that peace and stability could still be achieved across the regions and that the UK would support these objectives.

This sentiment was echoed in a subsequent UK statement at the UN Security Council on 20 February 2023. The UK ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York, Barbara Woodward, said the UK would facilitate dialogue between Israel and Palestine. She said the UK remained firm in its belief that a negotiated two-state solution was the only way to ensure lasting peace, security and prosperity between the parties.

The UK has also committed to work with international partners to restore peace between Israel and Palestine. The UK minister of state for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, said the UK remained in close contact with international partners, including the US, to promote peace in the region and de-escalate tensions. Lord Ahmad said he had reinforced these messages during meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Foreign Minister Riad Malki, during his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in January 2023.

On 14 February 2023, the UK issued a joint statement alongside the US, France, Germany and Italy responding to Israeli plans to expand settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The statement reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to supporting Israel and Palestine to restore peace:

We continue to support a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, which must be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties. Israelis and Palestinians both deserve to live in peace, with equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity. We reaffirm our commitment to helping Israelis and Palestinians fulfil the vision of an Israel fully integrated into the Middle East living alongside a sovereign, viable Palestinian state. We continue to closely monitor developments on the ground which impact the viability of the two-state solution and stability in the region at large.

3.2 United Nations statements

The UN has made several recent appeals to Israelis and Palestinians to de-escalate violence. A statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk in February 2023 urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “end the illogic of escalation” and work towards resolving the conflict urgently. UNICEF has raised concerns that children were increasingly paying the “highest price” as the violence escalates. UNICEF said that seven Palestinian children and one Israeli child were killed, with many more injured, during the first few weeks of 2023. UNICEF has provided support to impacted children in several ways, including providing psychosocial services to more than 15,200 children in family centres across the Gaza Strip since 2009.

On 3 February 2023, the UN envoy in Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, told the BBC that increased violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories had brought the situation to “the brink”. However, he said “active diplomacy” was now taking place, involving the US, UN and Israeli and Palestinian officers.

The UN has called for the regional and international community to collaborate in helping to restore peace in the region. UN Secretary General António Guterres said regional and international partners needed to work together to help Palestinians and Israelis break cycles of violence. The UN chief warned that the acceleration of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory during 2022 and 2023 meant that preventing further escalation, reducing tensions and restoring calm should be the immediate priority.

Most recently, following the latest violence in the region, the UN envoy in Jerusalem urged both sides to act towards addressing core issues that were fuelling the conflict. He said the UN remained committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace.

3.3 United States statements

The US has committed to encouraging cooperation between Israel and Palestine, as well as promoting a “comprehensive and lasting solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on 18 February 2023, Mr Blinken was reported to have reiterated the US’s support for a negotiated two-state solution. He also expressed the US’s opposition to any measures that could endanger the two-state solution or escalate further violence in the region.

Following the events on 22 February 2023, the spokesperson for the US Department of State, Ned Price, said at a press briefing that recent issues showed the urgent need for both sides to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. Additionally, he said the US called on all parties to desist from actions that could inflame tensions, such as incitement of violence.

Most recently, following the violence in the West Bank on 26 February 2023, Ned Price said it was imperative that Israelis and Palestinians worked together to de-escalate tensions and restore calm. He said the US and its regional partners would continue to work with the parties to advance the commitments made in Aqaba. In conclusion, he emphasised that Israelis and Palestinians “equally deserve to live in safety and security”.

3.4 EU statements

During an EU statement to the UN Security Council on 18 January 2023, EU Ambassador to the UN Olof Skoog expressed concern about the deteriorating situation and increased violence in the West Bank. He said the EU was committed to a “just and comprehensive” resolution of the conflict. Supporting the two-state solution, the EU ambassador said this would see:

[…] the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign, and viable state of Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security and mutual recognition, and with Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states.

However, the ambassador also spoke of EU concerns about recent incidents in the region. For example, the EU opposed the Israeli government’s settlement expansion policy. The EU called on Israel to halt continued expansion in a bid to prevent an escalation of violence. Additionally, the EU condemned recent terror attacks, such as the launching of rockets by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups into Israel. He said the EU urged all Palestinian factions to “engage in good faith in the reconciliation process, to adhere to previous agreements, renounce violence and terrorism, and recognise Israel’s right to exist and to commit to democratic principles, including the rule of law”.

Following the events in Nablus, EU High Representative Josep Borrell said the EU was “deeply alarmed” by the escalated violence in the West Bank. The EU said it was of “upmost importance that all parties worked together to restore calm and de-escalate tensions to avoid further loss of life”.

Cover image by Chuttersnap on Unsplash.