Is a solution in sight for the Israel-Palestine conflict?
President Donald Trump very recently rolled out, in his usual flowery words, “the peace proposal of the century” in the US, strangely with only his good friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side. He was assisted by his son-in-law Jared Kushner in chalking out the plan.
Trump is volatile, simplistic, and allegedly suffers from attention deficit disorder. It’s rather surprising that he took interest in the very complex Israel-Palestinian conflict and put such a heavy burden on his brain, especially after his ludicrous North Korea strides.
Be that as it may, Israeli-Palestinian discord remains the central unresolved issue in the Middle East for many decades now. The matter is extremely complicated in its nature and its prospective solutions have an equally complex and very long backdrop.
An international political commentator said many years back that if someone claims to have an easy solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the person hasn’t understood the problem.
Many Westerners and Israelis don’t understand the Arab or Palestinian angle of the issue and many Arabs and Muslims don’t seem to get the core Israeli and Western concerns. A lot of Palestinians and Arabs are strangely dismissive of the ground reality, and Israelis tend to ignore certain basic rights of preexisting inhabitants of a land that mark the ethos of this modern era.
The basic Palestinian argument is a moral one: Israel was established artificially and by force by international Zionists under the auspice of Western powers.
Hence, they should make concessions regarding key issues such as the status of East Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in West Bank, and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to historical Palestine and present day Israel, as they were forced out by Israelis in 1948 during the establishment of Israel.
In those times, alongside the newly formed Israel Defense Forces, there were Jewish terrorist militia groups like Haganah and Irgun, mostly consisting of immigrant Jews from Europe who persecuted the local Palestinians in the name of self-defense.
Palestinians were driven out and space was made to create Israel -- largely for the immigrant European Jews.
The Zionst line of argument initially runs through their persecution in Europe and the need for a country of their own where they can defend themselves without being directly dependent on others.
The most logical solution to their demand could have been a chunk of Germany which was defeated in World War II, and was responsible for the extermination of half of the global Jewish population. But Russia and Poland took big chunks of Germany after the war.
The other logical option could have been a part of the less populated new world, ie the Americas -- which is away from Europe, where Jewish people have historically been persecuted.
However, based on a biblical claim, the international Zionist organizations choose the Palestine province of the Ottoman Empire, which was later put under British mandate following Turkish debacle in World War I.
Jewish people were the followers of Moses in Egypt and that’s how the identity of the ancient Israeli tribe was formed. Then, as they were driven out from Egypt by the Pharaohs, some settled in Palestine and some in other parts of the Middle East.
A Roman governor drove them out of Palestine and they got scattered across Europe and the Middle East. Most of their religious places remain in Palestine.
However, such movement of population was common throughout human history.
But the Zionists lay a demand on Palestine based on ancient history -- which, in itself, is weird ground for such claim -- and went on to establish a state, forcefully removed of a big part of the existing population who had nothing to do with their expulsion more than two millennia ago nor with their despicable persecution in Europe.
Initial Jewish immigration from Europe actually started when the British gained mandate of Palestine after World War I. Before that, British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour made the Balfour Declaration as he buzzed to the demand of international Jewish organizations to gather all the persecuted European Jews in Palestine.
Due to the Jewish trauma of the Holocaust, Western sympathy poured in for them. More and more European Jews of diverse ethnicity, language, and culture started arriving in Palestine after World War II under the patronization of the British and other Western powers. And that’s how modern Israel was created.
The Arab reaction and their successive losses in the wars with Israel is a well known thing. Immigrant Jews cleared coast lines and the northern part of historical Palestine of Palestinians, and established homes in those places, and also included the big southern Negev desert into Israel.
The Palestinians of West Bank and Gaza could hold on to their homes and properties as these two places were occupied by fellow Arab countries -- Jordan and Egypt respectively.
However, Israel occupied Gaza and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which holds the Jewish historical holy sites of Western Wall and Temple Mount, and the Islamic holy sites of Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of Rock.
The Al Aqsa mosque is run by a trust headed by the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Jewish people pray before the Western Wall which is the in the middle of the western boundary of the mount and is a ruin of the historical second temple of the ancient Jewish religio-cultural legacy.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US is the most prominent military-political power in the Middle East. It protects Israel from Arab hostility via support in various from including occasional direct involvement.
It also protects its allied Arab kingdoms, emirates and dictatorships. Since the early 1990s, the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation went on mostly under US moderation.
More countries across the globe are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but are unable to do much, other than not recognizing Israel or denouncing it for its oppressive acts. Israel, however, has recognition of all the major powers of the world and most countries in Europe as well the US.
However, European nations and countries like China, Russia, India etc want fairness for Palestinians but are less willing to pressure Israel due to the perpetual post-Holocaust sympathy for Jewish people.
They, like the Americans, are also suspicious of the radical elements of the Arab society, including the Palestinians that advocate hostilities towards Israel, which the Westerners consider terrorism.
However, in reality no country can pose any existential threat to Israel due to its overwhelming military superiority and close alliance with the US. Another difference between the Arab and the Israelis is, while the Jewish nation is a democracy within its territory, the Arab countries had been either theocratic monarchies or dictatorships with occasional variances.
Israel is also way ahead in development, technology, infrastructure and service systems, despite not having much natural resources.
However, in the longer term, it’s better and safer for Israel to have the recognition of Palestinians and its other Middle Eastern neighbours who are yet to render formal recognition to it. But, it also wants to ensure that its security is entirely in its own hand.
From that consideration, it wants to offer only a highly demilitarized Palestine in West Bank and Gaza, largely torn and encircled by illegal Israeli settlements and corridors which are to be formally annexed to Israel through a peace deal, or unilaterally with US support.
Also, such offers have many other strict conditions and compliance requirements for the Palestinians, including the end of all forms of violence and resistance against Israel and Israelis.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, consider resistance and some violence as one of the few remaining bargaining tools. Acceptance of Israeli occupation and perpetuating the status quo, to them, means helping Israeli occupation and expansion.
They agree to end resistance only if they are given their statehood on the occupied territory of West Bank and Gaza, demarcated by 1949 Armistice Line or the Green Line, and Israeli settlements removed from the West Bank.
The economy of the Palestinian territories has always been in bad shape due to Israeli occupation and restrictions, resulting in their lack of trade and other connectivity with the region and rest of the world.
Palestinian authorities are dependent on Arab, European, and American findings. But these also have to be channelized through Israeli checks and controls.
Israel commands a lot of tools to punish Palestinians collectively, and they often do so. Most parts of the Palestinian territory with habitations have been encircled by Israeli walls.
However, decades of status quo and exhaustive peace talks have created some implied bottom line despite the fact that parties don’t say it openly -- the state of Israel, at least with 1949 lines, is a fact and will remain as such. And the Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza, and even inside Israel, will remain where they are.
Even the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of Rock will remain under a Muslim administrative body. The bones of contention have been reduced to Palestinian refugees, the status of occupied East Jerusalem, and the fate of Israeli settlements in West Bank, including the final boundary of the Palestinian state.
People displaced through war or violence have a universal right to return to their original place if they want to. The question of Palestinian refugees, then, is more of a moral issue rather than a practical one.
It’s not clear how many of them are actually willing to return. Many of them have been integrated into the societies of Jordan, Lebanon, and other Arab countries. Many Jews have also moved to Israel from the Arab countries after its establishment.
Israel agrees to the return of Palestinian refugees, but only into territories of future Palestine in West Bank and Gaza. Trump’s plan stays the same with a provision for a small fund to compensate them.
Due to the state-sponsored Jewish settlements in occupied territories, Israel wants big chunks and corridors in the West Bank.
Coupled by its disproportionate security concerns, these reasons are now floated by the Likud government as pretext to annex the Jordan River valley, which is the eastern part of West Bank, and all the settlements in addition to previously proposed major settlement areas and corridors.
A more prospective option to ensure Israeli security would have been to limit Palestinian defense forces.
Overall, security guarantee from other Arab states could have been an additional clause. Most other Arab states are actually US allies, and Trump’s plan has already proposed to involve them.
Donald Trump’s peace plan meets almost all the conservative Israeli needs that include the isolation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank from Jordan by allowing Israel to annex 30% of the area with all the scattered settlements, crisscrosses, corridors, and encirclements.
The map of the Palestinian territory, as per Trump’s plan, looks like a torn piece of a rag. It seems he has presented the Netanyahu plan with little or no modifications.
Palestinians won’t have a viable continuous land in the West Bank -- which they previously had -- and will go through numbers of check and choke points as they travel through their own territory. They will virtually be put in open cages with high boundaries all around.
Just 400,000 Israeli settlers will take one third of West Bank as opposed to 2.5 million Palestinians. Instead, land swap by just taking the big settlements close to Israel proper and vacating the rest of these illegal settlements could have been a better and more viable proposition.
However, the Trump proposal has an interesting part. The Israeli return for the huge amount of land encroachment would be two land pockets inside Israel and long Egyptian boarder connected through a road to the congested Gaza.
Israel is also concerned with the birth rate of Israeli Palestinians. Hence, Trump’s plan indicates the transfer of a few Israeli Arab cities adjacent to the West Bank border to future Palestine.
Concede little territory, but transfer more population appears to be the tactic. The Palestinians, however, might like it for their own reason.
Another interesting and compensating part is that the huge American proposal for $50 billion investment in future Palestine with an aim to generate economic growth and employment and reduce poverty. Materialization of that promise, however, will probably depend on many factors.
Alongside the tearing of West Bank, the biggest drawback of the Trump plan is occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, which it proposes to give to Israel although there is an indication that whichever Muslim country supports the plan will see its citizens allowed to visit the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem.
Ridiculously, it proposes to give Palestinians a capital outside but adjacent to Jerusalem.
A viable proposal would have been making the old city of Jerusalem a Vatican-like entity and jointly administered by Israel, Palestine, and other regional and international stake-holders.
Palestinians have already expressed their rejection to the plan and pointed out that, alongside other drawbacks, it offers the Palestinians only 15% of the land of historical Palestine.
US-allied Arab nations have made brief and mostly neutral reactions, which appears less enthusiastic. Similar reactions are likely to come out from Europeans, Russians, and Chinese. Trump will probably hope to exert pressure on the Palestinians, to come on to the table, through his Arab allies.
But he has already damaged the US reputation as an honest broker because of his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The power equation in the Middle East has changed in recent times with the destruction of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
It has made Israel stronger in the region. Russia and Turkey are also taking more interest in the region.
One feature of this plan is, unlike the Clinton and Bush plans, it dictates particular solutions to the key contentions of the discord, much like Trump’s own personal nature.
The plan is partially interesting, but it lacks tactfulness and substance. It’s not clear whether there is enough room for negotiation within its framework. Its future depends on how much of the core Palestinian concerns are addressed if negotiations take place at all.
The Palestinians would wonder what difference the implementation of the plan would make in their lives, honour and dream of a viable statehood in return for the concessions they will make. If there isn’t much incentive for them, they will probably remain disinterested.
Israelis and Palestinians, or the other Arabs, will have to live side by side forever. The Palestinians need to realize this reality and the fact that good relations with Israel in future would be beneficial for them, given Israel’s better economy.
Already many Palestinians from the occupied territories work in Israel. Israel will, however, ease the restrictions if threats of hostility are gone.
Israelis, on the other hand, need to understand that greed for a few chunks of additional land and keeping their neighbour perpetually aggrieved is detrimental to their naturalization in the region and desire for lasting peace in the same.
It is to be seen how much Trump accommodates the oppressed yet belligerent Palestinians and invest in solving this long conflic.
Or else, this plan is just the repackaging of the same old failed Likud-Republican thing and another show of effort for the purpose of passing time rather than an actual one to perpetuate Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to the Dhaka Tribune.