DR. IBRAHIM ALLADIN
When the state of Israel was created in 1948, out of Palestinian land, a population was displaced and scattered. Israel emerged as the victor while the Palestinians were stripped of their identity. They got truly little concession. After the Second World War, Jews could return and build their country. The United States needed an ally in the region: Israel presented the opportunity. Backed by the Americans, Israel emerged as the most
militarized nation in the region. Several wars were fought in the region involving Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Eventually Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel and dissociated from the regional conflict. The Palestinians today are fighting for statehood and freedom on their own.
The Middle East is a complex region, and of strategic importance. Since the Gulf states control the supply of oil and gas, access to the region is vital. The west has a firm grip on the region and by installing puppet regimes, it has a hegemonic relationship. After the Second World War, the British and the Americans carved up the region and supported regimes that gave them unlimited access to exploit the oil and gas resources. The creation of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, were well calculated. In his book, Arabia Without Sultans, Fred Halliday gives a lucid analysis of how oil power shaped politics in the region and how the west, especially Britain, France and the United States, became the “guardians”. Oil, geopolitics, wealth, and superpower domination are landmarks of the region.
In 1948, Palestine almost disappeared from the map. Since then, Israel has been appropriating lands and annexing territories, building Jewish settlements and pushing the Palestinians further and further away creating enclaves and checkpoints so that their movements could be controlled and restricted. Israel has an ambitious plan, and it is not likely to retreat. The super highway project linking Tel Aviv and the West Bank is just one example. If the push continues, the Palestinians will have no land. This is the centre of the struggle.
The intention of Israel was noticeably clear. Yasser Arafat entered the scene to liberate Palestinians and to stop the occupation. As the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), he mounted a campaign to check the Israeli occupation. For almost three decades the PLO, outlawed by the west, led the struggle. Yasser Arafat was the voice of the Palestinians and he was able to secure enough support to get a deal. In 1993, the historic Israel-Palestine Peace Accord was signed, and President Bill Clinton made an opening for a permanent agreement. The Palestinian Authority was created with Yasser Arafat as the head. It was a small victory: Gaza and West Bank came under the administration of the Authority. But it was an administrative nightmare to build a nation with pieces of lands scattered around and two nations claiming Jerusalem as their own. Even Jerusalem was divided between East and West Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat was a firm negotiator and made compromises to reach a deal. He knew what he was up against. Israel was not going to move an inch. So, he had to make compromises to stop the bloodshed and was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. When he died suddenly and mysteriously in 2004, the equation took a different twist. His death left a vacuum. The PLO broke into factions and could not agree on a long-term settlement. Hamas, a populist faction stepped in and became the advocate. Its hardline anti-Israel rhetoric appealed to some, but it was quickly sidelined by the west as a “terrorist” organisation. The Americans and the Europeans refused to have Hamas at the negotiating table. The Palestinians lost their voice and Hamas mounted a military campaign against Israel. But it is unable to match the military power of the Israeli army. Israel continued its expansion ignoring international condemnation and human rights abuses.
Since the Gulf War of the 1990s, the balance of power in the Middle East has shifted, leaving the Palestinians on their own. Saddam Hussein was an important ally, but the destruction of Iraq and the entry of Iran and Saudi Arabia, to assume the leadership of the region, isolated the Palestinian issue. Saudi Arabia has its own problem in Yemen and its confrontation with Iran, has redefined its priorities. Israel took advantage of a weak Palestinian leadership and pushed its expansionist policy. Settlements after settlements appeared, with international condemnation. Even the Arab leaders retreated. Once an Arab problem, today it is a Palestinian issue.
What are the possibilities for a peaceful agreement?
Each American administration has come up with its own plan for a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel. The deal made by Bill Clinton in 1993, mentioned above was probably the most concrete. The roadmap that Bush introduced went nowhere and when Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinians were left out in the cold. With the Biden administration there could be some hope. Things appear to be different. However, the options are limited. There are three possibilities:
1.A single state
2.A two-state model
3.A Palestinian state
Israel is not likely to accept the idea of a single state. It is like a state within a state of Palestine. It has been proposed and rejected. The two-state system is a possibility with a lot of international support. This means accepting the state of Israel and co-existing. Hamas, however, is not incredibly supportive, and negotiations have stopped. The third option is unacceptable since the Jews will be in a minority giving the Palestinians control. The only viable option for the Palestinians is the two-state model. It is not the ideal scenario, but it will give the Palestinians some autonomy to build a country.
Israel is in a precarious situation. Politically, it is unstable. It has not had a strong stable government and ruling with coalition partners has not led to any decisive or commitment to negotiate a deal. The government seems to change every six months. Building settlements and giving subsidized housing to Jewish settlers is one way of appeasing internal political rifts. The hardline Jewish settlers are power brokers and Israel is not likely to upset these groups. Ultimately, the intention is to push the Palestinians away and scatter them in small villages or ghettoes like Nablus, with checkpoints to control them. With Jewish settlements appearing everywhere on Palestinian land, the hope for a Palestinian state becomes weaker. Israel, therefore, will push its expansionist policy and marginalizing the Palestinians into ghettoes and seasonal workers. Hamas is fighting a war on its own, with bloody consequences.
An international coalition
The occupation of Palestine is a sensitive issue not only to Muslims and Arabs, but to everyone who believes in justice. Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Mosque are landmarks and symbols. They are significant to Islam with deep roots. To a non-Muslim, it may be difficult to understand the emotional and religious ties. The air strikes in Gaza and at the site of the Holy Mosque in the month of Ramadhan is seen as a total disregard for humans. Furthermore, it confirms the arrogance of Israel that it can wipe out the Palestinians as it pleases. The assaults on these historical sites release a lot of anger and emotions among Muslims. Israel has the right to defend its sovereignty, just like the Palestinians have the right to a homeland. But denying their rights to exist is inhumane.
One option is emerging. Recently, Turkey has been very vocal, and it has thrown its support to liberate Jerusalem and the Palestinian people. Other nations such as Pakistan, Algeria and Kuwait have also voiced out their concerns. The role of Saudia Arabia is pivotal since it is an ally of the West and has leverage. Is a military intervention possible? Yes. But that will throw the region into flames and chaos. However, the idea could send Israel some strong signals and force it to stop its expansionist policy and return to the negotiation. If there is a change of thinking in Washington, this could be what the Palestinians have been hoping for the last fifty years. Hamas should also tone down its rhetoric.
The arrogance and belligerence of Israel and the formation of a coalition to liberate the Palestinians are two important trends. These two simultaneous but opposing trends have immense implications. If the Middle East rises in defence of its historical heritage, as never seen before, it could mark the beginning of a revival. As the world is dealing with a pandemic, war in the Middle East looks a lesser possibility, but if the brutality and oppression continues, the situation could escalate involving others, for a final assault. Could this conflict bring unity in the Middle East? Let us remain optimistic.