Palestine and Israel
PERHAPS those fighting the long-drawn cold war from the western hemisphere thought that with the demise of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, other people of the world will start falling in line before the end of the twentieth century. That did not happen and doesn’t seem to be taking place in the coming years either. Regrettably, there has been an escalation of conflicts in the Muslim-dominated regions since.
There was a war in Iraq much before the unfortunate 9/11 happened. There was another war in Iraq to find the weapons of mass destruction, which were never to be found. There is a war going on in Afghanistan since 2001.
All along, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued, only attracting significant news coverage when there is an upsurge in violence. It has the Israeli state aided by the Americans and encouraged by the calculated timidity of some rich Arab countries, on the one hand, and the fragmented and oppressed Palestinians with limited independent support from citizens across the world, on the other.
But the Palestinians are predominantly Muslim and therefore, after the weakening of the global progressive movements, the Palestinian rights movement has increasingly become Muslim in nature. Israel has contributed to making it such as well. For years now, this conflict has captured the imagination of the Muslim world like no other conflict has. What the Americans need to understand is that their support to development projects and humanitarian response across developing Muslim countries in times of crises get washed away by their overt support to Israeli aggression.
The Jews, Christians and Muslims shared the land and its resources for centuries. But the current conflict crystallised in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel, when the UN sided with the Zionist claim on Palestinian land and resolved in favour of creating two states when the British mandate over the area was to be over.
The ideology that David Ben-Gurion, the head of the World Zionist Movement subscribed to triumphed. A state was born on the basis of a faith-based community’s claim over a piece of land, which their ancestors inhabited more than two millennia ago. Ridiculous as it may sound, because Europeans themselves were aspiring for secularism around the same time, they and their transAtlantic allies supported the Zionoist claim. They may have also suffered from a huge guilty conscience for treating European Jews with contempt for centuries and the resultant holocaust.
As soon as Israel was created, Arab forces resisted its formation but couldn’t succeed. Subsequently, in Arab-Israeli wars, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza strip and Golan Heights. Some land, in modern terms, would be regarded as Syrian, Lebanese or Egyptian. Egypt got Sinai back and Jordan also signed a pact with Israel. The Palestinians were beleaguered and continued to lose their land which they had got in 1948. Hundreds of thousands were turned into refugees. Parts of East Jerusalem were annexed by Israel. Settlements remained undeveloped for decades on the land which was marked for Palestinians even by the UN.
In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, a united front of several organisations like Al-Asifa, PFLP, Al-Fatah and about eight others, was created for Palestinian’s right to self-determination and the right to return to their land. They opted for armed struggle. There were two wars in 1967 and 1973. Palestinians and those Arab countries that came to their support could not overpower the Israelis due to the unrelenting US support and technological superiority.
The skirmishes, attacks, militant operations and perpetual state of war between the two grossly unequal parties continued until 1991, when the PLO was recognised by the UN and Israel as the sole representative of Palestinians. This came about after the PLO denounced its armed struggle and started working towards a two-state solution. But in the meanwhile, Intifada caught everybody by surprise. The first Intifada, widespread civil disobedience and resistance movement, broke out in 1987 and continued until 1993. Israel had experienced battles and attacks, this citizen’s movement introduced different challenges, both in terms of management of crisis and international image.
In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO. The two parties agreed on the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They agreed to a Palestinian self-government and also resolved that within five years, negotiations would commence on a permanent status for Palestine. Also, during these negotiations, pending issues like East Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and expansion of Israeli settlements were to be taken up and resolved.
While the accords were projected and propagated as a signal turn in the conflict, sagacious people like Edward Said, the Palestinian-American public intellectual, had a different view. Time tells us that Said was on the spot when he said, “The Israeli calculation seems to be that by agreeing to police Gaza – a job which Begin tried to give Sadat 15 years ago – the PLO would soon fall afoul of local competitors, of whom Hamas is only one.
“Moreover, rather than becoming stronger during the interim period, the Palestinians may grow weaker, come more under the Israeli thumb, and therefore be less able to dispute the Israeli claim when the last set of negotiations begins.” But on the matter of how, by what specific mechanism, to get from an interim status to a later one, the document is purposefully silent. Does this mean, ominously, that the interim stage may be the final one?
Israel did as Said had predicted. While flirting with the PLO and bagging Nobel peace prizes, what the Israelis were doing on the side is worth-mentioning here. Israeli intelligence continued to weaken the inclusive and pluralistic PLO. Intifada had taught them a lesson. It is easier to deal with a militant outfit and impossible to deal with citizens at large rising in fury.