Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Palestine: 40 years after the 1967 war

Forty years ago, Israel's armed forces launched what was believed to be a pre-emptive attack on its neighbouring Arab states- an air attack first wiped out the Egyptian air force on the ground. (There were indications that the Arab states were readying for an assault on Israel). The six day war ended in a complete victory for Israel. It seized the Sinai peninusala from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and also the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Israel returned Sinai to Egypt as part of a peace accord in 1982. It made peace with Jordan in 1994. In 2000, it came close to a settlement with Syria that would have entailed withdrawal from the Golan Heights. It has withdrawn from Gaza. But, the West Bank and east Jerusalem are a different proposition as FT notes in an editorial:

The West Bank is different. In the biblically resonant hills of Judea and Samaria, and in and around east Jerusalem, through war and in peace, Israeli colonisation of the occupied territories has never ceased. The settlements, the roads connecting them and now the “security barrier” deep inside the West Bank have left the Palestinians unviable reservations of land amounting to 44 per cent of the West Bank, or barely 10 per cent of colonial Palestine. That is not the basis for a historic compromise but a contract for permanent conflict.

Note the figure for Israeli encroachment into West Bank- 56%. No Israeli leader, hawk or dove, has been able to halt the impetus towards settlement. The new generation of settlers are a hardened, militant lot and fiercely resistant to any compromise that would require their departure.

The Economist (May 16- June 1) has a feature that chronicles the story of the last 40 years. the 1967 war, it argues, provided an opportunity for lasting peace. It drove home to the Arabs the futility of seeking to exterminate Israel. It put the Israelis in a position to trade land for peace. But the opportunity has been squandered.

The monumental tragedy of the Palestinians is apparent. In 2002, the Arab League recognised the ground reality with 22 countries offering to recognise Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied territories. Yet, despite the Oslo Peace accord, despite negotiations brokered by President Clinton, such a deal seems far away. Israel does not appear to be in a mood to do such a deal and the Americans, egged on a by a powerful Jewish lobby in the US, have done little to moderate Israel's intansigence.

Why? Several possible explanations suggest themselves:

  • Israel believes it needs the territory to cope with future population increases and also because it has a stranglehold on vital water resources in the occupied territories. It also thinks it has the military might to hang on.
  • Both Israel and its western allies believe that the emergence of Palestine and the shrinking of Israel to its original size pose long term threats to Israel's security. The west would like to maintain a strong Israel state in a region that is proximate to the world's principal oil resources.
  • The 'moderate' Arab states and also the US believe that Arab regimes allied to the US will be rendered unstable by a Palestine state, whether secular or radical.
  • The radicalisation of Muslims, in response to the unresolved issue of Palestine, provides the basis for an aggressive American military posture in the guise of a 'war on terror'

I remember telling people in the nineties that the world seemed headed for the new millenium with two surviving pieces of injustice: apartheid and Palestine. I was happily proved wrong on the first count. Palestine remains.


Krishnan said...

Perhaps religion will remain the true weapon of mass destruction for all time.

The American Israel PAC (AIPAC) is very strong, yes. Often they get away with things that other lobbies may not get away with - their aim is to protect Israel at all costs perhaps even at times at the expense of the US (according to some). Nevertheless.

Israelis more than anyone are ready (in my opinion) to trade land/anything for peace - IF there is genuine acceptance of their right to exist. Israel is a vibrant democracy where even Palestinians get their say in Court and where the Courts are not shy to rule against the ruling party/leaders. If an Anwar sadat like figure were to emerge from the Palestinians, peace would be possible and the killings can stop. But such leaders do not exist today - I think it is possible to shame Israelis and their leaders to compromise in the name of peace, but such efforts have not worked at all with the Palestinians.

The world and the Arab world has poured billions of dollars to the Palestinian cause without much impact - the corruption seems to be endemic with no real solution in sight. For a displaced people their only solution seems to be to keep fighting and determined to kill anyone who does not conform to their views.

I can understand perfectly why Israel remains suspicious of anyone who keep prodding them to make more and more concessions without getting much in return. The world watched while Hitler systematically killed Jews, yes, even the US ignored much of the information about systematic killings. I, for one, am glad that the Jews are constantly reminding the world of the dangers of genocide and what happens when we do not act.

The Palestinians need a home, absolutely. They are not going to "drive the Jews to the sea" and unless Israel is convinced of the fact that they CAN exist as a nation, I am certain they will compromise on anything else. I am aware of extremist elements in Israel that will not accept ANY concessions to the Palestinians - yet concessions have and will be made by brave leaders and the nation as a whole. As long as the President of Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons AND continues to threaten the nation of Israel, yes, they have every reason to worry and so am sure they will do whatever THEY decide to protect themselves.

The Palestinians cannot continue to blame Israel for ALL of their problems - they should clean house, take care of their own and make an offer to the Israelis that they cannot refuse - "We are part of this land also, like you all - Let us figure out how to coexist. After all, we are children of Abraham"

blackadder said...

One thing that I never understand is how can Israel be blamed for 'hegemonistic' designs when none of the conflicts were started by it. True, Israel conquered large swathes of land in 1967 but that was after 5 Arab armies waged war on it with the intent of not territorial gain, but to destroy Jews and push them into the sea. The Jews can be allowed some amount of paranoia considering the kind of hostility their neighbours direct towards them. And it speaks measures of their magnanimity when they gave back the Sinai peninsula to Egypt on nothing more than the promise that Egypt would recognize Israel's right to exist. Another point you mention is the fear that a Palestinian state will destabilize much of the Middle East. That has been conclusively proved by the deleterious influence of the PLO in all its host nations. The PLO was kicked out of Jordan after it attempted to challenge the authority of the Jordanian army. Later, they converted Lebanon into a perverted motel for international terrorism and destroyed that country by letting Syria, Iran and just about anyone else pursue their interests in Lebanon under the guise of assisting the Palestinians. Lastly, even after getting a Palestinian state, the infighting between Fatah and Hamas has proved that terrorists do not suddenly become able administrators. Thugs shall remain thugs and there is no 'noble' gun that goes back into the holster after achieving lofty ideals. The Palestinians have quickly turned their guns - the ones supplied by Iran and Syria to fight Jews - onto each other. Maybe there is some truth after all to the adage that people get the government they deserve.

T T Ram Mohan said...

Blackadder, I have difficulty with branding a whole people as 'thugs'. Conflict between Palestinian groups arises from the perceived failure of the moderates to usher in a durable settlement for the Palestinians. This is fertile breeding ground for extremists.

I also don't see any point in going into the rights and wrongs of the distant past- who started what and who first killed whom. We must focus on the problem at hand now which is a just settlement in the region.

Lastly, the 'security interests' of any nation cannot be a reason to deny security and fulfilment to another set of people. The asymmetry in military capabilities between those of Israel and its neighbours is sufficiently large for Israelis to resolve the Palestinian issue today. As Krishnan points out, the Arabs and Israelis must learn to co-exist.


blackadder said...

Fair points sir, but I did not use thugs for the Palestinian people but for organizations like Hamas and the PLO which are / have been designated as terrorist organisations by a number of countries at some point of time or the other. As for Israelis and Arabs learning to co-exist, I am all for it and so is Israel, the handing back of Sinai is a pointer in that direction, it is organisations like Hamas that still cling on to notions like "complete destruction of Israel and the Jewish people", so it seems to me that it is the Palestinians and their representatives who have problems with co-existence. My sole point was that there is no real evidence from history to prove that a.) Israel has hegemonistic designs b.) That Israel does not desire peace and co-existence