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Beyond Intractability: The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Historical Background

The Israel-Palestine conflict to a greater extent has to do with land possession between the Jewish and Arab population. To be more exact, the land conflict is over a search for national identity and self-determination. At the same time it also depicts a clash between a colonial settler community and an indigenous population prevalent in many parts of the world across generations. The contested territory covers a small area of 12,000 square miles and hosts various groups. However, these various groups have usually been reduced to the rough dichotomy of Jews and Palestinians. Both groups have good reasons to claim the land as their own based on long-term textual, archaeological, and hermeneutical pieces of evidence.

Entry of Jews into Palestine

Until the late 19th century Palestine has been predominantly inhabited by Arabs. The Jewish population of around 6 Million people as of 2010 had arrived in the former area of Palestine in various immigration waves. The first wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine took place between 1882 and 1903 and was composed almost entirely of Russian and Polish Jews (about 25,000). These Jewish people experienced increasing hostility and persecution in their home countries. The conclusion that anti-Jewish sentiments were unlikely to disappear in Europe and Russia plus the belief that Jewish people can never completely assimilate in a non-Jewish society motivated them to leave their “home countries.” Many of them left for the United States while a smaller group decided to move to their biblical homeland, Palestine. It is important to note that a significant number of immigrants were secular Jewish and had few political ambitions.

Political Zionism

Political Zionism, that is Jewish nationalism, can be traced back to the writings of a Jewish author and journalist named Theodor Herzl at the end of the 19th century. He proclaimed that the Jewish people are ‘one people’ and henceforth have a right to an own state. During the first Zionist congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, delegates concluded the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, which coincides with the biblical Land of Zion. During the first decades of the 20th century the migration to Palestine remained limited. However, both World Wars, especially the Second World War led to a massive influx of Jews from Central Europe. 

By 1939, Jews almost doubled their population share in Palestine from 17 percent in 1931 to 31 percent in 1939. The mass influx of Jews and the subsequent increased competition for land contributed to the Arab revolt of 1936-1939. Palestinians protested against the Jewish aspiration to create a state on their territory through non-violent and later on through violent means. By 1938 the region was in complete turmoil, with Zionist, Palestinian, and British forces fighting for control. The conflict ended with a tremendous loss for Palestine: part of the Palestinian leadership was imprisoned  and another sent to exile, the population was demoralized thus ending the revolt. Between 1937 and 1948 Britain attempted to reconcile the Jews and Arabs of Palestine. However, Britain failed to reach an agreement between the two conflicting parties and hence turned its responsibility to the newly created United Nations.

The UN Proposals

The UN formed a special committee on Palestine which worked out two proposals on how to end the conflict. The first proposal suggested the establishment of two separate political entities in Palestine which remain economically joined. The second proposal included the creation of a single federal state containing autonomous Jewish and Palestinian areas. While Zionists agreed to the first proposal, Palestinians rejected both as they would mean to give up part of their sovereignty. As a response to this, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab League drafted their own proposal which called for a single, unified state in Palestine that would be democratic and secular with equal rights for all its citizens. This proposal has been rejected by Zionists as it considers only Jewish people who have arrived in Palestine before 1917 as citizens.

On the 29 November 1947 the U.N. General Assembly voted in favor of UN Resolution 181 which affirmed the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states within Palestine. The British were requested to leave Palestine and the two states plus a Corpus Separatum compromising the Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas were to be established by 1 July 1948. The planned partition of the country clearly favoured the Jewish population. The Jews were given 57 percent of Palestine although at that time Jews constituted only about one third of the population owning less than 10 percent of the land. This can partly be explained by the risen sympathy for the Jews after the holocaust.

The State of Israel?

However, the UN imposed solution became part of the problem. The well-organized and well-equipped Zionist military force used the turmoil which took place between November 1947 and May 1948 to expand their territory beyond the areas specified by UN Resolution 181. They took over areas which they deemed important for their security and economic success of the still-to-be declared State of Israel. The State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben Gurion on May 24, 1948. The Arabs in Palestine did not follow his example and chose not to declare the independence of the Arab state. This can be understood if one considers the areas the Arabs were left with after Israel expanded its territory. The putative Arab state, in turn, was now dismembered into three portions: the Gaza Strip, under Egyptian occupation; the West Bank, under Jordanian occupation; and the rest, as noted, incorporated by Israel.

Intractable Conflict

What happened between 1947 and 1949 is the real bone of contention and not the outcome of the Six Day War in June 1967. During the Six Day War Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Until today Israel and Palestine have been trapped in a conflict cycle which evokes international involvement.

The latest phase in the conflict started with the first Palestinian uprising or intifada in December 1987. This phase started with a number of protests and other non-violent means to put Israel under pressure to end its occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Israel used a disproportionate amount of force in order to end these protests. In the 1990s the Palestinians started to fight for their right to self-determination with violent means. Bombings, rocket fires and terror attacks targeting Israel became more frequent. Shortly after the outbreak of the Intifada, Hamas, an Islamic resistance organization, emerged in Gaza.

Palestinians started inhabiting Gaza in 1948 after they had been expelled from their land by new founded state Israel. Until Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip in 1967, Gaza belonged to Egypt. It had a flourishing economy trading in fish, fruits and vegetables. However, after the occupation Israel imposed export restrictions on Gaza and diverted its water to Israeli settlers. These economic policies hit Gaza hard and reduced its gross domestic product to a fraction compared to what it was before the occupation. The experience of economic hardship of Gaza can be linked to the emergence of Hamas.

In 2005 Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza which Israel describes at the end of occupation. However, Israel still exercises control over most of Gaza’s borders, waters and airspace. In 2006 Hamas emerged as the winner of fair and free election conducted in the occupied territories. The U.S., Israel and Fatah were not pleased with the choice of the people and tried to overthrow Hamas. Hence, Hamas leaders have been arrested by Israel and the West Bank was taken over by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. These events eventually led to the civil war between Hamas and Fatah in 2006 out of which Hamas emerged victorious and assumed leadership of Gaza.

Since Israel perceives Hamas as a terror organization that constitutes a constant threat to its homeland security it turned Gaza into something like a maximum security prison. Gaza’s inhabitants are surrounded by cement walls, barbed wire barriers, a 500-meter wide no-man’s land, and watchtowers manned by Israeli sharpshooters. On top of that, Israel controls everything that goes in or out of Gaza and keeps necessities such as food and fuel to a minimum.

Since Hamas gained power in Gaza in 2007, the conflict between Gaza and Israel has turned into a cycle of periodic outbreaks of violence and subsequent cease-fire agreements. Israel has carried out four major attacks on Gaza since 2007. These are: Operation Hot Winter (February 2008); Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009); Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012); and Operation Protective Edge (July-August 2014). 
Beyond Intractability: The Israel-Palestine Conflict Beyond Intractability: The Israel-Palestine Conflict Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on March 09, 2016 Rating: 5

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