Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Israel vs Palestine: the struggle for peace

The history is complex. Palestine, before it was split in two, had been occupied by Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Sunni Arab Caliphates, the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans.

In 1922, after the defeat of the Ottomons, the League of  Nations gave Britain a Mandate to rule Palestine (what today we call Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan). It faced constant revolt by warring factions, a legacy of the region's chequered and violent history over thousands of years. It is not surprising that the administrators were happy to relinquish governance at the first opportunity.

 Here is a simplified summary of post-British Palestine and Israel, which I hope is fair.



Origination of Palestine and Israel

 The world after WW II had been shocked by the unprecedented horror of the holocaust and so felt a need to recompense the Jewish people by giving them a homeland. This was done through the UN General Assembly. The UK relinquished its administration of Palestine in 1947 and part of Palestine was made into Israel - a new state for the scattered Jews.  This process trapped a lot of Palestinian Arabs inside Israel, which they understandably resented. This was followed by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, since when Israel has been repeatedly threatened by the surrounding Arab states. The 6 day war of 1967 was technically started by Israel in response to a military build up by Egypt on its border. Jordan and Syria joined in. The outcome was that Israel not only fought off what most observers regarded as aggressors but acquired extra territory: the West Bank (so-called because it is to the west of the river Jordan, while Israel is to the west of the West Bank). Jerusalem is situated on the south west border of the West Bank and is divided into sectors for Moslems, Jews and Christians under an international agreement.


Obstacles to peace: Palestine

The Palestinian cause was initially advanced by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, of which Fatah is the largest faction)led since the 1950s by Yasser Arafat, who died a few years ago. This is a military movement; but unlike jihad groups it is primarily political in its objectives. To the best of my knowledge it does not preach hatred of Jews or target civilians or use them as human shields or destroy sacred places or murder people at worship.

Over the decades there have been numerous attempts to negotiate peace with Israel and create a viable Palestinian state. Palestine now consists of the Gaza strip together with the West Bank and is represented internationally by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with elected members from Hamas and the PLO. Since 2013 the PNA has become known as the State of Palestine but is thwarted in its attempts to achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel by the growing power of Hamas, a jihad group dedicated to the complete destruction of Israel and to an Islamic theocracy in Palestine. Unfortunately, Hamas has a lot of popular support and grew from the Moslem Brotherhood, while Fatah (the main part of the PLO) has a top-down history.

Quoting the Wikipedia entry “Since the Battle of Gaza (2007), the two separate territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, are divided into a Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and a Fatah civil leadership in the autonomous areas of the West Bank. Each sees itself as the administrator of all Palestinian Territories and does not acknowledge the other one as the official government of the territories. The Palestinian Territories have therefore de facto split into two entities.”

So Palestine as a single negotiating entity does not exist. The PNA (State of Palestine) has tried to serve as the negotiator and act as a state but obviously has little authority, notwithstandong the UN’s best efforts to bestow such authority on it.

There is also the problem of another terrorist group: Hizbollah. This was started in the Lebanon in 1982 in response to Israel’s occupation, which ended in 2000. It is financed and supported by Iran and Syria and is has seats in Lebanon’s parliament. It is indirectly active in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself and is in fierce conflict with Hamas (Gaza-based), since it comprises Shi’a Moslems, while Hamas comprises Sunni Moslems. It shares one long term goal with Hamas: the complete obliteration of Israel.

 The only hope of peace being secured with Israel rests with the moderate elements of Hamas and Hesbollah which may be willing to observe truces and cease fires while seeking Israel’s eventual destruction. Whenever the State of Palestine tries to reach an agreement with Israel it is thwarted by extremists who generate death and chaos out of all proportion to their support.

So on the Palestinian side of the repeated peace initiatives we have the so-called State of Palestine alongside Hamas and Hesbollah – who are unable to agree amongst themselves and represent different parts of Palestine.


Obstacles to peace: Israel

 Israel is a true nation state of 7.2 million, with a parliament recognised internationally as legally representing all those within its borders; but it too is hampered by irreconcilable differences within its borders, making it difficult to reach accord with hostile peoples surrounding it.

 The populace is fairly diverse. Jews form 76% of Israel’s population with Moslems making up most of the rest. Two thirds of Jews were born in Israel and about a quarter are immigrants from Europe and the USA. The remaining 10% are immigrant Arabs and Asians.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews now form 10% of the population. They will never countenance compromise with the Palestinians and have enough representation in parliament to skupper peace initatives, e.g. by encouraging settlers to move into the West Bank whenever peace negotiations are making progress. There are currently 700,000 settlers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (in Lebanon). There are also individual fanatics able to prevent peace agreements, such as the one who assassinated Rabin in 1995 while he was negotiating the Oslo peace process.


 Israel has had nuclear weapons since the late 1950s in contravention of international agreements. Being the only Middle East power so armed gives it some sense of security when surrounded by hostile nations. If Iran, which supports Hizbollah, gets nuclear weapons, then Saudi Arabia (Sunni Moslem) , a long term enemy of Iran (Shi’a Moslem), will also want them and have the resources to get them. Israel is therefore tempted to take pre-emptive action against Iran, which is not likely to be more than nominally opposed by Saudi Arabia.  It would only be a matter of time before a jihad group acquired some kind of nuclear capability. This all adds to confusion and a sense of insecurity in Israel and this must affect its negotiations.

Israel's sense of insecurity has recently increased due to the migration of Sunni jihad groups towards its border with Syria. Such groups were formerly restrained by the Shi'a government of Assad.
Their military power has recently been increased by weaponry stolen from Libya during the general chaos of the Arab Spring.


International pressure for peace

What peace moves have been taken result partly from outside pressure, mainly from the USA and Europe, which obviously have different agendas, both from Israel and from each other. In particular, the USA has a powerful Jewish lobby: AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This lobbies both Congress and the government.  Public opinion in the west is influenced by both Israel and Saudi Arabia both of which finance some  western universities. Financing of universities is important in forming the concensus view of a nation’s intelligentsia and press. Oil has always been a big factor in attracting outside influences. Will this continue as foreign powers become increasingly energy self-sufficient? Will the problemsof jihad and its threat to western civilisation weaken or strengthen its resolve to pressurise Israel and Palestine into reconciliation?



 So you could sum up the Israel-Palestine problem in one word: complicated.

 One possible route to peace could be through Hamas’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood, from which it was spawned. The Muslim Brotherhood  forms the power base in Egypt after the 2012 election which followed the revolution and President Mohammed Muri  renegotiated an expired peace deal with Israel  before putting Egypt under Shi'a law. Maybe this is where the hope lies. Egypt is a large country of 84 million, comprising 90% Sunni Moslems and 10% Christians. If Israel can trust a Muslim Brotherhood president to keep order and honour an agreement with Israel, as did the deposed president Mubaki for several decades, it may also be able to reach informal agreements with Hamas which could lead to a more unified Palestine state, one with which Israel could have meaningful negotiations. So it falls on Muri to put pressure on Hamas to give up violent attacks on Israel and cooperate with the government in the West Bank.

Unfortunately, this would not deal with the problem of Hizbollah, who are as opposed to Hamas as they are to Israel.
In the USA the Jewish lobby needs to encourage the US government to put pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, i.e. to take steps to curtail the influence of ultra-Orthodox Jews on government policy. They could start by withdrawing financial benefits to them for having larger families and by rewarding settlers who return to Israel. If the western powers could help finance the rewards to settlers this should help.

Another approach, perhaps a complementary one, could be for the UN to finance a major project in the most ordered parts of Palestine. Unemployment is a major a cause of instability and this could be dealt with if the project in question led to careers and prospects for many local people, who might be tempted away from AK 47s and suicide bomb kits. It would have to be long term, inspirational to young people in the area and provide long term prosperity. Perhaps an entire state-of-the-art city could be built in the desert – or a solar power plant to serve a large area of Palestine.
There is nothing like offering people a strong incentive to work together to get them to forget their differences and I have heard of medical organisations working across boarders and employing practitioners from more than one faith. These need to be encouraged and built upon.
These are possible, though difficult to implement, practical  solutions; but the only long term solution must be a spiritual transformation.

A politically incorrect approach


The Middle East is where a divine message of love, forgiveness, rescuing of the needy and the elevation of humility as a strength, broke into the world 2000 years ago.  A world of multiple whimsical anthropomorphic gods, human sacrifice, slavery, female subjugation, rigid hierarchy, pride, brutal punishment, vengeance, man-centred arbitary judgement and king worship – not only in the Middle East but in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

From the very humblest of beginnings the message has spread to influence world history. It has been and continues to be a struggle, and a long, continuing one, with many departures from the message. But today, all societies which have held sacred this message enjoy peace, technological innovation, thriving science, good health and prosperity by comparison with those which have not. Whenever they move away from it and fail out of hubris to recognise its divine source, there is trouble.  In countries like the UK there has been an upsurge in atheism and spiritual dilution in the established church which is leading us into a downward spiral of economic, financial, social and spiritual disorder.

So it is tragic that the place from which the divine message emanated is now in turmoil. The various religious groups which have rejected it hate each other and interminably seek revenge.   God alone knows what is really happening and what will happen next.  So what can be done?
Recently I was sent details of a Middle East ‘Peace House’ situated on the Mount of Olives. I  learned of the continuing life work of Haj Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa, who set up a refuge for all faiths called the Peace House on the Mount of Olives. This is the effort of one man, talking to crowds and helping individuals, regardless of religion.  There are others, all needing financial support. What the Middle East needs is hundreds of such inspired people on this or similar missions. Only in this way can the spirit of hatred and revenge be conquered. Without such a transformation the troubles between Jews and Moslems, Sunnis and Shi’as, will go on until some catastrophic event like a nuclear exchange finally ends the seemingly interminable conflict.

How could this spiritual transformation come about? I invite leaders of Christian and other churches to think about this.

See also

 Muslim fundamentalists' hatred of the West

Egypt: Facebook, football and the Moslem Brotherhood

Egypt and world peace

North Africa and the Middle East: what next?

author, 2077 AD

reach me at cosmik.jo@gmail.com