AS a veteran Middle East watcher, it’s easy to recall many pivotal events that have shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This week, though, I couldn’t help but sense that something special is happening. Call it a watershed moment, a time perhaps on which we will look back and say that was it – that was the instant when things really began to change.

Two events this week have led me to this belief. The first was the decision by the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel and Hamas.

The second was yesterday’s announcement by Ireland, Norway and Spain that they will formally recognise a Palestinian state from May 28. It follows on too from a UN General Assembly vote this month backing a Palestinian application to become a full member state.

Reasons for optimism are rare when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and yes caution is needed, but you cannot help but feel that the world has finally well and truly woken up to the great injustice that has long been perpetrated against the Palestinian people.

Admittedly, many, including the likes of the EU, struggle to unite on a response to the war in Gaza, but that doesn’t detract from the sense that there is no going back to the way things were played out politically before.

The old arguments simply won’t wash anymore. Like those made by Israel accusing everyone who sees the Palestinians as human beings with rights as antisemites. Not that this stops some Israeli leaders from still trying, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the ICC prosecutor Karim Khan’s criminal charges “the new antisemitism”.

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Or Netanyahu insisting that Khan should be worried about his status for “turning the ICC into a pariah institution”.

If anyone is guilty of turning something into a pariah institution then it’s Netanyahu himself who has brought that very epithet on Israel itself.

Netanyahu and Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, who also faces the possibility of an ICC arrest warrant, might insist that they are unconcerned about travelling overseas but they have been given notice. Others too should take heed.

For should the warrants be issued, then those leaders of nations who might host Netanyahu and Gallant have also been given notice of their complicity.

That the day has come when the ICC is seeking warrants for the arrest of Israel’s leaders is quite frankly a measure of the extent to which Israel has fallen into the moral abyss.

Many Israelis themselves know that the ICC’s move is not, as Netanyahu insists, to “demonise the Jewish state”, but rather to bring those to account that have inflicted such pain and suffering on the Palestinians.

Many Israelis recognise too that in Netanyahu’s case, this is a man who has put personal political survival before the interests of his own country.

There are those, of course, who will argue that even if the warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant will never see their day in court. The ICC and other contemporary international criminal tribunals lack any enforcement powers of their own, the detractors will tell you.

All Netanyahu and Gallant need to do is stay in Israel to remain safe from prosecution.

And while this is true, as long as Netanyahu stays in power and such warrants exist, it would at the very least still contribute further to Israel’s international isolation and pariah status.

While there is of course broad public opposition to the ICC’s decision in Israel, it’s not inconceivable that such a mood might change were Netanyahu removed from power.

It’s worth remembering here that not all arrest warrants fail. The trial of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the mid-2000s is a case in point when an international tribunal was able to prosecute alleged war criminals once they fall from power.

But this is where the international community is vital, for in Milosevic’s case, when he stepped down from power, it was only with promises of economic assistance – in this instance by the US – that the Serbian government agreed to arrest Milosevic and transfer him out of the country for trial.

All the more reason therefore to also welcome yesterday’s decision by Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise a Palestinian state. For with every country that does so, not only is the Palestinian case strengthened but Netanyahu’s position and credibility weakened.

Many Israelis will not, of course, be remotely enthused at the prospect of a neighbouring sovereign Palestine, but many too – like others throughout the world – recognise that this is the only way forward now if the aim of peace, security and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis alike is to be achieved.

That point was powerfully made by Sonya McGuinness, Irish ambassador to Israel, in

a piece she wrote for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz yesterday. McGuinness sought to reassure Israelis of the belief that there can be “no sustainable solution to the current crisis without a clear, irreversible political pathway towards this [two-state] solution.”

The ambassador went to on refute the notion too that recognition of a Palestinian state was a “reward for terror” as some Israeli leaders have claimed, but in fact the opposite.

“It is an endorsement of a vision of Palestinian self-determination in which a free and independent Palestine accepts both the rights and the duties of a state, including full adherence to the UN Charter and pursuit of its aims through exclusively political and diplomatic means,” McGuinness stressed.

That message made so clear by the Irish ambassador needs to be made time and again. The UK Government will doubtless fail to take a similar line to the Irish, Norwegian and Spanish positions, and if that is the case then they will – not for the first time – be on the wrong side of history when it comes to Palestine.

By no means are the Palestinian people set to have a state of their own yet, but there is a sense that things are changing. So many times over the decades as a foreign reporter I’ve watched as hopes of peace and Palestinian statehood have come and gone. But this time I sense a difference. Here’s hoping my instincts are borne out and this is no false dawn but instead the beginning of something positive, durable and permanent.