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)

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Alfredo Di Stefano: from Buenos Aires to Madrid via El Dorado

One of soccer’s most influential players, Alfredo Di Stefano, has died in Madrid aged 88. The Argentine-born star made history by scoring in five consecutive European cup finals for Real Madrid (1956-1960) and had a major sporting impact on both sides of the Atlantic.

Di Stefano in his capacity as Real Madrid's honorary president
Di Stefano in his capacity as Real Madrid’s honorary president

Despite being claimed as one of the greatest ever to play the game, Di Stefano is probably not a recongisable name to many modern soccer fans, even those with more than a passing interest in the sport. As David Goldblatt notes:

The period between 1954 and 1974 offers a whole slew of candidates for every list of greats. Yet even here it is visual familiarity rather than quality that appears to determine the pecking order. The lesser known players are those whose careers were peaking or had peaked in the very earliest days of TV broadcasts. (Goldblatt, p.401)
This statement is certainly true of Di Stefano, whose career had finished by 1966, in the days when live soccer broadcasts were in their infancy. Having begun his career with the mighty River Plate in his native Argentina, in 1951 Di Stefano moved to Colombia to join one of the least-known revolutions in soccer history.
At a time of political turmoil, two leagues (one amateur and one professional) had been established in Colombia. Encouraged by the protestation of the amateur league, FIFA (still a distinctly amateur organisation) suspended the professional league. This inadvertently created an opportunity for the professional clubs, which were now not restricted by FIFA’s regulations on transfer fees and player wages (Goldblatt, p. 278)
Several chairmen began throwing big wages at international stars, with Millonarios of Bogota the biggest spenders. It was here that Di Stefano moved in 1951, joining a multinational squad that included several Europeans, an unthinkable scenario in the modern game.
Di Stefano (second fron left) and Millonarios
Di Stefano (second fron left) and Millonarios
Amidst politically-sponsored bloodshed and misery in the country, the Colombian league provided formidable entertainment and a great lifestyle for the likes of Di Stefano. As he remembered:
The Millonarios players really were living the life of…millionaires. Every day they went training at the end of the morning, then everyone was invited for lunch at the club’s headquarters. The Colombian cuisine, based on rice, manioc, and pork meat and fried bananas, was a discovery for us. They drank a special kind of beer, the Bavaria, which was fantastic. And after that, we had a Colombian coffee, rightly considered to be the best in the world. Later a siesta, and sometimes the cinema and a quick visit to the dancing. When you come from the country of the tango, you aren’t ashamed to show that you possess the art of dancing. (Mason, ‘The Bogota Affair’ cited in Goldblatt, p. 280)
In this very ‘modern’ atmosphere, Di Stefano and Millionarios turned soccer too into an art form. After moving to Real Madrid in 1953, having toured Spain with Millionarios, Di Stefano would help imbue this mentality in his new team mates. Their instance success is testament to his and the Colombians methods. 
Di Stefano scores a penalty against Fiorentina in the 1957 European Cup final
Di Stefano scores a penalty against Fiorentina in the 1957 European Cup final

Sources

Goldblatt, D. The Ball is Round: a Global History of Football (2006)

Mason, T. ‘The Bogota Affair’ in J. Bale & J. Maguire (eds.), The Global Sports Arena (1994)