Perhaps no issue appears as vexatious as the ongoing Palestine-Israeli conflict that threatens to deepen the ‘fault lines’ between the West and the Arabs. This age-old problem is rooted in the historicity of ancient times, false promises, realpolitik, and religion. The complexity of the issue suspends the commonly held perceptions of ‘right’ and’ wrong’ and this essay examines the issue and attempts to suggest possible solutions for a positive and peaceful settlement of the Arab Israeli problem.
Palestine side point of view
Palestine had always existed since ancient times as an area ruled by the people of Palestine who were the majority of Arabic descent. The area refers to the general region encompassed by the present-day state of Israel. That Palestine existed as a political entity is doubtless as have countless references made to it in the Greek, Roman, and medieval histories. During the Ottoman Empire, Palestine was ruled by the Muslims.
So historically speaking, the Arabs claim to Palestine is completely justified. The Jews lay their claim to the same lands based on biblical stories. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the British stepped in to fill the power vacuum, and the British mandate over Palestine was established by 1922. During the period in early 1900, the Jewish claim for a homeland in Palestine gained political backing in the Western world and the British by the 1917 Balfour declaration promised to set up a Jewish state in Palestine but also promised nothing would be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
By that promise, the British had agreed to be fair and just arbitrators in the issue of Palestine. Thereafter, Jews began streaming into Palestine in large numbers in a bid to change the demographic balance in their favor. Despite their protests and those of the Arab countries, Jewish migration to Palestine continued unabated leading to violent clashes between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish settlers. Thus, when the Jews declared an independent state of Israel in 1948, which was quickly supported by Western nations, the Palestinian Arabs effectively became refugees in their lands. This set the stage for the Arab-Israeli confrontation.
The Arabs believe that Jews never had any claim to the lands of Palestine and thus their forceful conquest of Palestine to create Israel was a conspiracy of the Christian world to drive a wedge amidst Muslim lands for geo-politics and geo-strategy. This ploy was proved by the fact that The League of Nations awarded Palestine as a mandate to the United Kingdom under terms that explicitly called for the establishment of a Jewish national home but required no consultation with the people of Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs very rightly point out that to date the Palestinians are a refugee in their homeland and thus by all tenets of International Law are a ‘people under occupation.
Israel point of view
The Jews on the other hand lay their claim to the present boundaries of Israel as a vindication of the biblical promise of the children of Israel who had been expelled from
‘The Promised Land’ and had only returned to make their rightful claim. The Israelis claim that irrespective of the historicity, the present state of Israel is a reality, a country that has official recognition under the UN charter and thus cannot be denied by the Arab countries. The Israelis also state that the constant existential threat posed to them by the surrounding Arab states and the overt and covert help to Palestinian extremist groups by Iran makes them contemplate every action under the universal right to self-defense.
The covert support by the Arab countries to the Palestinian cause resulted in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, which resulted in a humiliating and comprehensive defeat of the Arabs. In this war, Israel gained substantial territories including the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan. Gaza and the West Bank with their predominant Arab populations became the bastion for Palestinian political movement.
Meanwhile, Israel continued its policy of ‘creeping jurisdiction’ by encouraging more and more settlers in Palestinian areas. The Arabs, being a weaker power tried using oil as a weapon in the 70s to force a resolution for the Palestinian –Israeli problem. The effects of the oil shock backfired on the Gulf countries as the western nations developed alternate strategies to combat such moves.
Frustrated with the duplicity of the Western world, the Palestinians organized armed resistance that initially used terror as a weapon as typified by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in its early days. In 1988, the PLO officially recognized the two-state formula, of Jews and Palestinian Arabs living in the same region peacefully. The two-state formula called for a withdrawal of Israel to the pre-, 1948, and 1967 borders as also East Jerusalem being made the capital of Palestine.
The Israelis did not agree to these terms. Though some concessions were worked out by the Israeli side, on the issue of Jerusalem no compromise was forthcoming from both sides. Hardliners on both sides of the divide mobilized their support bases and the Arab-Israeli problem has now become intractable with terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas vowing to destroy the state of Israel with active support from Arab countries and vocal and covert support from Iran.
Undoubtedly both sides have their valid reasons and grievances. However, there are certain hard facts that both parties will have to face if there is to be a settlement. The Israelis will have to accept the legitimate rights of Palestinians and initiate the various peace formulations steered by the US for the peaceful coexistence of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. They would need to keep their extreme right-wing under check and desist from building new Jewish settlements in contentious neighborhoods. The Palestinians on their part need to give up their unreasonable demands such as the Hamas call for the destruction of the Israeli state.
The solution can be found in Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 border and agree upon minor reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications. Those Palestinians, who cannot be given back their lands, should be adequately compensated by the Israelis with alternate arrangements and generous monetary benefits. Jerusalem has to be recognized by both sides as the undivided capital of a divided capital with East Jerusalem going to the Palestinians.
Lastly, but most importantly, the Palestinians must forswear the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy and demilitarize Hamas, Hezbollah, and other non-state actors operating in its territories. The solution also lies in integrating the ex-fighters and terrorists of the Hamas, Hezbollah, and other non-state organizations into the formal political and social structures of the Palestinian society. On the Geo-political level, the Arab world must officially recognize the right of Israel to exist as a nation. These are some of the proposed measures that can help resolve the Arab-Israeli problem.