Friday, October 3, 2008


PART TWO: Key Issues and Prospect of Conflict Resolutions


Key Issues in Palestine-Israel’s Conflicts

1. The Status of Jerusalem: The status of the holy city has become one of the most difficult and sensitive issues to resolve, because it not only involves religious beliefs of both Israelis and Palestinians, but also the Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world. Attempts to make the city as a neutral city controlled by both nations have so far been unsuccessful. From the Israel’s vantage point, the city must remain undivided and unified under its political control notwithstanding the fact that it is considered as the site of holy places for three Abrahamic religions. The Palestinians, in contrast, have demanded that at least part of Jerusalem (the Eastern part) should be part of the Palestine state because it is not part of Israeli territory prior to 1967 war and unilaterally taken over by Israel in 1980.

The status of Jerusalem has since the beginning of the conflict become a bone of contention between Israel and Arab states which in its development transformed into a religious issue with international overtones. Even though there has been signs of mutual understanding among some of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to divide the city into two parts, the hard fact remains that the Israelis still maintain the status quo and considered Jerusalem as a unified city under its political control.

2. The Rights to Return of the Palestinian Peoples: There are at least 4 millions Palestinian refugees consisted of those who originally expelled by Israel during the 1948 and their descendants. The UN Gen Assembly Resolution No. 194 states that those refugees have the right to return to their homes and reclaim their properties they left behind. The Israeli government has consistently refused this proposition ever since the establishment of the State of Israel. Chief among the arguments has been that Arab leaders did encourage the Palestinians to leave their home voluntarily in the 1948, something that has recently been disputed by independent historians and experts on the issue. The Israeli government also argues that it is the responsibility of those states that become the host of the Palestinian refugees for taking  care of them. But actually, the most important reason of the rejection is the Israeli obsession with security and the demographic balance in the Jewish state. The number of the Palestinians is certainly very high in Israel and could pose as a potential threat for its security.

The international community mostly support the UN decision and it has been consistently reflected in several proposals for peace agreement. Even among Israeli leaders there have been voices that are willing to consider this human right issue, including PM Barak during the Camp David summit in 2000. So far, however, the issue remains unresolved due to Israel’s hawks who have galvanized support from Jewish communities both in Israel and abroad, particularly in the US, to reject the UN decision.

3. Israeli Settlements: This is probably the most difficult issue to defend by Israel, particularly the illegal settlements in OT (Gaza and the West Bank). The International Courts, Human Rights organizations (both within and outside Israel), scholars and NGOs have regarded the settlements illegal. However, there’s no sign of abatement of this activity even after the pressures from the US and EU following the Oslo agreement and other proposal in which Israel is obliged to follow. As of 2006, for example, more than 276 000 Israeli lived within the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Critics from human right activists and scholars have maintained that those illegal settlements have made it more difficult if not impossible for any peace agreement to be effectively working and acceptable by the Palestinians. Recently, the problem of illegal settlement has been worsened by the prevalence of check points due to the widespread security threats toward the Israeli population

The expansion of check points in the outer border posts have also created difficulty for Palestinians to have access to public transportation and jobs. Some observers have gone so far to say that it has provoked the suicide bombers since the early 2003 and caused further instability in the border areas.

4. Status of the OT: Although there has been an international recognition that Gaza and the West Bank are becoming part of the independent state of Palestine, Israeli government refuses to call the areas as “occupied”, but “disputed” territories. This has made it possible for the Israeli to raise the issue of borders and its illegal settlements within the OT. Within the Palestinian leadership, there have been debates whether OT should also include East Jerusalem. The radical groups have even gone so far as to claim that the entire Israel proper is also part of the OT.


The Conflict in the Regional and Global Geopolitical Contexts

1. The conflict between Palestine and Israel has, since the Naqba, involved major powers in global politics, especially the US, EU, Russia, and the Islamic world. After the WW II followed by the Cold War, the US and its allies began to assert their dominant and strategic position in the Mideast in order to contain the influence of  Soviet Union and its bloc. The fact that Mideast is having the largest oil reserve in the world has only strengthened the will to control the region and, in so doing, Israel becomes a pivotal political ally in the region. The 1967 war has convinced the US that Israel is the only real ally and a powerful surrogate in the region vis- a- vis the Arab states. It goes without saying that the security and well being of Israel a state surrounded by hostile Arab countries become the main foreign policy consideration in the US and its allies. Since the 1978 war, the US has become the single staunchest defender and supporter of Israel in its conflicts with the Arab countries and, particularly, the Palestinians. The Israeli has become the largest recipient of the US aids in the forms of financial, economy, technology, and military weapon system.

2. Meanwhile, the Mideast regional politics since the end of the WW II has been volatile due to unending competitions and rivalries among the newly established states along the ideological lines and political alliances. These rivalries have, in the long term, weakened the unity of the Arab nations to face new challenges in the post war period. The Palestinian issue is a case in point in which the Arab nations have failed to put their disagreements aside and together come up with the most realistic and acceptable solutions for the disenfranchised people. On the contrary, throughout the history of the conflict, the Palestinian issue has been manipulated by leaders of the Arab countries for their own political struggles to secure leadership position among the Arab nations. The outcome has been devastating, not only has the feeling of alienation among the Palestinians from the larger Arab society and leaders been deepening, but also the solidarity for their cause has been weak and porous.

Furthermore, the dynamics of regional politics in the Mideast has necessitated some Arab countries to shift their foreign policies in order to pursue their immediate national interests. Egypt, for example, has reached agreements with Israel at the expense of being ostracized by other Arab nations and states. Nevertheless, Egypt remains an indispensable country in the Mideast politics whose regional and international influence cannot be downplayed. The increasing influence of the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union has also affected the balance of power relations in the region. Many Arab nations have gradually seen that negotiation with Israel is the most rational choice after the unsuccessful attempts to use military power against the latter. The Egyptian strategy seems to be working and supported by the major global power, particularly the US, even though the Arab states have to accept the Jewish state as a political reality in the region. The Arab nations, including the Palestinians, come to realize that the goal for the establishment of an independent Palestine state seems to be realistic through negotiations and mutual recognition with Israel.

3. The post- 9/11 tragedy has further changed the balance of power in the region, especially the emergence of Iran and the proliferation of religious-based radical movements in some key Arab states such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and in North African countries. Suffices it to say that the collapse of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the weakening of states’ power throughout the region have prompted Iran as a new political powerhouse in the Mideast. Its flamboyant anti western rhetorics and revolutionary spirit have appealed new generations and disenfranchised people, including those in the OT, who feel betrayed by their leaders. The Iranian Shiite networks have also played an important role in disseminating anti US feeling in such countries as Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. The dissatisfaction toward the old political elites has contributed to the rise of youth movements like the Intifadhah and of radical Islamists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine as well as the Hezbollah in Lebanon. The failure of PNA leadership in the defending the Palestinians political rights and their allegedly corrupt life styles have alienated them from the masses and, in turn, emboldened the radical groups to claim leadership positions. Ultimately, the Fatah lost its control of PNA’s legislative assembly to Hamas in 2006 and the peace process has, once again, faced uncertain outcome.

4. The role of the Islamic countries outside the region deserves to be addressed. From the outset those countries have been overwhelmingly in support for the Palestinian peoples and their basic rights, including the establishment of an independent state. They have voiced their concerns and criticism as well as condemnations to Israel’s occupation and its mistreatment of the Palestinians, demanded the UN and the international community to take firm and decisive actions to end the conflict. Nonetheless, those voices are rarely heard or being transformed into effective policies on the ground. Some Islamic countries, most notably Iran, Sudan, Malaysia, etc. who have been in the forefront in their defense of the rights of the Palestinian people run the risk of becoming the targets of suspicion and enmity from the US and its allies.

Thus the influence of the Muslim world in Palestine and Israel conflict resolution has been limited at best and ineffective at worst in pressing Israel to implement the already accepted points of agreements and the international law. Rhetoric aside the voice of the Islamic world remains weak vis-à-vis the global power .


Prospect of Conflict Resolutions

1. The Independent State of Palestine?: The idea of establishing an independent state for the Palestinians has been accepted by the main players in the conflict. The current Bush sponsored Annapolis agreement and the Quartet’s Road Map for Peace as well as the Arab Peace Initiative are all in agreement to pursue the goal that was initiated during the Oslo agreement in 2000. The stumbling block for its implementation remains huge, however, coming from both Israel and Palestine camps. The obsession with security in the Israel side and the rejection of the existence of Israel in the Palestine side have become strong ideological stumbling block which is not easy to overcome. Also the global powers’ strategic interest in the Mideast could hinder the establishment of Palestine state, notwithstanding their promises.

2.Two Options: Two-State or Bi-national State Models?: Currently, the two-state option is generally more acceptable among the political elites, including those in the US and EU as well as I Israel and Palestine. The bi-national state option is mostly popular among intellectuals and some think-tanks in both Israel and the US. Both options have its strengths and weaknesses and it remains to be seen whether the ongoing proposal for the first option could be worked out by the Israel and Palestine. They need to overcome the fundamental issue of deep seated suspicions and distrusts among their own in order to embark with such an option. Also the key issue of illegal settlements will remain the biggest problem in the implementation of an independent state, partly because it would change the demographic and geographic composition of the OT.

3. Are Peace and Permanent Conflict Resolution Possible?: The future of conflict and its resolutions will be strongly influenced by the balance of power, or the lack thereof, in the Mideast. In so far the US hegemony remains unchanged, the prospect of achieving peace and workable solutions would be determined by the prevailing perception and strategic views in the White House and the Capitol Hill. Generally, it would mean that the state of Israel interests are taking precedent compared to those of Palestine and the existing order of things would prevail. The emergence of new power in the region in the forms of Iran and its potential allies in such countries as Iraq and Lebanon could change the process and further complicate the situation. It may not engender the improvement of both peace process and the well being of the Palestinians in the OT, because the possibility of violence would remain high. Moreover, there is also a possibility that the ascendance of Iranian power would bring about political instability in the region. The fear of nuclear weapon acquisition by the regime in Tehran could incite military actions from Israel that perceives it as a clear and present danger to its existence. This in turn could prolong the existing conflict situation and increase the stakes for negotiations beyond what has been achieved in almost ten years since the First Intifadhah.

However, there are also reasons for optimism. The fact that key Palestinian and other Arab countries' leaders have been ready to eschew their decades held refusal to the existence of Israel could pivotal and essential a foundation to reach permanent and workable solutions acceptable by all parties. Also, several peace proposals, including the latest Annapolis Conference, despite some shortcomings, have demonstrated the willingness of the big powers to push for the establishment of an independent Palestine state which has been agreed upon by the parties and gaining international support as well. As far as the US is concerned there is also a possibility that the post Bush government, especially under the democratic administration, would continue to pursue conflict resolutions whose main component are the two-state option and negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The main problems remain on the leadership from the Palestinian side and the consistency of agreement implementations from the Israel side. The Palestinian leaders have until recently been unable to galvanize support and gain the trust from their own people and, instead, plagued by the deepening of internal conflicts. On the other hand, the continuation of illegal settlements by Israel in the OT is clearly jeopardizing the peace process and has become one of the blatant breaches of peace agreement. Also the dire humanitarian situation in the OT caused by the Israeli government blockades has only resulted in the intensification of violence and repressions among the Palestinian people.




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