No Peace in Sight for Israel and Palestine: the conundrum of historical enmity and geographical proximity

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to increase his offensive against Hamas as the latest violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensifies. It is a sad, but inevitable, state of affairs, scuppering the hopes of US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who had been hopeful of brokering an historic peace resolution. 

The result of an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip
The result of an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip

The history of hate and mistrust between Israel and Palestine ensures that such bouts of conflict will arise on a periodic basis. After the creation of a Jewish state in 1948, several Arab countries, angered by the displacement of their kin from their homeland, launched a war to eradicate the fledgling nation.

At the start of the Arab-Israeli War, Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, declared:

This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the crusades (Dayan, 1955)

Not soft words, and a sentiment of absolute hatred that would be replicated by Arab leaders in the years to come. On his accession to the throne of Saudi Arabia in 1953, King Saud trumpeted:

The only way which the Arab states must go is to draw Israel up by her roots. Why should we not sacrifice 10,000,000 out of 50,000,000 Arabs so that we may live in greatness and honor? (Ibid)

Israeli soldiers rest at Faluja during the 1948 war
Israeli soldiers rest at Faluja during the 1948 war

The armistice of 1949 offered hope of a peaceful future yet the geographical realities of the Middle East precluded this. With the exception of the Negev Desert, Israeli territory is within 25 miles of an Arab border in all directions. Such proximity, mixed with such hatred between peoples, ensures that violence will materialise sporadically. The ease with which rockets can be fired between Israeli and Palestinian territory today is testament to this.

ISRAEL-MAP

So far, international mediation has been in vain. Attempts at a painstaking, piecemeal approach to a resolution (as is popular in modern diplomacy) have not proved successful:

The idea that only incremental steps can resolve the current crisis flies in the face of the experience of the past decade. Everything Israelis and Palestinians have tried since 1993 has been of the interim sort — whether the Oslo accords themselves, the 1995 Interim accords, the 1997 Hebron agreement, or the 1998 Wye memorandum. However sensible it may have seemed at the start, in practice the incremental approach has demonstrated serious shortcomings (Agha & Malley, 2002)

In 1975, Bechir Ben Yahmed compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Hundred Years’ War “whose antagonists are two peoples with deep-rooted historical attachments to the land”.

This is not a conflict that will be determined by military might or dynastic succession, however. Issues on which neither side want to compromise remain:

  • Palestinian statehood
  • Refugees
  • Israeli settlements
  • Security arrangements
  • Jerusalem

These points of contention will not disappear and the compromise required to reach a settlement appears insurmountable on each side. Even with willing politicians, the people won’t allow it.

As such, this latest flare-up is unlikely to be the last and it appears that careful mitigation rather than a comprehensive settlement is the most logical way forward. 

Sources

Agha, H. & Malley, R. ‘The Last Negotiation’, Foreign Affairs (May/June, 2002)

Ben Yahmed, B. ‘Doomed to Peace’, Foreign Affairs (October, 1975)

Dayan, M. ‘Israel’s Border and Security Problems’, Foreign Affairs (January, 1955)

Advertisements

Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s