Thursday, October 2, 2008


PART ONE: The Genealogy of Conflicts and Resolutions


I. Background

Palestine and Israel conflict is probably the longest, most complicated and controversial issue in the world politics today. It has reached six decades of continuous disputes with great casualties in the forms 0f lives and properties while at the same time involved all major global political players in the world to pursue sound and permanent solutions to end it, most important of which is a peaceful coexistence between two nations of Israel and Palestine.

The establishment of the Jewish state and the resistance of the Palestinian people have, from the beginning, been inextricably related with religious and nationalist sentiments, ethnic-based conflicts, regional power struggles, and the dynamics of global power plays. It is not an exaggeration to say that the complexity of Palestine and Israel conflict situation has been unparalleled in modern history, whose ramifications on strategic political, security, and economy are far reaching beyond national and regional boundaries of the Mideast.

In the post cold war period, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attack, the conflict has been complicated even further by the “global war on terrorism,” which considers the Mideast as a hotbed of terrorist masterminds and activities. The discourses of Palestine and Israel conflict has, unavoidably, been connected with it and often understood in the same vein. The notion that some of the states in the region have been labeled as “axis of evil” by the Bush administration only deepening the enmity and distrust between Arab nations and Islamic states on one hand and the US and its allies on the other. The war and occupation of Iraq by the US has also intensified anti-Americanism and anti-Western both in the region and parts of the Islamic world which, directly or not, paved the way for the popularity and influence of religious and radical movements led by fundamentalist groups in the Mideast.

There have been long and arduous diplomatic efforts to achieve peaceful and permanent solutions, from the First Camp David Accord in 1978 to the latest Annapolis Conference in 2007. Arguably, those efforts have not yet resulted in acceptable and workable outcome which would end the sixty year wars and attrition between the two nations. However, there has been a widely accepted view that the use of military and violence actions advocated by groups in both sides have failed, in the long term, to protect and ensure their security as well as achieve the goal of establishing a sovereign state acceptable by the international community at large. If anything, the conflict has only deepened mutual hatred for generations to come between the Israelis and Palestinians and, increasingly, become a vicious circle.

I would argue that the prospect of ending Palestine and Israel conflicts will not only depend on the main players (the people and leaders leaders of the two conflicting nations), but also on the involvement and intervention of the international community in general and the global powers in particular. The meaningful and permanent conflict resolutions in the region will be highly influenced by the extent to which they are willing to act in concert and come up with the kind of road map for genuine peace and workable agenda.


II. Stages of Palestine and Israeli Conflicts

1. 1948-1967: This period was the formative years of the state of Israel, which takes its origin from the Zionist movement in 19th century (under the leadership of Theodore Herzl) and implemented by migrations of the European Jews in the region. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the WW II,  efforts to establish a nation state for the Jewish people became a reality with the help of big powers such as the US, British and other European countries. Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948 and followed by the expulsion of the native Arab Palestinians from their homeland, best known as the Naqba (catastrophe) by the Palestinians. The establishment of Israel was, predictably, rejected by the Arab nations and since that time Arab-Israeli wars have occurred which culminated with the defeat of the former in 1967. Israel has since occupied not only the original territory mandated by the UN, but also some of the areas formerly belonged to the Arab countries, such as Sinai (Egypt), West Bank (Jordan), and the Golan Height (Syria). The Arab Palestinians became the diaspora within the Arab countries, where many of them were treated with high level of distrusts and suspicions.

2. 1967-1982: This period was witnessing the formative years of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the intensification of military resistance against the Israeli occupation. The PLO adopted the guerilla tactics attacking Israel both inside and outside the country and region. Famous among their attempts was the Black September attack of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics in Munich in addition to several terrorist attacks on Israeli targets throughout the seventies. During this period, the Arab countries also continued their military campaigns against Israel, culminated in the October War or Yom Kippur War in 1973 in which the Israeli military power was initially overwhelmed by the former and only thanks to the US intervention did the Israelis prevailed at the end. This war brought about the first diplomatic effort to end the Arab-Israel conflict through the Camp David Accord in 1978. Since then Egypt has enjoyed peaceful coexistence with Israel.

This period also witnesses the Palestinian refugees suffered from several repressive actions by the host states, such as the expulsion from Jordan in 1970, which forced the PLO moved its headquarter to Lebanon until the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in 1982. The military resistance remained the main strategy advocated by the PLO, while Israel had enjoyed financial and military support from the US particularly since the latter has perceived Israel as an indispensable and trusted ally in  Mideast in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war.

3. 1982-1987: This is a period during which the wave of Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 caught the attention of the Palestinian leaders and some of the Islamic groups in the Mideast as well as Islamic world in general. However, the ensuing war between Iraq and Iran, started in 1980, prevented the PLO from gaining support from the Iranian revolutionaries and the radical groups within Arab nations. The US continued to strengthen its strategic presence in the region after the Revolution in Iran and its debacle policy against the Mullahs in Teheran. The use of Israel’s military power and intelligence as a proxy to maintain control in the Mideast is regarded as the most strategic move. The attack of Israeli-supported Christian militias on the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatilla, once again, forced the PLO to move its headquarter to Tunisia. Also the Israeli attack of Osirak nuclear facility inside Iraq got the political blessing from the US, whose aim was to show its military prowess and capacity to maintain regional security.

The Palestinians in the occupied territories (OT), however, began to devise a new tactic of people power which proved to be significant in resisting Israel military forces and intelligence apparatus. It also caught the international public opinion which had, so far, been passive on the issue of the rights of the Palestinian people. The media coverage of massive youth demonstrators throwing stones toward the heavily armed Israeli police and defense force had shocked the world and forced the Israeli government to review its strategy of using police and military power in dealing with the Palestinian resistance movement. This new resistance tactic has resulted in the new phase of conflict which now added with diplomatic efforts and international pressures toward Israel. This First Intifadhah movement highlighted the ability of people power against the most powerful military force in the region.

4. 1987-2000: This period witnesses the split within the Palestinian leadership which brought about different strategies. The emergence of Islamic groups such as Hamas in 1987 (Ahmad Yassin and Abd Azis Rantissi) and Islamic Jihad following the First Intifadhah posed serious difficulties to diplomatic strategy. The PLO, thanks to the First Intifadhah, was beginning to prepare to negotiate with Israel and renounce the military and guerilla tactics and acknowledging the existence of the Jewish state. The Islamists, on the contrary, opted for the hard line option and maintain its rejection to the state of Israel’s existence. This split has proved to be debilitating to the PLO’s political credibility, especially when the Hamas has been gradually gaining popular support among the Palestinians in the OT and also creating networks of resistance throughout the Mideast.

Forced by the new political reality on the ground and the international scrutiny, the Israel government began to engage in diplomacy and agree to negotiate with the PLO, which now has international credibility as the representative of the Palestinian people. This resulted in Oslo Agreement in 1993, in which for the first time the PLO officially recognized the right to exist of Israel and the autonomous Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established with PLO as its core. However, the Oslo meeting was ultimately unsuccessful because the mutual agreement between Israel and PLO was not materialized, especially over issues such as recognition of the existence of Israel, the settlement in Gaza and the West Bank.

5. 2000- present: The failure of Oslo agreement has resulted in negative political repercussions on the ground. The second Intifadhah took place starting from 2000, where the Hamas and Islamic Jihad intensified their campaigns against the Israeli in the OT. The response from the latter was not less harsher evidenced by  its military take over of Gaza several times and also blockades to the OT, including the stoppage of water, electricity, medical , and foods supplies. The PNA, under first Arafat and later President Mahmoud Abbas, seems to be incapable of securing back the support from the Palestinian people with regard to their new strategy of negotiation with Israel. Meanwhile, the use of guerilla tactics, in the form of suicide bombing and rocket launching to Israel territory by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups have pushed the hawkish back on the political stage and weakened the hard sought favorable international public opinion to the struggle for the Palestinian cause. Also Israel government has masterfully appropriated security protection as an excuse to build the wall in the OT borders and continue with repressive measures against the Palestinian people who live in the OT.

The internal conflict among Palestinian leaders reached its peak in 2006 when Hamas succeeded in controlling the PNA legislative body in a democratically held election. Soon after that the US supported by the European countries intervened to restore the PNA’s political control, but with little success, because following the Fatah-Hamas armed conflict in Gaza, the latter took effective control of the area. This has resulted in the de facto dual government in the OT that made it even more difficult for the Palestinian leaders to galvanize united popular support in dealing with Israel.

Thus efforts of negotiations and peaceful resolutions following Oslo meeting have not progressed too far, especially in implementing the idea of an independent State of Palestine. The Israeli settlement projects have remained unabated despite condemnations and protests from the international community, the US and EU included. Several proposals for peace, such as the Quartet’s road map for peace and the Arab Peace Initiative, have yet to be implemented partly because the opposition from both sides on some key issues. Ultimately, the current Annapolis agreement sponsored by the Bush administration has received lukewarm responses even among those who advocate peaceful coexistence and further negotiations with Israel. Predictably, the Hamas and other radical groups as well as countries that support radical strategies have rejected the US proposal, even though there are signs for change among some of their leaders. The fate of the Bush sponsored Annapolis agreement would be decided after his departure from the White House.






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