Is Hezbollah (and behind it, Iran) opening up to a two-state solution?

With the likelihood of a green light from Hezbollah, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati is making diplomatic efforts in the hope of relaunching the peace process.

Is Hezbollah (and behind it, Iran) opening up to a two-state solution?

Hezbollah supporters wave flags while awaiting Hassan Nasrallah's speech in Beirut's southern suburbs. Nov. 3, 2023 (Credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah believes Hamas must win the war “for Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

In his recent speech Nov. 3, Nasrallah said that if Hamas wins this war, it could mean an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which, according to international law, should make up a future Palestinian state.

Nasrallah alluded to allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state over the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine, stretching from “the Jordan River to the Mediterranean,” a statement that deviated from the usual rhetoric of threatening to wipe Israel off the map.

The shift in rhetoric is particularly intriguing given its timing, shortly after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati proposed the integration of Iran into the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

The regional peace initiative was proposed by various Arab states that had met in Beirut, under the auspices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The initiative called for the establishment of a Palestinian state encompassing Gaza and the West Bank, in line with the Oslo Accords, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return, the Arab countries involved were expected to collectively recognize and establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

“We will consider the right of Israel and the right of the Palestinians,” Mikati told The Economist in an interview. “If we have [an agreement on] international and comprehensive peace, I am sure Hezbollah and Hamas will lay down their weapons.”

A green light from Hezbollah to Mikati?

Mikati has been actively engaged in diplomatic efforts recently. He has been on an Arab tour that included visits to Doha, Amman, and Cairo. Mikati has also been in contact with Western officials, including a rare meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week in Jordan.

Mikati seems to be seeking to formulate a “political plan” aimed at preventing an escalation that could further entangle Lebanon in the Hamas-Israel conflict. Additionally, Mikati seeks to position Lebanon as a mediator in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as revealed by a source close to the premiership.

Mikati’s proposed three-stage plan involves initiating a five-day truce in Gaza, conducting talks to facilitate an exchange between hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and ultimately restarting a genuine peace process.

In light of these considerations, Mikati, accompanied by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and former General Security Director Abbas Ibrahim —who both have close ties to Hezbollah— met Tuesday with Amos Hochstein, US President Joe Biden’s envoy for Lebanon.

Hochstein has previously acted as a mediator in discussions between Lebanon and Israel. In a notable achievement in October 2022, Hochstein successfully facilitated a maritime demarcation agreement between the two historically opposed countries, a development hailed a triumph by and for Hezbollah.

According to L’Orient-Le Jour’s sources, Mikati’s diplomatic endeavors in this direction have been endorsed by Hezbollah.

This appears to be a strategic division of roles orchestrated by the party, aiming to prevent any significant escalation in Lebanon while upholding an unwavering stance against Israel.

It prompts speculation about whether Mikati’s suggestion to involve Iran in the peace process was influenced or suggested by Hezbollah.

“It’s an intelligent proposal based on the reality on the ground: there can be no peace in the Middle East without Teheran,” said an adviser to Mikati on condition of anonymity. The source did not dwell on Hezbollah’s role in formulating the proposal.

Meanwhile, according to Joe Macaron, an independent consultant and research analyst focused on the Middle East, “indeed, any potential discussion of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a two-state solution requires green light from Iran, at least to prevent certain groups like Hezbollah from opposing it and preventing its implementation.”

‘No military solution’

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has never exactly expressed opposition to the 2002 Arab initiative. This does not however mean the party views it positively.

“As a matter of principle, we are opposed to any form of normalization with the Zionist entity, which is doomed to disappear,” said an associate close to Hezbollah who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The same goes for the party’s Iranian sponsor, who has never been receptive to any regional peace proposal with Israel.

“This would simply contradict the fundamental nature of the Islamic Republic as an anti-imperialist state and its long-standing policy of non-recognition of Israel,” said Azizi Hamidreza, an Iran specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

Admittedly, Iran and Hezbollah are ideologically opposed to any attempt at peace with Israel. But the war that broke out on Oct. 7 may have changed this position.

This is especially true considering Teheran can push Hezbollah to escalate on the Lebanese front, complicating Israel’s military position. This would enable Tehran to negotiate from a position of strength and safeguard its regional interests.

“There is no military solution to the conflict in Gaza,” said Macaron. “The Qataris are trying to negotiate a solution between the Israelis, the Americans and Hamas, but Iran will surely have a role to play in the outcome of hostilities.”

All indications suggest that Washington is also pushing for a relaunch of the peace process, 28 years after it was interrupted by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Blinken said on Friday from Tel Aviv that “the only way to ensure” Israel’s security was to create a Palestinian state.

Perhaps this is why, since the start of the Gaza conflict, Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian has consistently called for a “political solution.”

While Iran seems intent on retaining a place at the negotiating table after the war, this does not necessarily mean Tehran will make a U-turn in support of a two-state solution, according to experts.

“When Teheran speaks of a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is referring to its proposal, which consists of holding a referendum on the future of the territories of Mandate Palestine,” explained Hamidreza.

“This unrealistic proposal is above all an excuse not to recognize Israel and to abandon its regional allies, who form the ‘axis of resistance’ and give it considerable influence,” he added.

“There is no indication that Iran wants to take part in peace talks, at least in the short term,” said Macaron. “All the more so as it is Israel that has blocked the road to a two-state solution.”

Despite this, Hezbollah does seem to be completely turning the page on regional peace?

“It’s up to Hamas and the Palestinians, not our party, to define their vision of things and the future of their cause,” said a source close to Hezbollah, on condition of anonymity. “We’ll accept what they accept.”

Hamas is historically against the Oslo Accords signed by its rival Fatah Movement.

It therefore opposes the recognition of the State of Israel and refuses to renounce the armed struggle — the main concessions agreed on by the Palestinians in hopes of obtaining their own state.

However, after years of stalemate, Hamas also seems to be opting for a more pragmatic approach, judging by the statements made by its representatives in recent years.

“Hamas maintains an ambiguous position,” said Michael Young, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “At one point, its leaders were ready for a long truce with Israel, without recognizing it and abandoning armed resistance.”

After the Oct. 7 attack, does Hamas hope to negotiate a way out of the conflict that would enable it to establish a Palestinian state?

“The immediate objectives of Al-Aqsa Flood operations are: the release of Palestinian prisoners, the lifting of the years-long blockade imposed on Gaza and an end to violations against the Al-Aqsa mosque,” a Hamas official told L’Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity.

“What comes next depends on developments on the ground and negotiations,” he added, without completely ruling out a two-state solution in exchange for Israeli concessions. This however, remains certain.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah believes Hamas must win the war “for Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.”In his recent speech Nov. 3, Nasrallah said that if Hamas wins this war, it could mean an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which, according to international law, should make up a future Palestinian state.Nasrallah alluded to allowing the establishment of a...