The complex deadlock of the Middle East
What can Israelis and Palestinians do together?
There are several essential elements for a solution from an Israeli and Palestinian perspective. Based on Schedler and Gerner, I am addressing six most important and controversial elements such as: border between the two, status of Jerusalem, security concerns, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compensation for Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes and property as the direct result from the conflict and the political, civil and national status of Palestinians who live in Israel and hold Israeli citizenship. I will also put two more elements: first, the shambles and lack of leadership amongst the Palestinian political movements, mainly Hamas and Fatah, in spite of their recent unification in Egypt. Secondly, fanatics and extremists from both sides that continually obstruct the path to a solution.
The division of Palestine, a former British mandate, and the creation of Israel has been the gist and source of conflicts in the Middle East ever since. The creation of Israel was the culmination of the Zionist movement, whose aim was a homeland for Jews scattered all over the world following the Diaspora. After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state, and in 1948 Israel came into existence.
Palestinians in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967. The settlements that Israel built in the West Bank are home to around 400,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. Given the above background, I’d say yes to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as a viable approach to resolving the conflict. Actually, that is the only solution to end conflicts between the two based on the fact that the conflict has gone through three stages since the establishment of Israel and both sides have not been able to think of another solution. Schwedler and Gerner in their book “understanding the contemporary Middle East” have classified the stages as such: May 1948 to June 1967, June 1967 to December 1987 and December 1987 to the present.
The first stage (19481967) left Palestine in shock and in a bad economic crisis. All this created a dependent Palestine, which led it to the 1967 war, also known as the Six Day War. This is where the issue of borders mainly erupted. Israel invaded the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. This nearly changed the map of the Middle East. To have an Israel and a Palestine, the 67’ borders should be resolved; a stalemate that Israel is unlikely to make any concessions on.
That stand of Israel was made clearer when the US president Barack Obama recently addressed a solution based on pre-67 borders. The Israeli Prime Minister is harshly against this as are his people. One American Jewish here in Lawrence told me “I loved Obama but he lost my vote by addressing the pre-67 borders.” I believe that this is the sentiment of most, if not all, Jewish individuals here and back home.
Another deadlock is over the status of Jerusalem; a place all the three Abrahamic religions lay claim. Often, I wonder what would make a city like Jerusalem be so precious for Muslims, Christians and Jewish that creates endless conflicts. I always reach this conviction: only God can solve this! The status of the city, and especially its holy places, remains a core issue in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict.
The Israeli government has built settlements in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in order to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, while prominent Islamic leaders have made claims that Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem, alleging that the 2,500-year old Western Wall was constructed as part of a mosque. There is a common saying in the Arab world that says: “There will be a second Salahaddin al-Ayubi to take back Jerusalem.” A statement that most Muslims believe in including myself because I see no charismatic leader now in Palestine that is strong and can take it back through either peaceful dialogue or war.
The third element or deadlock is security concerns mainly by Israel and then Palestine and the whole of the Middle East. Israelis think of themselves as minorities since they are approx. 7.7 million (UN, 2010) surrounded by tens of millions of Arabs. As such, Israelis have been feeling insecure since their establishment in 1948. This insecure feeling led to unwanted results, above all the wall that Israel builds between both sides. The wall irritates both Israeli and Palestinian people because it makes their movements, daily life and trade exchanges difficult.
According to the Scheder and Gerner and Brown and Shahin (The struggle over democracy in the Middle East), Israel continues to feel insecure unless a concrete peace agreement is signed one day by the two. I don’t believe that the feeling of insecurity and security issued between the two will be solved only by signing a peace agreement. Having an agreement is important but what about its implementation. History tells us that both sides gathered together and signed agreements but then came out without long-term success.
The settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are another area of dispute between the two. Israel is so stubborn that does not even listen to the western powers who have been demanding that it stops building more settlements. If it was any other country in the world it would have been stopped long ago by either talks or force. But the reason why the western powers cannot make Israel change its mind to stop is that the Jewish community in those western powers, above them all the United States, is very strong. I mean, the Jewish lobby is such a strong one that invests billions and billions each year in the United States to buy the support of the congress men and US high ranking officials for the cause of Israel.
That’s a reality that was not addressed in the Schedler and Gerner books or in the Brown and Shahin books. As a matter of fact, I have not seen this in other readings I’ve been following for so long. But it’s a fact and it’s there.
Another element that concerns both sides is the condition of Palestinian refugees. I think if Israel wants to come closer for a solution it can easily compensate those families who were forced to leave their homes and property. Regarding those Palestinians, who hold Israeli citizenship, both can come together and say these people are free to continue to hold their citizenship or change it to Palestinian citizenship. That’s an issue that Israel cannot easily accept because one single person for them is a lot to lose.
I think fanatic groups from both sides can easily hamper the way to reaching a solution. For instance, Yetchac Rabin, Israeli’s fifth Prime Minister, signed Oslo accords with Yasin Arafat and Israeli then president Shimon Peres to reach a two state solution. But Rabin was assassinated by Israeli right wing radical Yigar Amir in 1995; a move that annulled all the talks and the conflict went back to a full circle. I also regard Hamas as a force that does not want to solve the problems. Whenever both sides seem to reach an agreement, Hamas launches two or three missiles, making the Israelis mad and in return they fire back. This leaves everything in vain.
The first and most influential implication of the Arab Spring on the conflict is the announcement of the unification of Hamas and Fatah. The second one is Obama’s speech on the Middle East where he addressed a solution based on pre-67’ borders. I think the United States is the first one amongst the western powers who really wants to solve this because it has so many other issues on its plate, especially after the Arab Spring.
In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that a two state solution is possible if both sides want a genuine end to the half-century long conflict. Both sides should first gather together and exert maximum efforts to address those elements I talked about in detail and find a compromise. Once that’s done, then there would be a clear way to reach a two-state solution. Efforts would be annulled only if fanatic and radical groups from either side would react and bust everything. The western powers can step in and lead direct talks between the two. This cannot be done by the United States alone because it’s under direct influence of the Israeli lobby in America. Other western powers like France, Germany and Russia can work side by side with America to make those direct talks happen.
Palestinian protesters throw stones at an Israeli military bulldozer during clashes at a protest against the nearby Jewish settlement of Kdumim, in the West Bank village of Kfar Kadum, near Nablus January 18, 2013.