The com­plex dead­lock of the Mid­dle East

What can Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans do to­gether?

The Kurdish Globe - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - Go­ran Sabah Ghafour

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.

Se­cu­rity con­cerns

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

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.

Fa­natic groups

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.

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