Most attempts at finding a comprehensive and lasting settlement have failed. The absence of trust between the two parties has always been the major cause of this failure making the next military confrontation an inevitable outcome
It is a given by most in the region and in the international community that the final settlement will inevitably consist of two independent states living side by side, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. No other solutions are viable.
Two major stumbling blocks stand in the way:
- the status of Jerusalem claimed by both parties as their capital city, and
- the delineation of the final international border between the two “states”.
The Israelis do not trust Arab promises. “they would push us all into the sea if they have the opportunity” “They would never accept our permanent presence in the region.” “We are willing to wait as long as it takes”, the Arabs often tell us, “the Crusaders stayed for a thousand years in our lands and there is no reason why we cannot wait as long to get rid of the Zionist occupation. ”
“The Arabs say something and mean something else” “they would happily sign a treaty with us for the sake of a temporary gain if they feel they are in a weaker position, only to renege on it when they feel stronger. When Yasser Arafat was accused of treason after the Oslo Agreement he beseeched his people to remember Hudaybiyyah, the 10 year Treaty signed by Muhammad with his enemies at the time, the Meccans. A lull in the fighting gave him the opportunity to rebuild his weekend army and to return to the battlefield at a time of his choosing, and win his war against the non- suspecting Meccans.
Another often stated reason for not trusting the Palestinians is the “who do we talk to” argument. Who represents the Palestinians, the moderate President Abbas of the PLO or the extremist arch terrorist Khaled Mashal leader of Hamas whose constitution calls for the destruction of ALL Israel, or any of the other numerous extremist organizations?
Orthodox Israelis also refer to the Islamic scriptures particularly the Quran that calls for the destruction of all the infidels. . They point to the historic anti-Semitic prejudice deeply rooted in the Muslim psyche that goes back to the days of early Islam and persists to the present day. The infamous battle of the Trench is often cited. When the Qurayzah Jewish tribe of Medina declined Mohammad’s invitation to convert to Islam all the men and boys of the tribe were massacred ( historians estimate that approximately 750 of them were beheaded by Muhammad personally) and the women were enslaved and divided up among Muhammad’s warriors.
Recent history ( e.g. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 ) is also cited as yet another reason for distrusting the Palestinians. “Instead of turning a free Gaza into a prosperous area, building the infrastructure for an independent entity on the way to statehood, Hamas, after wrestling the strip from the moderate Palestinian Authority, used Gaza as a staging post for launching thousands of rockets against Israel.” (Harkabi: 67-80).
As a result of this Israelis believe that even if their nation were to withdraw from occupied Palestine ( the West Bank ) the Palestinians would still seek the destruction of their state.
Unlike Israel, Palestine is not an independent state. It is merely an occupied territory after the Six Day war of 1967. The Palestinian distrust of Israel’s intentions is therefore based on different considerations. They often cite the absence of “international legitimacy” in dealing with their case and demand a remedy to what they refer to as the “historic injustice inflicted upon them by Western imperialism” “We are not even recognized as a state by the international community! How do you expect us to negotiate on equal terms with Israel, a country recognized by the entire world!” This feeling of inadequacy is deep rooted. It is the engine that propels most of their extreme (albeit self-defeating) acts of aggression. Terms such as, racism, colonialism,, international conspiracy, the greatest land-grab in history and the like, have become part and parcel of Palestinians day to day narrative.
Most Palestinians also, still believe in the oft repeated mantra that “Israel’s agenda is to occupy the whole of geographic Palestine from the Nile to the Euphrates”
After the defeat of 1967 however, the Palestinians became aware of their weakness and political limitations. Notwithstanding this realization the Oslo Agreement of September 13th 1993 ( the acceptance of a two state solution and the decision to give up armed struggle ) is still viewed by most Palestinians as no more than their own Hudaybiyyah.
Hamas rejected both the PLO leadership in the person of Yasser Arafat and his declared commitment to put an end to the armed struggle against Israel. Hamas asserted that “it is inconceivable that a nation under occupation be denied legitimate resistance to its occupation”. In their eyes the sanctity of armed resistance (al-Moqawama) against the occupation is still an important component of their policy towards Israel.
The continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the creeping settlement building is leading to further weakening of the Palestinian bargaining power. The urgency of coming up with a settlement is beginning to impress itself upon all branches of the Palestinian body politic.
A Pipe Dream?
Rome Was Not Built In A Day
Rome was not built in a day nor will trust be. As trust building is the first most important prerequisite for solving this seemingly intractable problem let us attempt to think outside the box. Imagine if the two parties found themselves in a position to live in peace and harmony within the present borders enjoying normal relations and deriving all the benefits each party can bestow upon the other for a period of 20 years. Not a long time on a historical scale considering that the two peoples have been in a state of war for the last 70 years ! But long enough to assuage firmly held views and to build the all-important bridge of trust between them.
How can this entente come about ? Two important simultaneous steps must be taken first:
- Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with full diplomatic relations by all Arab countries particularly the fundamentalist Islamic States of Saudi Arabia the guardian of Islam’s holy places, and Hamas whose constitution calls for the destruction of Israel.. This will assuage Israel’s deep rooted suspicion of the Arabs’ long term intentions towards the Jewish state. Final borders & Capital city : to be agreed upon at the end of the 20-year transition period
- Recognition of Palestine as an independent state by the international community including the all-important and influential friend of Israel the USA, This step will enhance the country’s feeling of equilibrium viz a viz Final borders & Capital city : to be agreed upon at the end of the 20-year transition period
A 20 year period of normal relations between two friendly states will make the final decisions on borders and choice of capitals easier to reach. Other outstanding problems such as Israeli settlers in Palestine (no reason why they could not continue to live within the boundaries of a Palestinian state if they choose to do so) and Palestinians domiciled in Israel, will appear less intractable or relevant in the context of the new entente cordiale between the two neighbouring states culminating in the signing of a permanent peace treaty between the two states.
Is this an unattainable pipe dream ? It is not if the two steps ahead were accomplished. The problem does not lie with Israel as the nation is the master of its own destiny and as such is capable of making its own decisions.
The Palestinians on the other hand are not their own masters of destiny. Their financiers, the Arab states particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are the true masters. Qatar plays host to Hamas leader Khalid Mishaal and with Saudi Arabia “the Godfather of terror and extremism” was the financier of the now dislodged terror organization the Islamic State. And even though they pay lip service to the “Palestine Cause” they have no interest in ending this conflict.. They are the puppet masters of the invisible game of control. Peace in the region will unleash many problems for those states including possibly the questioning of their own legitimacy. That is why Qatar’s propaganda mouthpiece Aljazeera Arabic never ceases to fan the flames of conflict and hatred between the Palestinians and the Israelis. By supporting anti-Israel positions, these Arab states project an image of Arab nationalism which endear them to their own populations and give them the all important political legitimacy they all crave.
The accomplishment of these two all-important first steps can only happen if there is an international consensus accompanied by a degree of pressure by the super powers preferably under the auspices of a United Nations International Conference on the Middle East.