By Shimon Z. Klein 

The problem between Israel and the Palestinians is existential. Once both sides recognize the rights of the other to exist then achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible. The problem between Israel and the Palestinians is existential. Once both sides recognize the rights of the other to exist then achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible. The Palestinian leadership speaks with two voices:

The problem between Israel and the Palestinians is existential. Once both sides recognize the rights of the other to exist then achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible. The Palestinian leadership speaks with two voices:

  1. The Hamas voice of non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist and non-negotiation with Israel.
  2. The Fatah voice of recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

The national unity government that will be formed eventually in Palestine will speak with both these voices. How they will achieve peace with Israel when both mindsets exist remains to be seen. A situation like this as an opening negotiating gambit has never existed in the history of peace making between warring parties.

Assuming that the Palestinians solve this two voice policy of these towards Israel, then Israel must show a willingness to negotiate and this includes all outstanding thorny issues including the right of return of refugees and the compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries whose property was confiscated.

Israel must also show more empathy towards the Palestinian people and refrain from using the usual clichés and stereotypes in order to white wash the problem. Withdrawal of illegal settlers from the occupied territories, as well as discussion of the Saudi Plan for Peace of 2002 should be the basis for an end to the state of war.

The Arab-Israeli conflict dates back to the end of the 19th century. The conflict became a major international issue after the Ottoman Empire in 1917 lost power in the Middle East, and in various forms it continues to date. The Arab-Israeli conflict has resulted in at least five major wars and a number of “minor conflicts”. It has also been the source of two major Palestinian intifadas (uprisings). 

The wars and intifadas are: 

1.  1948 Arab-Israeli War, known as the Israeli War of Independence or al-Nakba, 19481949. The British withdrew from the Palestinian British mandate and the State of Israel was declared on May 15. 1948.  The Arabs had formally rejected the United Nations Partition Plan of November 1947, which proposed establishment of an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine. Jewish and Arab militias had begun a campaign to control territory both inside and beyond the partition-designated borders. Joint Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi troops invaded Palestine, and fought to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. About 2/3 of Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled by Israeli forces, from the territories which came under Jewish control (see Palestinian Exodus); Arabs also expelled Jews from the territories which came under their control. In addition, many Arab countries’ Jewish populations fled due to anti-Jewish sentiment and, in some cases (e.g. Iraq) legal oppression. About 700,000 Palestinians and 600,000 Jews became refugees. In a few cases, (e.g. in Morocco) local Arab governments strongly encouraged Jews to stay, and some Jewish leaders (e.g. in Haifa) encouraged Arabs to stay. Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel; Palestinians were neglected by most Arab nations, which by some were blamed for the poverty and hatred prevailing in some Palestinian camps, while others blamed Israel for their expulsion. The fighting ended with signing of the Rhodes Armistice, but only two states eventually signed a peace agreement with Israel: Egypt (1978) and Jordan (1994). 

2. The 1956 Suez War. began as a joint Israeli-British-French operation, which they justified as an attempt to stop attacks (see the Fedayeen) upon Israeli civilians, to abolish the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and to recapture the Suez Canal which Egypt had nationalized. Though the campaign to recapture the canal was successful, the invading forces agreed to withdraw under U.S. pressure, and Israel withdrew from the Sinai as well, in return for the installation of U.N. separation forces and guarantees of Israeli freedom of shipment. The canal was left in Egyptian (rather than British and French) hands. 

3. The Six-Day War in 1967. began as a strike by Israel, often considered preemptive, against Egypt following the Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran (a casus belli, according to a possible interpretation of international law), expulsion of U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai, stationing some 100,000 Egyptian troops at the peninsula, and a public announcement by President Abdel Nasser of Egypt. He intended to destroy Israel [2] ( Surprise Israeli air strikes destroyed the entire Egyptian air force while still on the ground. A subsequent ground invasion into Egyptian territory led to Israel’s conquest of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. In spite of Israel’s request to Jordan to desist from attacking it, both Jordan and Syria began to shell Israeli targets; Israel responded by capturing the West Bank from Jordan on June 7th, and the Golan Heights from Syria on June 9th. 

4. Yom Kippur War, 1973. Started as a simultaneous coordinated attack, which Egypt and Syria claimed was to recapture Sinai and the Golan Heights, respectively. Despite early successes for the Arabs, and the eventual support of the U.S. in the form of an emergency airlift of arms, intelligence support and diplomatic pressure assisted Israel in turning them back. After three weeks of fighting Israel destroyed the Syrian army and encircled the Egyptian army with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in position to threaten Damascus and Cairo. International pressure and prospects of Soviet intervention resulted in a ceasefire. 

5. 1982 Lebanon War. Israel attacked Lebanon, justified by Israel as an attempt to remove the Fatah militants led by Yasser Arafat from Southern Lebanon (where they had established, during the country’s civil war, a semi-independent enclave used to launch terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians). The invasion was widely criticized both in and outside Israel, especially after the Sabra and Shatila massacre and ultimately led to the death of 20,000 Lebanese. Although the attack succeeded in exiling Arafat to Tunisia, Israel became entangled with various local Muslim militias (particularly the Hezbollah), which fought to end the Israeli occupation. By 1985 Israel retreated from all but a narrow stretch of Lebanese territory designated by Israel as the Israeli Security Zone. In 2000 Israeli forces left this area, completing its withdrawal from Lebanon. 

6. The First Intifada, 19871993. This was the uprising of Palestinians, particularly the young, against the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The exiled PLO leadership in Tunisia quickly assumed a role, but the uprising also brought a rise in the importance of Islamist Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords by Israel and the PLO. 

7. The al-Aqsa Intifada. In late September, 2000, around the time Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon and a large contingent of armed bodyguards visited the Temple Mount/Al-Haram As-Sharif complex in Jerusalem and declared the area eternal Israeli territory. Widespread riots broke out in Old Jerusalem, and Israeli authorities killed several Palestinians in the first hours of the uprising. The killing of Muhammed al-Dura, a 12-year-old boy, was videotaped and broadcast around the world, triggering further rioting. This conflict is on-going. (Based on information from – History) 

The reasons for the conflict are many. Some Israelis say that it is due to anti-Semitism. My personal feeling is that this is not the case at all. After all, the Arabs are a Semitic people as well so it is unlikely that this is the reason. Hypothetically, had there been another power that occupied Palestine, and not the Jewish People, the scorn of the Arabs would be directed on that occupying power irrespective. A modern comparison would be the Iraqi occupation by the U.S. because of the Iraqi War of 2003. Here, there is great anti-American sentiment. The mess that the US made in Iraq in the aftermath of the downfall of Saddam Hussein has resulted in the US losing much credibility in the Middle East. It has also created animosity towards the US and a weakening of its influence in peace making in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The US had bungled in Iraq in a similar way their bungling in the Vietnam War over 40 years ago. When the US steps in, they win wars but lose peace. 

According to Sharia (Moslem Law), any area belonging to Moslems historically, and is taken over by non-Moslems is unacceptable. This includes Palestine which became Israel. The basic problem between Israelis and Palestinians is existential. Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours are not prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist nor are they prepared to negotiate a peace settlement with Israel. The problem between the two peoples is two fold. First, the land of Israel (Palestine) is an historical dispute between the two peoples. Both sides lay claim to the same strip of land. Second, the religious aspect as mentioned earlier in this article, that Moslems will never allow Jews, Christians or other non-Moslems to lay claim to land which according to sharia is illegal. 

Since the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine once was part of the Ottoman caliphate, some Islamic clerics believe that it is unlawful and unacceptable for any portion of it to be usurped by non-Muslims. Palestinians sometimes counter this claim by pointing out that Palestinians lived peacefully in their own country, with Muslims, Christians and Jews coexisting, and their resentment of Israeli Jews emerged only because of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. 

When the Al-Aqsa intifada began, there was the spate of regular suicide bombings from 2003 until 2005. This had placed a terrible strain on the Israeli citizen who felt that his/her personal security had been compromised. So many Palestinian suicide bombers made their way into Israel during this period with dynamite belts strapped onto them. They crossed into Israel from the occupied territories almost unhindered. They entered buses, shopping malls, market places and other areas where there were many people going about their daily business. They detonated themselves, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent people. Their bombs contained flesh-ripping shrapnel, bolts and metal beads in order to carry out as much human slaughter as possible. The suicide bomber very often received the blessing of his parents who was promised a large sum of money for every child that they sent on this cruel suicide mission. 

Naturally, the Israeli Security Forces beefed up their activity on the Israeli border in order to protect Israel’s citizens. They went into the territories and blew up the homes of suspected terrorists and their families as a deterrent. They established numerous check posts  and, in many cases, conducted humiliating body searches of Palestinians. Even ambulances that were used to take emergency patients to hospital were used occasionally as conveyers of suicide bombers into Israel. All vehicles, including ambulances, became suspect and this resulted in many delays to get seriously ill Palestinian patients to hospital. There were cases of critically ill Palestinians dying on route to the hospital because of these delays. Naturally, under these trying circumstances, Israel was viewed as the aggressor and innocent Palestinians suffered because of the deeds of a few fanatic terrorists. Trust between the two peoples (which was never high between Israelis and Palestinians at the best of times) had reached a new low. The situation between the two peoples deteriorated as lines of communication ceased to exist. There were excesses committed by the Israeli Army towards innocent Palestinians. There were reports of torture of innocent Palestinians. 

The results of Israeli Security Forces activity in the Palestinian Territories had resulted in a substantial decrease in suicide terrorism directed against Israelis. Another factor that contributed to this was the construction of a Security Fence separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. This fence became very controversial as the Palestinians claim that it encroaches on their lands resulting in division of their agricultural lands into pockets of farmland with tremendous logistical problems for the Palestinian farmer, who has to pass through a large number of road blocks within his own land in order to cultivate it. Five minute journeys from one point to another within the Palestinian territories become an intolerable and difficult few hours journey. This also resulted in further animosity between Israelis and Palestinians.    

An added factor is the illegal settlements established since the 1967 Six Day War in the occupied territories. The Israeli government at that time had encouraged settlements in the territories captured during the Six Day War. Many Palestinians view the Israeli as some kind of a monster – either a soldier who is out to humiliate him and deny him basic human rights or a religious settler who is always destroying his olive trees and abusing him at the same time. There is no doubt that the establishment of Israeli Jewish settlements amongst the Palestinian population was a great mistake and it is one of many factors that was responsible for the first and second intifada. 

Since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, there has been infighting between the two main political groups (Hamas – the uncompromising Islamic movement, who does not recognize Israel and the more moderate pragmatic Fatah who supports negotiations with Israel as well as its recognition). This has resulted in a state of civil war between the two parties. However, in February, under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, the two sides met in Mecca to sign the Mecca Agreement in order to halt hostilities between the two parties and to pave the way for a National Unity government to rule Palestine with Fatah Mahmoud Abbas as president and Hamas Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister. The formation of a national unity government has still not succeeded. The Palestinian Authority under Fatah rule was corrupt and the Palestinian people showed their disapproval by voting for Hamas in elections. They did not realize that by doing this they were cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU and this has resulted in an economic boycott of the Palestinian Authority. 

The economy in the Palestinian territories is poor and the boycott has made the situation even worse. There is massive unemployment and the Palestinian people have become even more despondent as the younger generation loses hope of ever gaining a viable independent state. This will create very severe problems in the future and it will cause the Palestinian leadership to turn to Iran for financial assistance. Latest reports are that Palestinians are sending young people to train in Iran in order to overthrow the Israeli occupation by force. President Ahmadinajad of Iran has stated on many occasions that he would like to destroy Israel and many fear that his nuclear programme may be used for that end. 

There are signs, however, that Hamas may be showing some desire to have a long term cease-fire with Israel. The economic boycott is taking its toll on the Palestinian population and Hamas has not achieved anything to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people whose economy is moribund. 

What happens in this part of the world in the next five years does not bode well at all for the Palestinians. The Israeli economy is doing well and there are even signs of foreign investment in Israel’s high tech industries, which is one of the most developed in the world. Much world famous software chips such as Intel and even Microsoft technology was developed in Israel. However, despite this, Israel is bogged down by corruption scandals in government and this in itself is causing the Israeli people to lose confidence in their rulers. The Lebanese War of July-August 2006 was a total fiasco and the Israeli Defense Force was unable to curtail the firing of Katyusha rockets into Israel by Hezbollah. The Vinograd Commission of Enquiry was established in order to investigate the conduct of the war and it looks as if heads will roll when the findings are concluded. The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz will be on the firing line. The latter has prematurely smelt the coffee and has resigned before his head goes on the block literally. It remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister and Defense Minister will follow suit when the conclusions are finalized by the commission of enquiry. 

If the Palestinians do not cease their terrorist activity and organize their affairs, their immediate and long term economic future will be bleak indeed. Hamas has been involved in hate propaganda and terrorism – not only against Israel, but against their own people as well. They have shown no capability of being responsible rulers or legislators. They have not attempted to rebuild the infrastructure of their future Palestinian state or establish institutes that are responsible for good government and development of their economy. They seem to prefer to blame Israel and the West for their failures. Israel is responsible for many problems in the Palestinian areas, but not for all. The illegal settlements and humiliation of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation is Israel’s responsibility and for that they paid a heavy price. However, the stubbornness of Hamas and its allied terrorist groups to continue the armed conflict against Israel and not to come to terms with Israel’s existence is a factor that prevents the development of the Palestinian economy and creation of jobs for Palestinians. 

This situation will remain the same for many years to come until the Palestinian Hamas leadership changes their attitude and ceases terror. No country in Europe will be prepared to invest in Palestine while the mindset remains as it is with terror and the armed struggle remaining the top priority in the minds of the Hamas-oriented Palestinian leadership. The situation will only deteriorate further posing a threat to the stability of the Middle East and world peace generally.   

















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